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The Parramatta Eels have made the Top 4 for the first time since 2005 after a Semi Radradra hat-trick secured the Eels a showdown with the Minor Premiers the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park in the first week of the finals next week, after they defeated the South Sydney Rabbitohs 22-16 at ANZ Stadium tonight.
Radradra proved the difference for the home side, scoring the first of his three tries on the stroke of halftime to give the Eels and undeserved lead at the break, as South Sydney frustrated the home side throughout in a scrappy match at ANZ Stadium.
Five-eighth Corey Norman then gave the devastating winger some superb service in the second half, first with a sublime cut of ball from a set piece, followed by a lovely chip for the flying Fijian to secure his third try and an ugly victory for the Eels. Radradra's third try took his tally to an astounding seven tries in two games, with the one-time Australian Test winger in ominous form on the eve of this year's finals series.
It wasn't the most polished performance from Brad Arthur's men and not the ideal preparation the coach staff and their fans would have wanted for what lies ahead of them next week down in the Victorian capital.
The Rabbitohs were defiant in defeat, in what caps a forgettable season from the 2014 premiers, whose season was grounded from Round 1 when star fullback Greg Inglis was sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Things didn't get any easier with injuries in Round 26 either, when South Sydney coach Michael Maguire put out his team list prior to kickoff, headlined by star players Sam Burgess, Adam Reynolds, Angus Crichton and Aaron Gray all ruled out of their starting 17.
The Eels headed in this match on the verge of entering their first finals series since 2009 and they got off to a fast start when strike centre Michael Jennings found some space and turned his younger brother and Souths winger Robert, inside out to burn away from the defensive line, and in and away from South Sydney's makeshift fullback Damien Cook to score the first try of the night in electric fashion. Mitchell Moses added the extras from out wide and the Eels lead 6-0 after less than 10 minutes.
Souths didn't take long to respond however, when Cook caught Eels winger Semi Radradra off guard retrieving a kick from his own 20 metre line to put the Rabbitohs in great field position. Souths last minute halfback and former Eel Luke Kelly then threaded the needle, placing a beautiful kick into the path of Bryson Goodwin who looked to have scored. The Bunker however was called into play, and found Goodwin was in front of Kelly and the try was disallowed, denying the Bunnies their first try of the night.
Eels second rower Manu Ma'u then gifted Souths another opportunity in their attacking zone and the Bunnies took the opportunity, when Robert Jennings cancelled out his big brother's try to score one himself in the corner after a great ball from Cook. Goodwin missed with the conversion and the score remained 6-4 to Parramatta.
South Sydney had nothing to lose in this match and they continued to chance their arm, which seemed to frustrate the finals bound Eels who continued to make errors and looked clunky in offence. The Rabbitohs then found took advantage of their opportunities to take the lead, when Robbie Farah creeped out of dummy half and found backrower Kyle Turner who charged over to score to give Souths the lead heading into halftime
The Eels then hit the front right on the halftime siren, through Semi Radradra, when he was given some space out wide, and the Toulon bound winger made no mistake when he crashed over to score. Mitchell Moses nailed the conversion from the sideline and while Souths were the better side in the first half, the scoreboard had the Eels ahead 12-10 at the break.
Parramatta extended their lead through Radradra's second try and it looked as though the Eels were finally going to go on with the game but the Rabbitohs to their credit never gave in and continued to pressure the Eels into simple errors.
The Rabbitohs were then rewarded, when Robert Jennings scored his second try of the game, when five-eighth Cody Walker put him over after some slick lead up work and the Eels lead 18-10 with plenty of time on the clock for an upset.
However it wasn't to be, with Corey Norman putting a cross field kick to a leaping Radradra to score his third and secure the match for the home side.
The Eels now travel to AAMI Park, where they will meet the Minor Premiers the Storm in the biggest game for the club since their Grand Final appearance in 2009.
For the Rabbitohs their disappointing season comes to a close, however fans will be pleased with the signing of Queensland back and Wally Lewis Medallist Dane Gagai arriving in 2018, along with the return of fullback and captain Greg Inglis from injury. To go with that, the emergence of youngsters Angus Crichton and Cameron Murray will also have the club in looking forward to next season.
Parramatta Eels 22 - South Sydney Rabbitohs 16
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Halftime Score: Parramatta Eels 12 South Sydney Rabbitohs 10
LeagueUnlimited.com Players of the Match:
3 points - Semi Radradra
2 points - Robbie Farah
1 points - Michael Jennings
PARRAMATTA EELS (22)
Tries: Michael Jennings, Semi Radradra (3)
Conversions: Mitchell Moses (3/4)
SOUTH SYDNEY RABBITOHS (16)
Tries: Robert Jennings (2), Kyle Turner
Conversions: Bryson Goodwin (2/3)