Round 9 Drink Of Choice – Highland Black Blended Scotch Whisky
Margin Of Error – Four Games
That was all too familiar for all the wrong reasons. In a season where every game is essentially ‘must-win’, Saturday night was a particularly important road-block for Parramatta. A win over the injury-ravaged Sharks positioned the Eels for a run at four or five consecutive victories and some much needed breathing space against that constricting margin of error. Alas, it was the closest thing you will get to Rugby League PTSD for the Blue & Gold faithful as the Eels slipped back into the habits that saw them slip to a 0-6 start to 2018.
A frenzied rush of points in the final seven minutes of play nearly saw the Eels outrageously send the game to Golden Point save for an errant conversion attempt after the siren from Mitchell Moses but the brutal truth of the matter is that the Eels did not deserve to win this game.
It is a case of picking at the scabs of old wounds in this week’s Musings, or perhaps tending to freshly self-inflicted blows. Whichever it is, let’s grit our teeth and get to it.
Same old stats, same result
Remember when we talked about the key statistical indicators that were letting the Eels down…ad nauseam? We are back at square one this week after a game that saw:
- 44% Possession
- 72% Completion Rate (vs 82% for Cronulla)
- 307 Kick metres (vs 613m for Cronulla)
- 0 Forced Drop Outs (vs 4 for Cronulla)
- 400 Tackle Made (vs 323 for Cronulla)
It makes for ugly reading once again as the Eels conspired to be their own worst enemy for yet another game. An inability to get to the end of ours sets coupled with awful decisions by our shot-callers in Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses on the rare opportunities we did get to a last-tackle hamstrung Parramatta early on.
Cronulla were gifted plentiful possession and worse – terrific field position. They gleefully accepted both en route to a commanding 20-4 lead in the 46th minute in spite of a raft on star-power on the sideline (including the in-game loss of Wade Graham).
This is ground that has been trodden to mud by regulars of this blog and we have all spoken as to our respective answers for this issue. Suffice to say, we will not win many more of our remaining games if we produce these sort of numbers ago such a broad range of performance indicators.
Halves and halve nots
It is almost unfair to leverage so much criticism at Norman and Moses but such is the heavy mantle that comes with the #6 and #7 jerseys in the NRL. While they can not stop their team mates from making unforced errors and the like, I do question our play-makers’ general approach to game management when a contest begins to unravel as we saw on Saturday night.
Instead of changing the pace of the game by working the sidelines and resetting our approach both offensively and defensively, we tend to slide into a self-destructive spiral. Perhaps this was best typified in the first-half when we insisted on spreading the ball down our left-edge on the last instead of looking to hem the Sharks inside their own goal-line.
Brad Takairangi is a handy off-play-maker but there is only so much he can do against the set defensive lines he was presented with. It may be that the Eels had identified something in the defensive make-up of Cronulla’s right-edge and were looking to exploit a match-up but it sure didn’t play out that way.
And of course all of this frustration is exacerbated by just how dominant Norman and Moses were in the electrifying seven-minute period of play to close out the game. Certainly fatigue and a degree of laxness from the Sharks played their parts in the matter but Cronulla had no answers for the mercurial halves pairing as they orchestrated a jaw-dropping 16-point comeback.
Somehow Brad Arthur has to figure out a way to get his two halves going when the contest turns dour.
The long and the short of it
I rarely take aim at coaching on this blog due to the nature of how many variables, intangibles and data points that we armchair coaches are unaware of when it comes to team selection and strategy.
Brad Arthur has certainly proven over the last four-and-a-half years that he possesses a mettle and character that stands among the best in the NRL. When we aren’t losing the possession battle in such a lop-sided manner his patterns, both offensively and defensively, have shown themselves to be consistently effective. The man knows how to coach a footy team.
However, there is one part of our approach to games that often leaves me scratching my head – our absolute refusal to deploy short restarts (both drop-out and kick-off) when trailing by multiple scores with under twenty minutes to play.
Our possession rate flat-lined at around 40% deep into the second-half on Saturday night. It corresponded with a passage of play where Cronulla had pinned us inside our goal-line with roughly twenty minutes left to play. Chasing sixteen-points to even lock the scores up at 20-all at the time, a short drop-out attempt seemed a fait-accompli. Instead we kicked long. I audibly groaned.
That wasn’t even the worst of it. When Cronulla converted a penalty goal in the 65th minute to extend their lead to 18-points, we kicked off long from the restart on halfway. While we very nearly pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in the modern NRL, we conspired to make it as difficult as possible on ourselves and the fact is you can not rely on an insane seven-minute flurry more than once a season.
I may be completely wrong here, which I freely admit as an armchair critic, but in a game where you are starved of possession and chasing multiple tries in a small window of time it seems like the short restarts are almost a no-brainer.
The Last Word
There is plenty more that I could tear into to breakdown just how the Eels lost so convincingly to an vastly undermanned Cronulla outfit but much of it honestly reads from the Rounds 1-6 script. The fact of the matter is that the Eels can now afford four more losses across the course of the regulation season is they are to be in finals contention. That is razor thin margin of error for a team that simply can not string together a month of quality football at the moment.
Individually, there was actually a bit to like from Saturday night – which again has been the story of 2018. Manu Ma’u was relentless as he tried to inspire the Eels back into the contest while Tepai Moeroa played with a single-minded physicality that impressively saw him unseat the human-nugget known as Wade Graham. Bevan French and George Jennings both shone at various times while Clinton Gutherson continues to work tirelessly from the back – even if he hasn’t quite hit full stride in his return from an ACL injury.
Unfortunately though, strong individual efforts are only going to continue to win the Eels a share of last place this year. They simply can not afford the raft of trivial errors from their forwards anymore. They can no longer be caught a man short so consistently when defending their goal line. Their play-makers do not have the luxury of fading out for well over half a game. As it stands they face the prospect of wasting the 2018 season as seventeen individuals unless they somehow remember that they are a team.
One Eel that is consistently producing the goods this season is Parramatters by way of Sportfirst Nambucca. This week the mad-man brings to you the rather flashy 2018 Indigenous Jersey, which I must admit has grown on me to a fair extent – even with the green highlights. Hit that link below and punch in the ‘TCT’ code for a sweet 10% discount and free shipping!
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