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Eels improve defence in NRL trial win
Ben Horne
20:49 AEST Sat Feb 2 2013

New Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart has demanded his troops get physical in defence this season and the young Eels made an encouraging start in a 46-10 NRL trial win over an inexperienced Newcastle in Armidale on Saturday night.

The Eels were the worst defensive team in the league last year and slumped to the wooden spoon.

But Stuart is determined to turn things around and has spent the pre-season trying to put a sting into Parramatta's tackling efforts.

Eels captaincy candidate Reni Maitua scored a try and played strongly in the comfortable victory in front of 5023 fans, while exciting lock forward prospect Ken Edwards put his hand up for a first grade spot by bagging a double and collecting the man-of-the-match award.

Utility forward Taulima Tautai was the pick of Parramatta's NRL talent playing at prop and Luke Kelly did well with his audition in the five-eighth jersey.

Kelly set up a couple of tries, as he looks to partner Chris Sandow in the halves to start the year.

Another to stand out for Stuart, was his hooker Nathan Smith - who is vying with Matt Keating to start the year in the No.9 shirt.

Smith said Stuart has instructed his players to go hard at each other at training and believes the emphasis on defence paid off in the opening trial.

"Everything we've been doing is really physical and technique based and we've been getting stuck into each other at training," Smith told AAP.

"Last year we were a bit poor in that aspect and we needed to really get our bodies in front and dominate the ruck and the edges.

"We really needed to dominate the whole game defensively and I think we did that.

"It's only very early, the first trial - but the things we didn't get right last year seem to be fixing themselves and we're on the right track."

Smith and the Eels' NRL talent played about 50 minutes, before Stuart injected some of his fringe players and younger talent.

Parramatta led 26-0 at halftime and were up 36-0 when the big names left the field.

Fullback Peter Mata'utia was the only Newcastle player with NRL experience, but the rookies snuck in for two late consolation tries.

Smith believes he's put himself in a good position to push Keating for a starting berth come round one.

"I thought my games at the back end of last year were pretty good too. If I'm not No.9 I'd love to be 14 (on the bench), and just make my way through the year into the side."

The Eels were minus stars like Sandow, Jarryd Hayne and Willie Tonga.


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