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Wests Tigers fall to Eels in Easter Monday thriller

Wests Tigers have gone down 36-22 to the Parramatta Eels in their annual Easter Monday clash today at Stadium Australia.

In front of a 29,056 crowd — the biggest at any game so far this year — Michael Maguire's side battled bravely but lacked execution against top-of-the-table Eels, falling behind 16-0 early on and never quite recovering.

There were bright moments in the defeat — Stefano Utoikamanu's second try in as many weeks capped off a superb team move while Daine Laurie crossed for his first try in the NRL — but there wasn't enough for Michael Maguire's team in the end. 

Buoyed on by their biggest home crowd in a standalone game since 2018, it was a bright start for Wests Tigers inside the opening 10 minutes who threatened on a number of occasions — including having a try disallowed for a forward pass — but were unable to find the final play needed to unlock the Eels' try-line defence.

That would make the Eels' first two raids even more difficult for the home side, who conceded to Marata Nuikore off a Mitch Moses grubber before seeing their deficit doubled when a late Nathan Brown offload found its way to Isaiah Papali'i.

When Reed Mahoney found Tom Opacic for his first try of the year, it was 16-0 to the blue and gold inside 23 minutes of play — leaving Michael Maguire's men with plenty of work to do in order to keep themselves in the contest.

The home side would rally, however — first through Laurie after a clever flick back from Luciano Leilua — before young tyro Utoikamanu made it two runaway tries in as many weeks as he benefited the rewards from a Blake Ferguson error.

Adam Doueihi's conversion cut the lead to 16-10, but there was another trick left in the half as Opacic reacted quickest to a Clint Gutherson grubber to score in the final play of the first half — giving the Eels a deserved 20-10 lead at the break.

Needing to score first after half-time, Wests Tigers found themselves down further when Ferguson atoned for his earlier errors with a determined effort out wide.

Moses' narrow missed conversion left the margin at 14 points, with some gallant goal-line defence denying the Eels in consecutive sets moments later.

Arguably his side's best on the day, Doueihi made it two tries in as many weeks when he showed his strength to take on the line and score, with the powerful playmaker landing another conversion to once again cut the lead to eight.

When Jacob Liddle crossed with six minutes on the clock it was all set up for a grandstand finish, but it wasn't to be — Gutherson collecting a richoted kick inside the final minute to ensure the two points for Parramatta.

Wests Tigers will look to bounce back next Sunday when they take on the North Queensland Cowboys in their first game of the year at Leichhardt Oval.