Round 22 Drink Of Choice – Nikka Whisky
It was a lopsided mismatch on the Gold Coast on Friday night and above all else, Parramatta simply had to take care of business against the lowly Titans. Take care of business is exactly what they did with a 36-12 victory that ultimately earns the label of convincing, even if the Eels left a plethora of points on the field.
For the second week running the formidable starting rotation (how nice is it to be able to say that?) of Junior Paulo and Kane Evans was broken up. While a dodgy chook was the culprit behind Kane’s absence last week, it was a rolled ankle that kept Junior out of the action this week. The club’s decision to err on the side of caution with one of their key players was always going to be the correct one, win or loss, but Parramatta’s ability to overcome these setbacks in recent weeks has been a pleasant outcome.
Of course there was also the other destablising subplot to this week’s game after Shaun Lane was drawn into the cross-hairs of the media following a leaked image allegedly from Manly’s Mad Monday celebrations last year. These sort of scenarios are complex matters between the nature of the content leaked, the breach of privacy towards the individuals implicated and honestly, the frustrating silliness that comes with these grown men documenting such behaviour.
To all professional athletes, Eels or otherwise, please stop taking photos and videos of anything that could be remotely construed as an illicit activity. Regardless of where you stand on the drug issue, this is very simple professional courtesy for both yourself and your employer.
At the end of the day, Lane was fined $17,500 in an outcome that is pretty fair to all parties involved. Lane wears the hit to his back pocket for bringing the game into disrepute while the Eels are not punished for an event that was entirely out of their control.
Now, let’s get back to the game itself as the Eels made it four wins on the trot and suddenly emerge as genuine Top 4 contenders once again.
Blue & Gold is the new Blake
Waqa Blake had been threatening to breakout for a big game for the Eels ever since he debuted for his new club in Round 19. In fact, the Eels are undefeated since he donned the best strip in Australia but Friday night was his true arrival for Brad Arthur and the club.
His first try for the Eels was quickly followed by a second as the uber-athletic centre cranked out 158m from 12 runs, numbers inflated by only a single line-break. Blake has settled in brilliantly outside of Mitchell Moses and Manu Ma’u and the strength of their combined arms was on full display as the trio torched the left-edge of the Gold Coast Titans.
While the Titans were pretty ordinary for the most part, Blake had a fascinating running battle with Brian Kelly as both players repeatedly laid on some punishing hits against the other. Blake’s application in defence has easily been the biggest surprise for me personally as I always knew he could be devastating with the ball in hand.
It must also be said that even if Waqa was great, he was not perfect. His comical offload to himself was just one of many butchered try-scoring opportunities on Friday night but I can forgive him for it on the balance of all things!
The great defensive turnaround
There is no sugarcoating the fact that the Eels were thoroughly embarrassed in the 36-24 rout they suffered against Manly in Round 18. Since then though Parramatta have rallied in defence, conceding scores of 22, 4, 14 and 12 for a monthly per-game average of 13pts. Admittedly Parramatta have also only faced two fringe Top 8 battlers and two cellar dwellars in that time but it comes back to the idea of taking care of business.
The defensive dominance on the scoreboard has gone hand in hand with Parramatta’s best month of ruck control in the 2019 season. Since that fateful day in Brookvale, Brad Arthur and David Kidwell have done an excellent job of tightening our defence through the middle corridor in general while our wrestle and scramble are starting to build towards finals calibre standards.
If the Eels are to make any sort of impact in the post-season, they will need to be able to count on the integrity of their defence and the strides they have made their in the last month of play is important to say the least.
The importance of four in a row
While the prospects of a Top 4 finish are very real, the fact that the Eels have finally shown themselves capable of stringing together four straight victories is a very important milestone in the event that they find themselves in the back half of the Top 8. That is naturally because a 5th or 6th placed finish would require Parramatta to repeat such a feat in order to bring home the premiership.
Again, the level of the opposition will obviously be of a much higher standard in the finals but four wins is four wins in the NRL and now the playing group have the knowledge in their pocket that they are absolutely capable of producing such a task.
Shauny Bill Williams
Siege mentality and the Eels are almost never used in the same sentence but the club closed ranks around their rangy backrower this week as the Mad Monday incident played out. Lane himself responded with an imperious showing that while statistically (10 runs, 109m, 1 LBA, 29 tackles, 1 missed, 3 ineffective) didn’t jump off the sheet, in the game itself echoed memories of one Sonny Bill Williams with his three brilliant offloads against the Titans.
Lane is not and will never be as good a player as ‘SBW’ obviously but his value to our team is undeniable both on an indiviudal level alongside the ever-growing connection he shares with Dylan Brown.
Because this man honestly doesn’t need any comparisons or new nicknames. He is just that good. I reckon Roger Tuivasa-Sheck might be on the phone this week about how to correctly throw ‘that’ offload since Manu showed the entire NRL how it was done to get Waqa Blake over for his second.
Maika your bloody minds up
This week’s most egregious missed call ended up costing Maika Sivo the lead in the race to be the NRL’s leading try scorer following Latrell Mitchell’s double against the New Zealand Warriors. I don’t know where to start with this one. Not only was Sivo angled off the ball by an escort but when did initiate his contest for the ball he was shoulder-to-shoulder with the escort. The mixed messaging that every club gets from officials is a massive part of the madness that is engulfing officiating. Are we punishing escorts or not? Are players allowed to compete shoulder-to-shoulder for the ball or no?
Two more pieces in place?
Brent Read broke news on Saturday via Triple M NRL that the Eels were close to inking new deals for veteran players Michael Jennings and Brad Takairangi. The pair look set to extend their stay in the Golden West for two more years in moves that largely should be seen in a positive light – although I can understand concerns about the second year for both players.
One thing that I do have faith in though is our bullish recruitment and retention team. They have shown themselves to be relentless this year in their pursuit of good-value deals for the club and I doubt they have wavered when it comes to the cap hits for Jennings and Takairangi.
If that remains to be true then if either player has their place in the team usurped by a worthy junior in 2020 or 2021 then it shouldn’t be problematic for the team on any level – salary cap or otherwise. The importance of their veteran presence in an otherwise young roster shouldn’t be underestimated either. It doesn’t hurt that Takairangi is arguably in career best form while Jennings helps mask a big portion of Maika Sivo’s growing pains in defence.
The Final Word
I could have wrapped Mitchell Moses (who shook off the goal-kicking jitters from last week) again while I also could have rambled about the fact that the Eels were finally functional in attack without Reed Mahoney on the field. Hell, the king of the bench Marata Niukore only strengthened his case as one of the better interchange weapons in the game in recent weeks with a powerful try under the posts. On top of all these though was Daniel Alvaro’s stunning Oscar entry for best actor after he sold arguably the greatest dummy ever seen en-route to scoring the opening points of the game.
Parramatta were good without being great on Friday night and while the scoreline definitely could have cracked the 50pt margin, the fact that they came out of the sheds in the second half to put the Titans to the sword speaks towards a team that is ready to roll up its sleeves and get its hands dirty in the finals.
Now the Bulldogs loom shockingly large on the horizon. A team that would have been marked down as a relatively easy win over a month ago have transformed into a fierce bunch of battlers. Of course the Bulldogs also did Parrmatta a huge favour this week with a gritty win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs but once more it will be up to our boys to simply take care of business.