Finals Week 2 Drink of choice – Lagavulin 16 Year Old
And so the curtains draws on a season that ultimately should be considered an astounding success. The wounds of tonight’s loss may be deep and fresh but do not let them disillusion you from what this team has achieved in the wake of the catastrophic events of 2016. Brad Arthur and his playing group have taken this club from drunkenly lurching on the precipice right to week two of the finals in less than 12 months. The sheer enormity of that effort should not be undersold regardless of how the season finished.
Tonight our inexperience in the finals came to the fore – especially in the second half. While our ferocity and exuberance against the Melbourne Storm served us well last week, the North Queensland Cowboys were able to weather our typically aggressive first half before landing back-to-back body blows to open up the second stanza. They usurped any opportunity for our boys to set the tone for the most crucial moments of the match and the rest played out as you would expect.
So join me friends as we break down all of the action from the Parramatta Eel’s final fixture in 2017 in the final edition of Whiskey Musings for 2017.
Polar opposite result if Alvaro isn’t knocked out?
Parramatta’s ill-fated night all began when the lost Daniel Alvaro to concussion protocol in just the 5th min of play. While Alvaro’s presence would have done little to remedy the disjointedness of our attack, he is our best defender through the middle. We fought the Cowboys to a stalemate in the ruck in the first half but they most definitely gained the ascendancy through the middle in the second half and Alvaro would have helped tremendously in that regard. Still, you have to play the cards dealt to you – as frustrating as they may be – and we have overcome worse this year (see our win over the Warriors in Round 13). It is but one of the important lessons in finals football to be learned for our boys from this defeat.
BA’s bench backfire
One of the most polarising events to come out of the aftermath of the loss was Brad Arthur’s late reshuffle to the bench. Kaysa Pritchard and Peni Terepo were added to the bench in the final cut down of the initial 21-man roster. It ultimately proved to be a costly decision with the Eels entering the game a forward short, which quickly became two when Daniel Alvaro was literally knocked out of the game within 5min. At face value it looks like BA’s gambit backfired on him and while I tend to agree I didn’t want to just blindly lash out in a reactionary manner.
Here is how I tried to rationalise the bench reshuffle given that we as fans don’t know a huge portion of what the Eels’ inner sanctum is privy to:
Cameron King suffered a nasty nerve ‘stinger’ late in the loss to Melbourne last week. It prevented him from being able to play in that game for several minutes and led to significant swelling in his forearm. This much we know via the game itself last week and media reports. While he generally had a good prognosis to play, it wasn’t until later in the week that the media were convinced he would take to the field against the Cowboys.
Based on this I can only guess that Kaysa Pritchard was included was a fail-safe for King should he not be able to get through the entire game due to the forearm injury. Conversely, due to Kaysa’s lack of match fitness we couldn’t call upon him to play the full 80min at hooker. As it happened, King did get through nearly the entire game and Kaysa was awkwardly injected late into the affair with the Eels trailing the Cowboys.
If my summation is correct (and to be perfectly honest, I am reaching blindly to connect dots) the Eels were damned if the did and damned if they didn’t last night. If King’s forearm had enough questions about it to warrant carrying Kaysa then we were always going to be at a disadvantage from the bench. We couldn’t afford not to have an insurance policy for King but at the same time you can’t afford to have an insurance policy for him against the Cowboys if you follow me. It really sums up our luck with injuries to core positions this season.
The swap of Peni Terepo for Siosaia Vave was much more straightforward for mine. Vave has been something of a liability in defence this season and coming against the most dynamic middle forward, arguably in the history of the game, shoring up our ruck defence made plenty of sense. Terepo did have one contentious drop (or borderline strip) but he also ran with plenty of vim and nearly split the defensive line of the Cowboys on a couple of occasions.
Again, it may be as simple as BA out-foxing himself with his bench selections but before I flailed out blindly in an emotional outburst to our loss I wanted to at least rationalise a potential reason as to why it went that way. I may be miles off the mark but please consider that we as fans do not have access to anything near the complete picture when it comes to this kind of stuff. There is a chance that our arms were tied behind our back before kickoff.
Halves to learn from big game struggle
Corey Norman was out of sorts while Mitchell Moses flashed a few times when he ran the ball but there is no sugar-coating the fact that our halves struggled. After engineering a comeback against the Storm last week, Norman and Moses were bereft of options against the Cowboys. Norman regularly went to the line only to lose track of his runners while Moses toiled away unable to find that extra split second of time he needed on multiple occasions.
It was just that sort of game. We didn’t kick early looking to turn the big North Queensland forwards around and we just didn’t have that crisp timing and the bodies in motion that makes our attack so fearsome when it is on. We frustrated ourselves with our errors as much as the Cowboys stifled us with excellent defensive discipline. As with so many facets of this game it is a lesson that will be carved into the very beings of our boys.
Cowboys show the importance of big game experience for the little things
Directly following on from my previous point but the entirety of the Cowboys team, the 2015 premiers if you will recall, showed just how precious it is to have that big game experience. They were not overawed by the occasion in the least. The Eels threw plenty at them in both attack and defence in the first half but they remained patient and counter-punched to brutal effect in the second half. Most importantly they showed just how important that extensive finals experience is for all the little things in a game.
The Eels struggled to get kick pressure on Michael Morgan or Lachlan Coote all night while the Cowboys nearly always had someone in the face of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses. Their kick chase we relentless, looking to pin Will Smith inside his own red zone on each and every kick. Parramatta, who have largely had a terrific kick chase this year, faded out in this regard.
North Queensland were also confident to test the limits of the referee’s resolve in a high-tension clash. As the game wore on they began to creep more and more offside, gaining that much of an edge in defence as the game entered it’s most crucial moments. Don’t mistake me, this is as much a praise for the Cowboys as it is a criticism of the referees. They knew how the rules of the game change in sudden death footy and we didn’t.
When you couple that with their stellar execution and completion rates juxtaposed with our misfiring attack and woeful ability to get to our kick, it quickly adds up on the scoreboard.
Much has been been made of the absences of Jonathan Thurston and Matt Scott and there is little doubt that they are huge additions for the Cowboys but remember this – the Cowboys won the 2015 Grand Final with Thurston playing an absolute bludger. They still have a damn good roster loaded with finals experience, as evidenced by their ambush of the reigning premiers last week.
Au Revoir Semi
And here we come to probably the most painful feeling to come out of this loss – the fact that this may very well be Semi Radradra’s last game in Blue & Gold. Of course there is genuine hope that he will return to the Eels but as we have learned to brutal effect, life can play out some funny twists when it comes to Parra.
I think we as TCT will touch on Semi’s impact and lasting legacy to the Eels in another post soon but I have no issues in saying that I think Radradra is an all-time talent and if given enough time in the game, could have gone down as the greatest winger to have played.
He certainly left a lasting imprint on the NRL as well, scoring one of the greatest individual finals tries in the first half when he soared through the air to defuse a Te Maire Martin bomb before racing 100m to score the opening try of the night. It was vintage Radradra. A try so ridiculous and unbelievable that it had to be seen live.
The roar of the crowd as defused the kick and saw the glimmers of daylight before him, the sight of beer and coke flying through the air as fans leaped to their feet as he began to stride down the sideline. It was truly something only Bula could do. In that brief moment, nearly 42,000 fans unified as one in a once if a lifetime moment. It was just a shame that it didn’t result in a Blue & Gold victory.
God speed Semi, you magnificent bastard. Here’s to hoping that you are back at Parramatta sooner rather than never.
The Final Word
It is a damn shame to end the 2017 season on this note but just as how I opened this blog, I implore you all not to forget everything we have achieved against all odds this year. We were barely given a hope of making the Top 8 this year and we finished in the Top 4, even in spite of several crippling personnel losses. We have our first real spine since the 1980s, a stack of young players on the rise and a roster from top to bottom that will be keen to right their own wrongs in 2018.
We achieved a 16-8 regular season record with several games that we threw away. Our NYC team will play the Penrith Panthers for a place in the last ever Holden Cup Grand Final. We are a club on the rise and just as how the pain and loss of 2016 forged a team that went to the second week of the finals this year, we will learn from our mistakes and come back a better team, a better club and a better fan base in 2018.
Thanks for dropping by everyone, it has been a helluva ride.