Eels romp to Nines title after giving hosts slip
Fearsome Fijian Semi Radradra and rookie Eels flyer Bevan French nabbed an amazing 16 tries between them as Parramatta left a huge Eden Park crowd shattered after upsetting hot favourites the New Zealand Warriors 22-4 in the final of the lucrative Auckland Nines.
Eels playmaker Corey Norman was the player of the series, involving himself in most of Parramatta's tries, and playing the perfect hand in dictating his side's slick attack.
The win earned Parramatta a $370,000 cheque and plenty of confidence for the coming NRL season, considering the two previous Nines winners - South Sydney and North Queensland - won the tournament either before or after also claiming the NRL premiership.
"We worked really hard in the pre-season and we wanted to aim up. I am really proud of the boys," said Parramatta coach Brad Arthur, who praised the effort of his forwards.
The Warriors looked powerful in their quarter-final win over the Canberra Raiders, and again in their semi-final when they brushed aside the Gold Coast Titans after racing out to an early 16-0 lead.
But once again, despite their impressive roster and the support of a vocal home crowd, they cracked under the pressure of winning the final.
Manly was left counting the cost of its weekend, limping into the quarter-finals with barely enough players to field a side after losing Jamie Buhler for up to eight weeks with a broken jaw, back-up hooker/half Jayden Hodges for the season with an ruptured ACL, and Jake Trbojevic and Nathan Green with concussion.
Norman, who picked up $5000 as player of the series, said winning the event was "awesome", while French struggled to explain how it felt to score a record eight tries after being "pretty nervous" before the first game on Saturday.
"It's good man ... the feeling's awesome," said Norman, who will link up with former Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran in a new-look halves combination at Parramatta this season.
"The goal was to come here and win it. We needed a little roll on for round one and we got it."
After a record 179 tries were scored across the weekend, organisers announced the Nines Team for 2016 which was: Tom Trbojevic (Manly), Corey Norman (Parramatta), Bevan French (Parramatta), Shaun Johnson (Warriors) Ignatius Passi (Gold Coast), Tui Lolohea (Warriors), Tohu Harris (Melbourne), Chris McQueen (Titans) and Semi Radradra (Parramatta).