The Cumberland Throw

Honed Edge: Can The Eels Make The Mental Leap In 2020?

With the recent acquisition of Ryan Matterson alongside Shaun Lane’s breakout season, the Parramatta Eels have two genuinely unique difference makers in both edge backrow slots in 2020. Physically the backrow, and indeed the entire roster, is in its most competitive iteration in well over a decade and primed for a tilt at the Norm Provan trophy.

The question now remains, having honed their physical edge are the Parramatta Eels ready to find their mental edge?

What did we learn in 2019?

Parramatta’s surge to 5th place in 2019 featured a myriad of fascinating results upon further reflection. In games against bottom eight teams, the Eels largely went about their business as they accumulated a dominant 9-4 record with a points differential of +106 (For: 301, Against: 195). An emphatic Easter Monday victory over the Wests Tigers (+45 differential) propped up Parramatta’s differential to some extent but in their eight other victories the Eels still maintained an average margin of victory of just under 12 points (11.75) and only twice finished within one scoring play of their opponents.

In their four losses against non-finals contenders the Eels had margins of defeat that totalled just 14, 7, 6 and 6 points respectively. In each of these games, even the 14 point loss against the Newcastle Knights the Eels absolutely had opportunities to triumph. Just as each loss here represents a frustrating miscue and squandered victory, it also points to a psychological shift that enabled Parramatta to be a position to win each of these 14 games.

The manner in which they played these games certainly wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing but history and the win column cares little in that regard. Parramatta clearly made mental adjustments to how they approached games they ‘should win’ in 2019 and while there is no such thing as an easy game in the NRL, banking any win in which you have any sort of marginal favouritism is one of the cornerstones of sustained success.

On the other hand, Parramatta’s splits against Top 4 and Top 8 opposition show there is still considerable room for improvement for Brad Arthur and his men in 2020. The Eels sported an overall record of 5-6 against Top 8 opponents in the regulation season in 2019 and a 2-3 record when you narrow it down to the Top 4.

These splits suggest the Eels were competitive with the various tiers of talent amongst the Top 8 teams.However the points differential in these eleven games disappointingly finished in the red at -46. As with the Easter Monday game against the Wests Tigers there is an outlier here with the Round 9 shellacking by the Melbourne Storm which handed the Eels a hefty -54 to their for and against. Even so, their five other losses against finals contenders still amounted to an average margin of defeat of 13.2 points – a handicap far too significant for a team seriously looking to throw its weight around with the big boys in the NRL.

It then shouldn’t come as a surprise that we saw both the best and worst of the Parramatta Eels in the 2019 finals. The two teams they faced in the Brisbane Broncos and the Melbourne Storm represented match-ups that were either spectacularly positive or negative in both record and play-style.

Parramatta’s record shattering 58-0 rout of the Broncos was an important psychological step forwards for the coach and team as Brad Arthur earned his first post-season victory while the Eels tasted finals success for the first time in a decade. Critics of Parramatta’s success in 2017 pointed to their straight sets exit from the finals (to eventual grand finalists in the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys, mind you) and gave birth to the notion that the Eels could not win big games.

Given what transpired in Melbourne the following week in 2019, I doubt that said notion has been completely dispelled from nay-sayers but as I mentioned in my post-game musings following the 32-0 heart breaker, my silver lining to the game was in the attitude and application of the Eels in the second half of that game.

Still, it is almost an inevitability these days that the path to the premiership runs through the Melbourne Storm or the Sydney Roosters one way or another. In 2019 the Eels went a combined 0-3 against these two teams and perhaps more than any other statistic or match-up, this is hurdle that Parramatta have to overcome in 2020.

 

Stopping The Skid

Consecutive defeats are almost always a back-breaker for any would-be Top 4 team and every blue & gold fan will immediately point to a 3-game skid that started in Round 9 as to where the Eels lost crucial momentum in 2019. The aforementioned 64-10 thrashing at the hands of the Storm in the Magic Round started the rot and was followed by two ugly losses to the Cowboys and Panthers in which Parramatta played some of their worst football of the season.

A loss here and there is understandable but the Eels can ill-afford to repeat such a mistake in 2020.

 

The MILF Factor

MILF of course referring to maturation, indemnification, leadership and finals (experience) you filthy degenerates!

The 2019 Parramatta Eels were a young and talented squad that over-achieved to an extent. No where was this more exemplified than in their spine where Mitchell Moses and Clinton Gutherson at the tender ages of 24 a piece blazed the trails forward for the baby-faced pair of assassins in Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown.

Throw in the fresh faces featured across the back line (Ferguson, Sivo, Blake) and the forward pack (Paulo, Lane) in 2019 and intrinsically there is significant overhead for growth both individually and in combinations across this roster before you even factor in the additions of Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

The maturation of these young players, combinations and leaders should be one of the core reasons for fans to set their expectations high for the 2020 season. So too should the sting of the loss to the Storm be fuel for every player and coach to go even further in their upcoming redemption tour.

 

The Importance Of Bankwest Stadium

Some may consider it a crutch but the Eels were triumphant in their return to their spiritual home this year. It was reflected in the numbers in a big way as they powered to an overall record of 8-2 in the regulation season (including one ‘away’ game against the Tigers) with a points differential of +123, an average of victory of 16.86 and an average margin of defeat of just 6.

Spin it whichever way you want but the Parramatta Eels were dominant in their new house. That dominance carried into the finals with their historic victory over the Brisbane Broncos and given that Bankwest Stadium should be eligible to host a Grand Final Qualifier (if I am not mistaken) the significance of a Top 4/Top 2 finish for the Eels can not be overstated.

In order to secure such a tremendous advantage the Eels will need to coalesce everything written above but the difference in making in the finals series run through the West of Sydney instead of AAMI Park or the SCG would change the complexion of the entire finals series.

 

So will the Parramatta Eels make the mental leap in 2020?

As always when it comes to the Eels, my heart is already completely over-committed and bought in. It is clearly a predisposed incurable genetic condition and that baffles the brightest scientific minds in the world.

My head is full of a cautious optimism that is bordering on full-blown genuine optimism because I believe there are enough key indicators pointing towards growth and consolidation across the Eels’ roster.

If the Eels are ever to take the next step forwards and enter the pantheon of elite contenders in the NRL, 2020 is the year. All that remains unfortunately is to wait and speculate!

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Milo
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Milo

Thanks forty for the chance to respond. i honestly think we can perform better mentally; but it is going to be helped by having a good run of injuries and the spine being uninterrupted. I believe we have the coaching staff to put things in place to move forward again and improve. I also firmly believe (as a fan) that we do want the next few months of off-season covered in players who will / will not sign and i am talking about our current players off contract from the end of 2020. I think that could hinder our focus… Read more »

Eggman
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Eggman

Storm and Roosters were a class above this year no doubt, and they both exposed a weakness be it mental or tactical or both, and this must be figured out because while we will be more experienced, both those teams will be equally as strong next year.No doubt we can score tries better than most but The Raiders showed that it is defence and mental toughness that gets you to the GF, had they possessed more of our try scoring abilities they may well have won it.
So let’s hope we fix our weakness and we could go all the way.

Milo
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Milo

Spot on Eggman; Canberra’s defence improved v much and they played to their strengths. Melb and Easts were the benchmark and no doubt will be up there again somewhere in the 8.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I agree with your sentiments Eggman but it should not be forgotten that the Roosters also had the best attack as well.

I agree with you that with some added maturity and targeted off season coaching including Johns If he is available will put us in a stronger position for 2020

John Eel

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Roosters have lost Cronk, Latrell and Takiaho. No way they are equally as strong in 2020 as they were in 2019.

Eggman
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Eggman

Tackyarsehole just resigned and Mitchell is still signed for 2020 at this stage, they have signed a very good halfback in flanno who will have Cronk as halves coach, they will be up there.if Mitchell goes they will then have even more money to spend on someone like Fafita or etc.point is there will be 4 or 5 teams who could take it out and we need to ensure that we are one of them by tightening up our defense.

JonBoy
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JonBoy

Ah Geez forty…why did you have to say out loud the thing that everyone is thinking but have been too cautious to say out loud.

If we don’t go all the way in 2020 I am officially laying the blame firmly upon your shoulders! 😜

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

I’m pretty much on the same boat 40, my primary concerns without doubt is our roster for both 2020 and beyond, reasoning is simple and that is the players that are still needed to be signed and long enough to take us through the two seasons as they will provide the keys to future cruiser. 16 off contract end of 2020 and 3/4 key ones in 2021 & 5 in 2022. Those years may seem a fair way off, and perhaps beyond the horizon but what we have for 2020 needs to be the team that can set a really… Read more »

Jeff Cooke
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Jeff Cooke

Thanks for the article. I certainly share the optimism re 2020. Without sounding negative though, like many fans, I reckon our forward pack needed some bolstering and Jnr Paulo in particular was a welcome addition in 2019. However, as good as Matterson may be, we’ve lost M’au, therefore the addition of RCG is the only real boost to the pack. I’m sure he’ll have a great season, but I’m hoping for one more well credentialed big unit to come into the front row rotation. Our backline has firepower everywhere and will score plenty if our forwards can dominate. Anyway, no… Read more »

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

Jeff, the lose of Ma’u was big in many ways, but there was only a one year option on the table if I understand it, whereas going to SL he gets more coin and longer contract a benefit for him and family. I don’t begrudge him in the move, and wonder how the poms will enjoy the phantom of the stares will adapt to it. As for Matto, I really do not believe we will lose anything in the backrow with his signing, in fact I believe its a big plus a younger player who has good attacking, and ball… Read more »

Clive
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Clive

I wouldn’t worry about adding another big bopper in the middle Jeff. We have this huge scary beast coming through the grades that is better than Haas and Filfita put together, his name is Stefano Utoikamanu.

Ohh wait😂😂

BDon
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BDon

Forty, I’m banking on the new and improved roster mix in the forwards to deliver improvement in how we compete every game for 80 minutes. I don’t think RCG has been anywhere near his best for a while now,, Matterson has had premiership and Origin squad exposure and an injury free and fitter Evans has to adjust some technique issues to be effective. It’s not just about these blokes, it’s about the overall mix where this roster to me looks like energy, skill, agility and focus will improve.