Round 8 Drink Of Choice – Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Gold (and Coke)
Slow starts be damned, can you win a game in the first quarter? No! Can you win a game in the second quarter? No! Can you win a game in the third quarter? HELL NO! Can you win a game in the fourth quarter? HELL YES.
NFL rah-rah speeches don’t quite translate perfectly to the NRL but Pete Carroll’s famous philosophy how it isn’t about how you start but how you finish was on full display yesterday. After conceding fourteen unanswered in the first 33-minutes, the Parramatta Eels ran down the St George Illawarra Dragons in convincing fashion to post a 32-18 victory.
Early on there were alarming similarities to the Round 7 effort against the Newcastle Knights but to their credit the Eels rallied hard against one of the better team in 2019. They still very much need to prove their ability to be consistent from round to round but the groundswell of excitement around this young and talented roster continues to build.
Kick chase discipline fails once again
Let’s start this week’s musings with the biggest disappointment to come out of Parramatta’s fifth win of the year – the terrible kick chase discipline.
Matt Dufty’s try is going to feature on every highlight reel to come out of this season and for good reason, it was a brilliant piece of footy from the Dragons. It was also a brutally unfair result for Jaeman Salmon who had laced the near perfect clearing kick to the opposite side of the field that the try was scored on.
The Eels were slow getting downfield in pursuit and their right edge was then caught woefully out of position by a quick shift. A slew of arm-grab tackle attempts were punished to maximum effect, footage that what will undoubtedly be rolled out in the film review by the coaches.
I have made a point before about how Parramatta are fielding quite a young team and there are certain growing pains to be expected but the kick chase is an effort area where they need to improve rapidly.
Smooth travels on the Oregon Trail
The steady ascent of Oregon Kaufusi continued in Round 8 as the young bookend powered out over 100m from just 8 carries. Missing his bench ace in Tim Mannah and with Kane Evans only used extremely sparingly (just 6-minutes from the bench), Brad Arthur needed a strong performance from The Big O and he got exactly that.
Kaufusi has been a highly competent defender throughout 2019 but is growing his offensive toolkit and is starting the threaten with his late footwork and strength through contact. Given that he is turning 20 late this year, we are still some time away from his best footy but he is certainly building a strong case to hold his place in the team once gun backrower Nathan Brown returns.
He Maika the difference
Would you really fault the Eels if they changed their recruitment and retention strategies to almost exclusively target Fijians for their wingers (one Blake Ferguson non-withstanding)?
Maika Sivo produced a cracking individual effort to almost rival the team-play of the Dufty-try where he coincidentally swatted away Dufty like a mozzie. He would double-up later with a more regulation effort where he stepped inside a few cover defenders but the big play potential of both he and Ferguson is shaping up as a big match-up advantage for Parramatta.
Speaking of Fergy-Fergs
Shout out to my man Blake Ferguson, the only bloke better at backflips in the NRL than Daly Cherry-Evans.
Play-makers erm, make plays
Just a week after posting arguably his worst career performance against the Knights, Clinton Gutherson roared back to top-form with a cracking solo-try against the Dragons. Indeed, it was a good night on the balance of everything for the entire spine of the Eels.
Reed Mahoney got in on the try-scoring stakes as well with his dive-over effort from short range in the first half serving as the initial rallying point for the Eels. Mitchell Moses was quiet in the first half (beyond a monster falcon that he dinged off the head of Oregon Kaufusi) but took control of the show in the second half.
Most pleasing though was the steady performance of Jaeman Salmon as the young utility steadily grows into a NRL player. Centre still seems like his best fit in the long term but he is shouldering the burdens and responsibilities that come with the #6 jersey with increasing poise.
No try Tepai
He will hopefully snare that elusive four-pointer at some point but for now Tepai Moeroa and attacking kicks are surely on bad terms between what has occurred in both Round 1 and Round 8.
The Final Word
At 5-3 the Eels are sitting relatively pretty and remain within striking distance of the Top 4. In fact they will have no better chance to both prove their premiership credentials and jump into the Top 4 than this coming week – the so-called magic round – where they will face a fired up Melbourne Storm.
Parramatta has had a knack of pulling opponents at inopportune times this year. Newcastle bounced back from an embarrassing thrashing at the hands of the Titans to knock off the Eels and the Storm will certainly be looking to impress after Craig Bellamy took them to task in his Round 8 post-match presser.
Right now the Eels are perched a notch or two below the certified premiership contenders. They might still end up that way at season’s end but if they can start to find genuine consistency, starting with the upcoming game against Melbourne, then maybe they can narrow that gap.