Round 4 Drink Of Choice – Starward Single Malt
The Eels continue to build through the opening month of the 2019 season as they notched their third win, a 24-12 victory over the Cronulla Sharks, to stay a pace of the competition front-runners. Cronulla were besieged by injuries throughout the night but still gave Parramatta the gritty, grinding workout that we all expected coming into the fixture. There is little doubt that this was a game that the 2018 Eels lose and lose handily but a superb individual game from Mitchell Moses, backed up brilliantly by Clinton Gutherson, guided the Eels through the final quarter to play to the twelve point win.
Indeed, it has been a rare opening month for the Parramatta Eels with Brad Arthur guiding the club to just its fourth 3-1 start in the NRL era. Fascinatingly, the only other times the Eels have recorded such a start are in the first two years of the NRL (1998-99) and then under Arthur’s stewardship in 2016.
The strong start has the Eels positioned perfectly to consolidate throughout the middle of the season but more importantly it has given us plenty of talking points for this week’s musings.
The Prophet & The King
They already got a wrap in the opening paragraph but it can not be understated how impressive Mitchell Moses and Clinton Gutherson were last night. Moses was in complete control in his first outing without Dylan Brown, freely mixing composed set-plays and structures with heady responsive play to what the Cronulla defensive line was presenting him with at any given time.
Mitch finished the night with two try assists and also broke the line himself separately two other times. The Sharks had no answer to the probing questions he asked of their defence but for a player known for his panache and propensity to look for the big plays, it was his decisions to slow the game down at crucial moments that stood out.
Moses set the team up for the opportunity to ice that game with the Michael Jennings’ try by controlling the territorial battle. It remains to be seen if this was a coming-of-age performance for the mercurial halfback but the signs were nothing less than outstanding.
Also, how about those conversions? After missing two attempts against Penrith in Round 1, Moses has been flawless off the tee in the following three games and now sits at 15/17 for the season to date. Goal-kicking was one of the real question marks hanging over the Eels heading into 2019 but Moses is alleviating those concerns as it stands.
Despite his red-hot form, you wouldn’t know Moses was off-contract because there has been nary a peep in the media. Clinton Gutherson on the other hand has had his name plastered in the presses in the last couple of weeks as he and the Eels work towards finding middle ground at the negotiation table.
The reigning King of Parra hasn’t let the contract talk derail his form mind you. Gutherson continues to validate the second-season theory for ACL recoveries as he elevates his game to heights perhaps even beyond what he achieved in 2017. It usually takes a herculean effort to top Blake Ferguson for metres on the ground and Gutherson provided just that as he cranked out 265m from 20 carries and remained ever present as a support runner for his other offensive weapons.
It will be missed in the annals of history but he also played a crucial role in one of the greatest tries that never was with Kane Evans barely failing to finish off a length of the field effort from a kickoff before half-time. It might be an outrageous hot-take but I think this Gutherson kid might be alright.
The Mountain That Strides
Fans around the world are waiting with bated breaths as Game Of Thrones enters its climatic season in the coming weeks. Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain That Rides, might be a poor comparison for Junior Paulo given his role as a villain in the show but the two share a rare ability and potential for physical dominance.
Paulo bullied the Sharks on both sides of the ball, nearly scoring a sensational individual try and tattooing Scott Sorenson with an imprint of his shoulders in a belter of a hit. The mountainous prop forward has been nothing short of outstanding in the first month of footy and it seems like the Eels are constantly looking for means to expand his role in their offensive systems. Against the Roosters and Bulldogs he was given freedom to attack down the edges and pass while last night Mitchell Moses consistently looked to turn the ball back inside to him.
He hasn’t been left to do it all by himself with the rest of the forward pack providing more than adequate support but Paulo has the potential to tilt the field as a prop and the Eels seem resolute to uncover his full potential as a game-breaker.
Salmon Steady At Stand-Off
Dylan Brown probably raised the bar to an unfair height but Jaeman Salmon was exceptionally tidy playing in relief of Brown last night. Salmon handled the secondary kicking duties neatly, took on all the traffic the Sharks directed his way and was a tireless presence in support.
He came close to scoring on two occasions as he backed up line breaks by Mitchell Moses and Clinton Gutherson only to be denied at the last moment. It wasn’t a jaw-dropping performance by any means but Salmon has been pushing for a greater role for the last two weeks and he certainly didn’t drop his bundle last night.
The timeline on Dylan’s recovery is somewhat shrouded in mystery although there has been speculation of a 6-8 week monitoring period. Parramatta need Salmon to maintain this level of play at five-eighth as the foil to Moses but I am hoping he can go above and beyond as he finds his feet in a starting role.
Mannah’s Monstrous Run
Given that they were playing for the Johnny Mannah Cup, it is fair to say that is was a big night for club stalwart Tim Mannah. Cronulla have mostly had a monopoly on the trophy dedicated to his deceased brother but Tim made sure the Eels reclaimed it as he delivered a road-grader 30m+ run that left multiple defenders strewn in his wake. It laid the platform for Michael Jennings to score the try, his first of two, that broke the deadlock and signaled a match-winning swing in momentum for the night.
Mannah continues to enjoy a renaissance period in his career as he carves out a terrific niche on the bench. Paul Gallen credited the Parramatta bench with outplaying Cronulla’s interchange forwards on the Sunday Footy Show today and Mannah certainly led the way there.
Potentially Costly Errors Still There But Defence Lifts
The Eels finished Saturday night with a solid completion rate of 83% as they get through 33 of a possible 40 sets. The improved discipline was certainly a factor in stymieing all of Cronulla’s comeback efforts but Parramatta certainly gifted them enough chances regardless. Blake Ferguson delivered a scathing self-assessment on the field after allowing Sosaia Feki to score off a grubber kick while both Maika Sivo and Kane Evans turned the ball over coming out of the redzone.
Barring an embarrassing lapse that allowed Feki to post his second try from a penalty tap, the Eels defended their goal line staunchly in an encouraging bounce back from Round 3 where they let the Roosters cross for some soft points.
I have made the case for this already in my musings this season but the Eels are 100% a work in progress. The fact they sit at 3-1 is a credit to their coach Brad Arthur, his support staff and the players. As they iron out these errors and grow in confidence in defence they will begin to solidify their claim to a berth in the upper echelons of the ladder.
The Final Word
At the start of the season we all of course predicted that next Sunday’s twilight game against the Canberra Raiders would be played with a spot in the Top 4 at stake. Completely rational, insightful and intelligent is what you would have been labelled as without a doubt.
Yet here we are.
Round 5 is now circled as a massive game as Parramatta get the chance to open an early break on the lower parts of the ladder and set-up a barn burner Easter Monday game against the Wests-Tigers in front of a sold-out home crowd at Bank West Stadium.
Canberra’s potent weapons on the edges and busy backrowers will keep the Eels honest but Parramatta have a legitimate chance to knock off a second bogey team in consecutive weeks if they play anything like they have in the first month of 2019.