Warm and humid conditions greeted the young stars of Parramatta and Canberra as the two clubs clashed in the Harold Matts and SG Ball trials on Saturday at the Marist Brothers Westmead grounds.
Before getting into the notes, I have to make comment on the playing surface. I doubt that I’ve seen much better at a junior ground. It was a seriously thick cushion of green stuff – the perfect surface for our contact sport.
With massive squads to look over, each grade was split into either quarters (Matts) or thirds (SG Ball). In addition to interchanges, both clubs made massive changes during the breaks. For the casual observer, it was difficult to keep track. For the coaches and selectors, this was not their first look at the players, so they would have taken plenty from the hit-out.
The reality is that, with so many team changes, each period of play (quarter or third) could be considered a contest on its own.
Though I can’t comment on the Raiders squads, I can report that these were very young Eels teams, with a view to both 2019 and 2020 for each. Indeed, the SG Ball team will be boosted by the likes of Sam Hughes and Dave Hollis, currently training with the Flegg squad, as well as a collection of players who didn’t play today.
Furthermore, Eels teams have been entered into the Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cups – tournaments that provide opportunities for 16 and 18 year old country players. This means that players outside the top team in each age will have more opportunities to develop their game wearing the Blue and Gold.
During today’s matches there were no penalty kicks or conversion attempts. A penalty resulted in the ball advancing ten metres. A try was the only scoring method.
Here’s how I saw it, with excuses if the try count became inaccurate or if I’ve made any error in player identification. (I’ll go with the heat as an excuse.)
* First Quarter
This was high quality footy from the Eels. There was very little glory play to be seen as team work was the key to success.
The Eels clocked up 5 tries in a period in which identifying individuals was probably unfair.
Nonetheless the back three were very strong. Both wingers, Forsythe & Orley, had huge carry moments, and the fullback, Wright, created chances each time he chimed in.
The tall back rower Malau’ula consistently bent the line, and did the same when he appeared again in another quarter. Left centre, Nevili, was a threat out wide.
Big prop, Muagututia created a few memorable moments with some big defensive shots and powerful carries. These were not ideal conditions for the big boys so it was worth a mention.
Others to shine included hooker Jankovic, young country backrower Martin, and big prop/back rower Mafoa. I rate effort on effort (or defensive strings) and I saw that from Martin. Mafoa is a big athletic unit and the Raiders were lucky that he didn’t get too much ball.
Four nil to Eels.
* Second Quarter
There was not a lot to report from this quarter. The dropped ball/incomplete sets was probably the feature.
A few changes from both clubs saw the momentum change, with the Raiders posting a couple of tries and looking to have slicker combinations. Parra gave some more players a run and swapped players into different positions.
Only a single dummy half try to the Eels broke up a run of three Raiders tries. The score at the end of this quarter moved to Eels 5 Raiders 3.
* Third Quarter
More changes to both teams and the momentum swung heavily in the Eels favour.
Tries to Malau’ula, backrower Readon, half Sanders(?), and centre Hu’lhahau advanced the score to 9 to 3.
The forward pack were far too strong for the Raiders and the territorial advantage was converted into points.
* Fourth Quarter
After the quarter opened with a try to the Raiders, the Eels again asserted their dominance and ran away with the quarter. This was impressive as I believe up to 8 of the team would still be Matts eligible in 2020.
Stocky backrower Alhazim bagged a double, including a long range ripper set up by the tall, young fullback, Sinclair. A try to Tajhya off a quick play the ball completed the scoring.
In a good quality set of quarters, the Eels ran out winners by 12 tries to 4.
The football was tough and there was not one instance of foul play. Congratulations to the players and staff from both clubs for playing the game in the right spirit.
S G Ball Trial (30 minute thirds)
* First Third
It was a very young Eels team to take the field, with many 2018 Matts players on show in this first third. The Raiders came out all guns blazing and impressed with their power play in the early exchanges.
The Raiders opened the scoring before some inspirational charges from powerhouse winger Komolafe, and the clever kicking game of Arthur, kept the play down in the Raiders quarter for a period of time.
After Arthur himself went close to scoring, a superb backline try featuring a clever cut-out pass by Russell, saw Vaughin-Aspin cross in the corner to lock the scores up. The Raiders soon gained the ascendancy with their own four pointer to finish the quarter with a two tries to one lead.
* Second Third
The Raiders again opened the scoring with a long distance try off an Eels dropped ball. They soon extended their lead to 4 – 1 before the tide turned.
A try to dummy half Tui started the ball rolling for the Blue and Gold, and were quickly followed by four pointers to prop Tuakalau and fullback Russell.
With the scores levelled, momentum was well and truly with the Eels, and when winger Stewart picked up a long range intercept try, Parra had a 5 to 4 lead going into the final third.
* Final Third
From a Parramatta perspective, the least said about this last stanza, the better. The changes made by both teams saw a complete reversal of fortune.
Barely a set was completed by the Eels as the Raiders ran rampant in the hot conditions.
Five tries by the Green Machine saw them run out overall winners by 9-5.
Once again the players and coaching staff from both clubs need to be congratulated for the spirit in which this grade was played. Anthony Field and Joey Grima can also feel proud of the Eels squads assembled and the organisation of the day.