Round 14 Drink Of Choice – Yamazaki Single Malt
Musings have returned! After a weekend where I was addled by the flu and fortunately only have a somewhat hazy memory of the capitulation against the Newcastle Knights, I now return with good tidings! We won a game damn it!
The Eels entered Round 14 needing to win out across the remaining eleven fixtures on their schedule in order to take part in the post-season. Crazier things have happened in sporting history but the enormity of the task is more than likely beyond our bunch of battlers. Still, with tonight’s gritty 20-14 victory over the North Queensland Cowboys they stay alive and it seems they have put all their
money Mahoney on the table as they ride or die on the back of a rookie rake.
Cash Mahoney, fam
Who knew that when Jarryd Hayne uttered those famous words on the Gold Coast it would have such prophetic weight for the Eels down the road? Of course Hayne had no idea who or what Reed Mahoney was in September of 2016 but the two would run out together in Round 14 of 2018 as the Eels snapped a 5-gamer losing streak in admittedly rather unflattering fashion.
Still, it was the rookie dummy-half who played a surprisingly massive role as the Eels coming over the top of the Cowboys in the Top End. ‘Cash’ entered the game from the bench sometime around the 27th minute of play and to my shock he would play out the remainder of the game as he usurped the role of primary dummy-half from Cameron King.
Brad Arthur conceded in the post-match press conference that the original plan was not to have Mahoney play that many minutes but the rookie impressed and defended like a ‘bull-terrier’. With his debutante fitting in nicely, Arthur chose to ride the hot-hand and keep the interchange up his sleeve for a forward.
It proved to be an inspired call. Even though Mahoney ended up throwing two forward passes (although Corey Norman was arguably at fault for one due to a late short-side shift on the last) as fatigue set in, the young rake provided clean service and defended like a man possessed against the massive North Queensland pack making 36 tackles with just 2 missed.
The Eels now face a pressing dilemma…they received dispensation to play Mahoney from outside of the Top 30 this week but with Kaysa Pritchard due back in Round 15 they will need to promote Reed to the full-time roster if they wish to play him against South Sydney.
Old Plane, New (& Old) Tricks
While his last minute miss on Enari Tuala was a disappointing way to finish the game there is little doubting that Jarryd Hayne was the difference on the night as he scored a try in each half to ease the Eels out to a 20-4 lead.
The first was pure cerebral footy from the seasoned campaigner as he opted to take a quick tap from 12m out and used brutish power to force his was over. The second however was vintage Hayne – and perhaps a reminder to how criminally underrated his high ball skills are. The Plane latched onto a cross-field bomb from Corey Norman before weaving his way over before barely grounding the ball.
In fact Hayne played a crucial role in the Eels scoring in the opening minutes of the second half as he showed his hustle and veteran wiles to lead the kick chase and balk Lachlan Coote into an error with a well-placed hand.
With 14 runs and 130m Hayne kept himself well involved throughout the game and given the struggles of other strike weapons like Norman and Michael Jennings, the Eels will likely need Jarryd to replicate the efforts shown tonight.
The Jennings Jinx
Speaking of Michael Jennings, the luckless centre found another way to butcher a certain try this week. Bevan French showed tremendous skill and touch to lace an inch perfect grubber kick in the first half only for Jennings to somehow lose control of the ball in the process of grounding it. Jennings’ scoring horrors date back to Round 10 against the Canterbury Bulldogs and they have been numerous since. Fortunately it seems he finally managed to break the curse that had been haunting him with a try in the 68th minute as he plundered a four-pointer off another error from Lachlan Coote under the highball.
What really impressed me tonight was the defensive application and execution from the eldest Jennings. Both he and Clinton Gutherson were nearly immaculate in their decisions and timings to shoot out of the time and combined they tormented Johnathan Thurston as they produced multiple errors out of the legendary halfback and his outside men down the left-edge of the Cowboys.
First Name Nathan, Last Name Brown
Parramatta’s talismanic lock forward went blow for blow with the rampaging Jason Taumalolo tonight and while the hulking North Queensland forward edged out Nathan Brown in the running stakes (19 runs, 184m vs 22 runs, 172m), Brown was a titan in defence as he rattled off 46 tackles with just 1 missed to Taumalolo’s 30 made and 2 missed.
It was a timely reminder of exactly what and how much Parramatta have missed in the two months that Brown was out. It would not have saved the season for the struggling Eels but it was probably worth a couple of wins in a number of the tight losses they endured.
With the Eels looking to retool their forward pack in order to add some heavy weaponry, Brown stands as one of the biggest potential beneficiaries in 2019. His devastating late-footwork at the line becomes all the more dangerous when he follows in the wake of a rumbling carry from a marquee big man.
Norman Brings The Effort (But Not The Execution)
On the whole it was a forgettable night for Corey Norman. He did nab a try assist in the second half when he found Jarryd Hayne off his laces but that was just about the only good thing to happen with his boots. With two kicks ended up out of the full and with a third charged down, Norman struggled to flip the field on the monstrous Cowboys pack. Once again he was jarringly out of sync with his outside men at times and seemingly struggled to assume the heavy mantle of the dominant play-maker.
What he did bring was a load of effort – especially in defence. Norman’s 15 tackles (1 missed) tell part of the story but he defended his goal line sharply along side young backrower Marata Niukore and showed hustle to force an error out of Johnathan Thurston.
It goes without saying that the Eels will need a great deal more out of their primary play-maker but it was encouraging to see all facets of the side defending with grit and intent.
The Final Word
The Eels are alive. Somehow. Someway. They leave Darwin having won four out of five fixtures up in the Top End and having avenged their 2017 loss there to the Cowboys. In order to claim a place in the post-season they will have to run the table right through to Round 25. Ten more successive wins are a herculean ask for any franchise, let alone our badly beaten boys, and the task is deep within the bounds of improbability…but while there is life there is hope.
Brad Arthur will welcome back Kaysa Pritchard (and rookie winger Greg Leleisiuao) this week while Mitchell Moses and Will Smith are due back the following round. Tepai Moeroa then returns from suspension in Round 18. Win out and reinforcements are there. Win out and perhaps the embers of 2016 and 2017 stir in this team.
It would be far too much to expect the Eels to roar to full form against South Sydney given our deeply ingrained struggles this year but every improbable win adds that much more momentum when you are looking to beat the longest of odds.
Realistically of course we will drop a game – and probably quite soon. Yet for all of the errors and poor execution the team showed there is still fight left in them tonight and I will drink to that.
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