Round 21 Drink Of Choice – Yamazaki Single Malt
What a refreshing result! Although the second half threatened to follow the dreaded script that has anchored the Eels to the bottom of the ladder this season, pure, unadulterated, desperate efforts in defence carried Parramatta to an important 28-12 victory. By securing the two competition points the Eels kept the Cowboys, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Titans still in the thick of the race for the wooden spoon.
Perhaps even more importantly though, it was a performance that kindled the first sparks of hope that 2019 may represent a more fruitful campaign. A turning point potentially, if you will.
It was an effort not without flaws but by the same token it was the starkest reminder of the collective capabilities of this team in some time. Causes for celebration have been few and far between this season so let’s take the time to savour Parramatta’s 5th win of 2018.
Return of the King
While never short on courage or effort, 2018 has been an exercise in frustration for Parramatta’s talismanic fullback Clinton Gutherson. Ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments are always one of the most difficult injuries to rehabilitate in elite sports and given that is was Gutherson’s second such injury on the same ligament the path was always going to be challenging. To see just how demanding the timeline to a full recovery can be you need only look at the mercurial Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who was a shell of himself in 2017 as he returned from an ACL injury sustained in 2016. Fast forward to the current season and ‘RTS’ is back to his electric best.
Gutherson will recapture the best of his inspirational abilities in 2019 but his effort on Saturday night was a hell of a reminder as to just what exactly he brings to this team. 254m from just 20 runs (12.7m per run!) a linebreak assist and a handful of try-saving defensive efforts on his goal line outlined a frenetic night for the young captain.
Furthermore, the positional interchanges between Gutherson and Jarryd Hayne are quickly becoming more fluid and dynamic – a sign that bodes well for next year pending the retention of Hayne. In a first half try-scoring blitz, Gutherson first laid on the money ball to put Hayne over down the left edge before Hayne took over the custodian duties to gift Bevan French a saloon passage to the try line down the right.
French earns his shot at fullback
Bevan French and his manager have been quite vocal about his desire to play fullback – be it at Parramatta or otherwise. After his outstanding run of form on the flank for the Eels in recent weeks French should deservedly get his shot in the #1…just in the black & white jersey of the Wentworthville Magpies.
Diabolical is probably too kind a word to describe the young flier’s form of late but most vexing is his complete lack of enthusiasm to get involved beyond finishing off the most basic of backline movements to score.
In a potential flashpoint moment in the second half, French quite obviously gave up chasing Anthony Don on an intercept, despite the vigorous and vocal gesticulations of Clinton Gutherson in his peripheral vision to cut off Don’s approach to the in-goals in an attempt to minimise the damage on the scoreboard. The fact that Michael Gordon proceeded to miss a throw-over conversion attempt should not mask the fact that French completely gave up on the play.
In a game where sixteen other blokes stood up and delivered, French’s disinterest could not have contrasted more heavily. Throw in his weak play-the-ball error and subsequent missed tackle on Phillip Sami to gift the Titans their second try of the night along with an error on a bomb defusal in the second half and you would have to think his position in the team is nigh untenable.
It has been a long time coming for weary fans but Kane Evans finally arrived for the Parramatta Eels. Genuinely producing for the first time in 2018, Evans was long, long, loooooooong overdue for both his coach Brad Arthur and the legion of Blue & Gold faithful. It is imperative that Saturday’s effort should not prove to be a one-off but Evan’s 135m from 13 carries, 1 quality offload and a crucial bear hug in defence were hugely encouraging.
Beyond another significant addition to the engine room, there is little doubt that Junior Paulo will feature as the premier bookend for the Eels in 2019 but the complimentary pieces around him will equally need to push and support the returning man-mountain. Daniel Alvaro and Peni Terepo have staked strong claims to do just that this year while Evans is still battling to show he deserves a place in the prop rotation.
He will get every chance to prove he warrants a place there moving forwards with the Eels facing the fearsome packs of the Dragons, Storm, Cowboys and Roosters to round out the remainder of 2018.
Brown & ‘Barry’, Esquires
The law, ahem, enforcement firm of Nathan Brown and Peni ‘Baz’ Terepo has been open for business for some time now and finally business is starting to boom. Quite literally. From Brown’s kamikaze drop-out return in the first half to Terepo’s soul-reaping shot on Jake Stockwell, the two undersized middle forwards put a dominant stamp on the game in Round 21.
Brown, in his usual manner, was a monster as he clicked off 20 carries for 191m and 35 tackles (3 missed) while Terepo made a scintillating burst down the left-edge to ultimately set-up the Bevan French try. Both men possess sneaky good athleticism and an uncanny ability to split defenders (Brown with his late footwork and Terepo with his weaving running style) and they will both profit heavily from a hopefully beefier and more powerful prop rotation in 2019.
Putting his Mahoney where his mouth is
Sub-title phrasing issues asides, Brad Arthur mentioned in the Round 20 post match press conference that the injury to Kaysa Pritchard offered an opportunity for outstanding rookie prospect Reed Mahoney to play 80min against the Gold Coast Titans. True to his word, Arthur threw Mahoney into the fray for the entirety for the affair and asides from two errant passes (by my count), ‘Cash’ Mahoney delivered big time.
From setting up Tim Mannah for the opening score with some deft work from dummy half to smashing out 49 tackles (2 missed) and 4 runs for 41m, Mahoney was heavily involved throughout the win. It wasn’t all perfect mind you, beyond the two aforementioned errant passes he struck one kick nicely into the corner but received a slice of luck on his second when it took a friendly deflection off a Titan for a tackle count reset.
In a way it is important for Reed to make these mistakes because of his ability to be a play-making threat that ‘BA’ can leverage. He needs to understand his limits and know when to push the run, pass or kick.
If he can learn to fully harness his talents and more importantly, if he can truly prove to be an 80min impact player at dummy half – the Eels will be onto a huge winner here.
Oh, and as for him jawing off and getting under the skin of serial pest Nathan Peats, I love it.
The Final Word
There were certainly moments that caused palpitations in the second half as Michael Gordon and Konrad Hurrell were denied crucial tries by desperate last-ditch defence but I am not whinging at all. That single-minded desperation galvanised the team in 2017 and has been largely absent as we careened to the bottom of the ladder in 2018. More of this please.
Although his time was limited it was also an important game on Saturday because it marked the debut of Jaeman Salmon. There was little he could do in his 15min stint from the bench given the Eels were under defensive pressure due to the sin-binning of Tim Mannah but should Bevan French be dropped as I hope, there is a very good chance that Salmon can feature prominently in the back line for the remainder of the season.
Fellow 2018 rookie Marata Niukore also impressed in an understated but pleasing manner. His savvy line running in the red zone nearly brought the Titans undone twice in the first half and while he hasn’t produced an explosive play yet, he is shouldering his share of the workload.
The Eels have a grueling run to the end of the season as they face three Top 4 rosters in the Dragons, Storm and Roosters as well as the Cowboys in the farewell home game for Jonathan Thurston. None the less they have plenty to play for, and none of this cliche pride nonsense please, they are in the pre-pre-season for 2019 and have plenty of work to do!
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Photos courtesy of the Parramatta Eels. Stats courtesy of Champion Data.