It was only one preseason game so the usual disclaimers about trial games are in full effect but the Parramatta Eels launched into a new era in the Canterbury Cup in incandescent fashion as they blew the Blacktown Workers off the park in a 54-12 rout.
Before we jump into the breakdown of the first preseason action in 2020, be sure to have a listen to the first iteration of the pregame show hosted by myself and Sixties. Due to time and technical constraints we were limited to a ten minute run time but we still managed to churn out thoughts on Ryan Carr and the expectations for the Eels in the Canterbury Cup in 2020.
Speaking of Carr, the newly installed coach deserves credit after his team produced one of the cleanest preseason efforts that I can ever recall in this grade for the Eels. The 42-point thrashing was built on the back of an 80min effort in which Parramatta proved to be industrious in both attack and defence. Perhaps most encouraging among the array of positives was the Eels’ ability to limit their own turnovers and throttle the threat of explosive plays from their opposition.
The Eels started the day with plenty of star power on hand for the Eels today but it was all found in the stands as Ryan Matterson, Shaun Lane and Jaeman Salmon headlined a host of players to turn out in support of their squad-mates. Instead, Parramatta deployed a 25-man roster that leaned heavily on youth and entrusted a handful of returning stalwarts in Henry Rawalui, Brad Keighran and Haimona Hiroti and experienced acquisitions in Eli Levido, Watson Heleta and Makahesi Makatoa to guide them around the park.
Here is roughly how the Eels lined up after myself and my expert offsiders combined our collective powers to scrape together a team list:
1. Sione Fonua
2. Solomone Naiduki (#22)
3. Ethan Parry
4. Watson Heleta
5. Haze Dunster
6. Henry Rawalui (#16)
7. Eli Levido
8. Makahesi Makatoa
9. Brad Keighran
10. Dave Hollis
11. Elie El-Zakhem
12. Aaron Shelford
13. Haimona Hiroti
14. Kyle Schneider
15. Sam Hughes
16. Taufu Afu
17. PJ Vaigalu
18. Michael Cheer
19. Allan Fitzgibbon
20. Ryan King
21. Blake Mara
22. Charbel Tasipale (#23)
23. Tasi James (#19)
24. Jake Arthur
25. Sean Russell (#17)
(There were indeed some duplicate jersey numbers among the 25-man roster)
A first quarter blitz started with Makatoa touching down a grubber kick from Levido before Aaron Shelford posted back-to-back tries down the right edge. Blacktown would hit back to make the scores 6-18 and 12-24 at various points in the first half but from there it was a cascade of points for the home team. Allan Fitzgibbon (2), Henry Rawalui (2), Ethan Parry and Solomone Naiduki rounded out the try scorers while Brad Keighran and Kyle Schneider were flawless from the kicking tee.
Sione Fonua was the pick of the back-line as he posted a largely polished effort in the custodial role at fullback but Naiduki and Parry both scored powerful individual tries to their credit. Levido and Makatoa both impressed in their first outing at the Eels with the former providing Parramatta with a steady hand throughout the game while the latter showcased a number of quality carries and off-the-ball hustle.
The major story line of the day though was the performances of the platoon of young players that featured amidst both the starting and reserve line-up. David Hollis and Sam Hughes, both of whom have been profiled on TCT in recent weeks, didn’t shy away in their first senior action will Hollis impressing with his a number of strong carries while Hughes was sound in attack and executed strongly in defence.
Kyle Schneider was his usual polished self working as the relief dummy half while Charbel Tasipale made several splash plays on the right edge in the second half. New recruit Allan Fitzgibbon showed a serious set of wheels and a nose for the try line and very nearly posted a hat-trick in just the single half of play he was given.
Without a doubt though, the most surprising inclusions today were Jake Arthur and Sean Russel. While the likes of Hollis, Hughes, Schneider and Tasipale are Jersey Flegg eligible, Arthur and Russel take it a step further with both players able to represent the Eels in the SG Ball this season. Although they both received limited minutes in the final quarter, neither shied away from the action. Russel, a multi-talented utility back, helped the Eels work it out from their own half without fear while Jake Arthur, son of head coach Brad, hustled to claim a turnover on midfield, saved a late try by batting a kick dead and put Fitzgibbon over for his second try with a picturesque cutout pass down the right edge.
Both players have a long way to go but today represented a memorable slice of their careers and they can certainly hold their heads up high for the achievement.
Ultimately it was a polished team effort and credit can be equally distributed across the park, bench and coaching staff for an overwhelmingly positive start to the business portion of the preseason. The Eels will be fiercely keen to build on this start throughout this grade and beyond as they eye the Perth 9s and the bushfire relief trial game against the Penrith Panthers.
Stay tuned for more pregame shows and live blogs across the District Representatives and all senior grades in the coming weeks!