Christmas might have that catchy jingle about how it is the most wonderful time of the year but getting that footy feeling in the air gives it a pretty good run for its money! The first proper preseason action of the year is upon us as the Jersey Flegg and Intrust Super Premiership squads of the Eels play host to the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Ringrose Park.
For the Flegg, it will be our first peek at a line-up that will almost certainly be without eligible stars in the likes of Dylan Brown, Jaeman Salmon, Oregon Kaufusi, Stefano Utoikamanu, Ethan Parry, Haze Dunster and Kyle Schneider. An outrageous amount of junior star power to be sure but with the Eels making a crucial talent and generational transition at the NRL level, these players have either already established themselves in first-grade or will be doing battle in the ISP to make that big step forwards.
It now falls to a new crop of talent to carry the flag forwards in Flegg and I am here to break down that very first impression for you tonight!
On that note, look for the aforementioned young stars to line up alongside a bevy of Top 30 talent in the ISP preseason fixture that could potentially have some important implications to positional rankings and future opportunities.
Join me right here at 5PM for the Flegg kickoff while ISP coverage will begin at 7PM!
You will have to work with me throughout the Flegg as after previewing the warm-up I can only recognise roughly a third of the team and we are bereft of a team list as it stands. Recognisable talent includes JP Nohra, Tui Afualo, Jesse Cronin, Valance Harris, Charbel Tasipale, Jayden Yates, Jack Jordan, William Kei, Bailey Biondi-Odo, Vea Tapa and I believe new recruit Solomoni Naidruki. Whew, this is going to be a tough one.
South Sydney will be kicking off the game, also running towards the cricket field.
The Eels are forced to work hard to get the ball out of their red zone before a strong carry from Jesse Cronin draws the first penalty of the game.
Biondi-Odo is directing the team after the tap-restart as the Eels work from left to right and back to left. A cutout pass from Biondi-Odo to Kei nearly puts Parra over for first points but a great last-ditch tackle forces an error.
Souths earn their first penalty of the game working the ball off their line. OOPH! First big hit of the year as William Kei brutally murders his opposite down Parra’s left edge! Audible THUMP in the shot there! The Eels go on to force an error a tackle later – really willing defene early on here.
Another great carry from Cronin lays up an early, aggressive kick and the Eels pour through on the kick chase to flip the field position.
Tapa and Cronin combine to knock the ball loose in a great high/low combo tackle. Parra on the attack. Biondi-Odo runs it himself late in the tackle count and nearly pokes his way through but is barely held out. The Eels get lost on the last as a loose pass loops it way to our currently unnamed five-eighth who is swallowed up by the rushing defence.
Good tussle between the left edge of the Eels and the right edge of the Rabbitohs. JP Nohra tries to release Kei outside his opposite but some good sliding defence reels him in. An error from the visitors on the last puts the Eels on the attack before South Sydney commit an infringement in the ruck.
Biondi-Odo spearheads the attack down the left edge once more and looks to find Kei on an unders line crashing into the defence but that thrilling battle between the centres continues as a great shot jolts the ball loose.
Cronin returns the favour almost immediately with a punishing shot that forces a turnover. Errors really creeping into the game now though as the Eels spill the ball inside South’s red zone once again.
A pretty ordinary kick from the Rabbitohs leads to a 20m restart and some nice hands from Nohra nearly unleashes the #12 through a gap down the left. Cronin is playing a strong individual hand here as he storms through the middle. Biondi-Odo seizes the initiative from the charge to drive a low kick in behind, leading the chase himself to force a line drop out! Heck of an individual play right there!
A penalty now for the Eels right in front but they take the tap and end up turning it over on a crash ball from hooker to prop under the sticks. They compound the matter by conceding a penalty late in the following count to put the Bunnies into position for their first real attacking opportunity.
Really good read and shot by the halfback Biondi-Odo there! He is putting together a pretty quality opening outing.
As I spit all that out off the keyboard Souths heave their attacking bomb a good 5m over the dead ball line. Awful kick.
Oh dear, that turned pear shaped real quick! A nifty attacking kick from JP Nohra nearly turns the opposing fullback inside out but he barely recovers and somehow manages to split two chasers. An open field beckons him now as he races 65m downfield before sensational cover efforts from Biondi-Odo and Taufa Afu bring him down as they come from the far side of the field.
Parramatta are entirely at sea now though and a simple shift from the left edge to the right catches them two men short and their #12 strolls in untouched from 30m out.
Try scored by the #12 for South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 4-0
No conversion attempts today and one tackle into the following kickoff set we reach the end of the first quarter. Jesse Cronin and Bailey Biondi-Odo the standouts for Parramatta through the first 20min.
Poor finish to the set after points for the Bunnies as their hookers drives the ball 70m downfield and over the dead ball line.
An ordinary set in reply from the Eels though, they squander a chance down their left edge when the #12 opts to hold onto the ball instead of finding Kei. On the last tackle a poor pass is rifled to Biondi-Odo and he is knocked to the ground trying to pull it in before offloading to a supporting forward. Said forward drives a grubber kick in behind to bring a close to the set.
Souths get another penalty to march downfield but strong goal line defence knocks the ball out. Alas the Eels can’t complete their set as JP Nohra can’t execute a blindside pass to Afu. The ball sails into touch and Nohra cusses himself as soon as threw that as well – knew he had butchered it.
A slew of errors results in Souths ending up in possession and they look certain to score down our right edge before Tui Afualo slides out of the line like a thief in the night to take an interception. He definitely hasn’t got the gas to go 95m downfield but he weaves in between cover defenders to take a good 55m of chunk yardage. We spin the ball down our left, looking to emulate how the Bunnies scored in the first quarter but the money pass from Kei to Afu is way off the mark and the ball rolls into touch.
Huge chance goes begging there.
Good carries from Afualo and Tasipale get the Eels close to halfway a couple of sets later but Biondi-Odo is forced to rush a mid-field kick on the last and it sails out on the full.
It proves to be a damaging mistake as the South Sydney #6 practically runs a Ponzi Scheme on the field as he reels in at least four suckers with a monstrously over sold dummy before stepping passed Nohra at the last line. Soft stuff there.
Try scored by #6 for South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 8-0
Another set after points that leads to a 20m restart as the Bunnies fail to account for a tailwind that drives the ball dead. Can Parra reply before half time?
Not this set it would seem but they do get a kick for what feels like the first time in a while. Nohra gives chase on the bomb but has to pull out for fear of taking the fullback out in the air.
The Eels hold Souths out in return but have to work the ball out from their goal line. They pick up a much needed penalty as an offside defender is called out.
Tap restart to our #12 who surges ahead. Valance Harris is up next before we go down our right edge twice over. Lined out up to our left from there and we go two wide to centre it at the right upright. We try to run it on the last down our left edge but again the play breaks down as we try to get the pass to Afu and eventually the nuggety winger is corralled to enforce a turnover on tackles.
There is a bit of play left in the half but never team seems too interested in pushing the envelope as Souths run out the clock for the first half.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 8 lead the Parramatta Eels 0
Parramatta kicking off. Massive gust of wind as they tee off but it stays in the field of play. Souths work the ball from the ruck to their right-edge before a pass is knocked down in an attempted tackle. A fresh set for the visitors now.
The Eels hold on in spite of the early run of possession against them and look to work the ball over halfway and get a foothold in the battle for territory. Biondi-Odo stabs a kick ahead for Joe Small but the replacement winger is beaten by the light-footed fullback and Small’s blushes are saved by an important ankle tap from Afualo.
A defensive error from the Eels on the last offers Souths a great chance to open up their lead before a crunching hit from Tui forces an error! Textbook gut-shot there! That has deadset winded the Bunny and he is down for a good minute or two.
Tui giveth and Tui taketh though as the barnstorming centre loses control of the ball as he hits the ground carting it up.
A superb tackle from Bailey there probably saves a try but the Bunnies are knocking on the door here. Some awful luck on the last as poor grubber is deflected in the front line before catching an Eel in an accidental offside position. Souths on the attack again.
The tsunami of possession proves to be too much and the Rabbitohs crash over down our left-edge.
Try scored by South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 12-0
An old fashioned shepherd play is eventually pulled up and the Eels get their first attacking shot of the second half. Good offload from the #12, who has impressed today, and the Eels work to the uprights. Biondi-Odo uses his backrower via a short ball. The Eels are in for all money on the next play as they execute a quick strike down their right edge but the #6 looping behind in a pseudo fullback role elects not to pass to Small and a try goes begging.
Slice of luck for the Eels afterwards as they earn a fresh set from an errant South Sydney hand but they immediately throw it all away with a loose forward pass.
Well, the Eels are finally rewarded in a roundabout manner. Another punishing shot in defence forces an error before a shockingly nuanced pass from Jayden Yates releases the #12 through the front line. He only has the fullback to beat and he steps inside him but before he can dive over the cover defene catches him and pops the ball out. Joe Small looms large in support and dives onto the loose ball to score one of the odder tries you will see!
Try scored by Joe Small.
Parramatta trail 4-12
Ouch, what a dreadful sequence of events from the kickoff. The Eels turn it over mid tackle count and then allow the Rabbitohs to crash over as the three quarter siren rings out. Just awful stuff.
Try scored by South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 16-4
Time is blown off as Jayden Yates gets up dusty from a tackle. He is eventually escorted off by a trainer. JP Nohra does well under a swirling bomb to bring it in cleanly. The Eels complete the following set and manage to pin the Rabbitohs near the goal line in a rare show of poise in recent times.
Parramatta are the beneficiaries of a dubious call on the last tackle kick from the Bunnies. A clearing kick turned bomb barely scrapes its way to the half way line before the Eels seemingly lose it cold. Not sure if the touchy made the call but they have ruled that Souths got a hand to it first. Regardless, the Eels cough it up a few tackles latter so karmic balance is restored either way.
The game slips into a lull as neither team can find much traction through the middle.
Taufa Afu provides a strong carry from a scrum win as the Eels work their way into South Sydney’s half. Tasipale nearly cuts his way through the middle before Parra earn a penalty on the following play. Twice in the next two tackles the Eels nearly cross out wide on the left but some desperate defence just barely keeps them out.
We run it down our right down the last and there is an opportunity for the cutout pass to Small to put the winger over untouched but it looks to catch a South hand. No call comes from the sideline official or the main ref and the Eels are eventually tackled for the turnover.
Pretty miserable standard of play in the second half – from both teams really. Just a couple of minutes of play left here and thank goodness for that. Play winds down without any further points added as Souths comfortably account for the Eels in the first hit out.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 16 def. Parramatta Eels 4
1. Bevan French
2. Greg Leleisiuao
3. Josh Hoffman
4. Ethan Parry
5. Haze Dunster
6. Jaeman Salmon
7. Rhys Davies
8. Peni Terepo
9. Kyle Schneider
10. Kane Evans
11. Andrew Davey
12. Salesi Fainga’a
13. Ray Stone
14. Stefano Utoikamanu
15. Oregon Kaufusi
Remainder of bench TBC
Excuse my belated start to the coverage, was racing the clock grabbing a quick bite to eat for dinner. Souths waste little time getting on the board after picking up an early penalty. A blatant forward pass is overlooked in the lead up to the try. They cross down our right edge as Haze Dunster can’t peel away quick enough to counter a 2-on-1 on the blindside raid.
Concerning signs in the follow set as our right-edge is breached on half-way. Souths butcher the potential try when they trick to kick ahead instead of using hands and the Eels survive. Good carries from Ray Stone and Peni Terepo pave the way for Rhys Davies to drive a handy low kick down field and South Sydney will have to work it out from deep in their half.
Finally the Bunnies are pinged for a forward pass but Kane Evans somehow spills the ball on the second tackle. Less than optimal stuff there.
Some solid sets between the two teams now as they settle into their respective rhythms. A kick return from Dunster and then useful carries from Parry and Evans get the Eels out of trouble before we get to our fifth tackle kick via Davies. Salesi swallows up the fullback as he sorties to his left.
Souths complete their set with a well-weighted bomb that Dunster fields on his 1m mark but the visitors concede a penalty during Dunster’s return for take the pressure off.
Oregon Kaufusi surges onto the ball in his first touch and carries defenders for chunk yardage post contact. The Eels are powering downfield on the back of Oregon’s charge and they have Souths all at sea as French slides down Parramatta’s left edge but his double cut out ball to Leleisiuao is too flat and the ball flies into touch.
Oh deary me, poor play from French now as he loses the ball in a tackle after returning a kick. He counts his blessings as South Sydney blow a great chance to push the score ahead as they turn it over from the scrum win.
Ooph, the first grade talent is killing the team at the moment as Kane Evans turns the ball over for a second time today. He had made a strong carry but then forces the offload and it all comes undone.
Once again Souths quickly turn the ball over and the quick-thinking Hoffman scoops the deflection up before it hits the ground and steals a good 40m with a weaving carry. Down the left edge now as Davies nearly releases Davey if not but for a shoe string tackle and French is a second too late pushing up in support otherwise Davey may very well have put him through the line to score a 35m try.
With the tackle of Davey the first quarter comes to a close. Wenty will be on the attack when play resumes.
Oh my mistake there, since this trial will be split between Parramatta talent and Wenty talent each quarter is essentially treated as a half.
Souths kick off and there is a big shot on the first tackle. Peni recovers the momentum with a terrific carry featuring awesome leg speed and young Kyle Schneider leaps on the speed of the play-the-ball and laces a sensational 40/20. That was perfect.
The Eels make the most of the opportunity with a sweeping backline movement down the left that makes reparations for the butchered first attempt. French loops a long pass with a nice dose of touch to put Leleisuiao over in the corner.
Try scored by Greg Leleisiuao. Conversion unsuccessful by French.
Eels trail 4-6
A powerful run from Ethan Parry skittles defenders as he ploughs over halfway but he can’t quite link up with support. Souths counterpunch in the next set on the back of a penalty, they target Rhys Davies with a short ball to the Souths backrower. Davies slips off the tackle and the visitors go over for their second try.
Try scored by the #11 for South Sydney.
Souths lead 10-4
Good lord! Stefano has just about bear hugged somehow into the afterlife there. Forceful shot. The Eels survive the set after points due in part to terrific last tackle pressure from Peni Terepo.
A clearing penalty takes Parra on the attack as they work from right to left. Schneider finds Davies who in turn links up with French on a sweeping angle down the right but French, like Evans, produces his second error of the day as he spills the ball in light contact.
Moments after Leleisuao takes a spectacular defusing catch, French weaves through the ruck on a 20m dart but drops his guard and gets the ball pinched in a 1-on-1 steal. Too much bad for all the glimpses of good so far from Bev.
Hoffman makes a brilliant try saving tackle before Leleisuao produces his second brilliant catch of the day as he cleans up an attacking bomb in-goals. He races out to take the tap but the referee slows him down and dear lord he knocks it on from the tap. Is this real life?
You gift those sort of chances away and it will quickly come back to hurt you. Souths make the Eels pay full freight for the error as they exploit our right edge for the second time tonight. Looked like Dunster was fractionally too slow in pushing up with Hoffman, thus creating the chance.
Try scored by South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 16-4
Souths are pouring it on now. With the benefit of another penalty the race downfield and catch the Eels out with a simple backline move. French has a chance to take the ball runner in the 2-on-1 at the last line as the centre throws a dummy but French had already pushed across to the support player. Right edge really struggling here.
Try scored by #4 for South Sydney.
Rabbitohs lead 20-4
Another penalty to Souths now, Salesi Fainga’a gets a caution from the referee as well. It amounts to nothing though with the visitors dropping the ball in front of the posts.
Our best set in some time follows with Parra making inroads down both sides of the field. We work a banana kick in from our left edge on the last but it barely dribbles over the dead ball line before the kick chase arrives.
Another penalty for Souths, Salesi is the culprit again but he might have been done pretty hard there. Looked to have held his ground in front the kicking half and gets pinged for taking him out in the chase. That will do us here though with the two 20min quarters of serious play done.
The Wenty talent will take over from here but I am checking out for the night as far as live updating is concerned. More extensive thoughts on the two fixtures today will come once I get home! Feel free to drop any questions about either game into the comments.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 20 def. Parramatta Eels 4