Date: Sunday, March 22, 2020
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Kick Off: 6:15pm AEDT, 5:15 local
Referees: Henry Perenara, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
Head-to-head: Played 19, Eels 8 Titans 11
Odds: Eels $1.38 Titans $3.00
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Eels 36 Titans 12, Cbus Super Stadium (R22, 2019)
Eels 28 Titans 12, ANZ Stadium (R21, 2018)
Eels 30 Titans 8, ANZ Stadium (R24, 2017)
Titans 26 Eels 14, Cbus Super Stadium (R3, 2017)
How much is a crowd worth to home ground advantage? That is the big question heading into round two of the 2020 NRL season as we enter the era of empty stadium football in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Win, lose or draw, enjoy every second of Eels football we get, because who knows when we will get to sit in the stands once more, or even when the next round will come.
The Eels passed an important test last weekend, beating the Bulldogs at their own game and out-grinding the grinders in a contest you could say was for the “purists”. While it would have been nice for Parramatta to impose their will on the Bulldogs instead of getting dragged down to their level, it was a good omen to start the 2020 season, passing a test they flunked against the same team at the end of 2019.
Now the Blue and Gold get to retake another test they failed several times last year/decade: the away game. As a prerequisite to any team hoping to claim a Bachelor of Premierships, the Eels need to learn how to win away from the confines of Fortress Bankwest. While a first up trip to the Gold Coast is a bit like the teacher combing through the test and removing all the long division to help you pass, such has been the Eels road failures that we will take an away win however it comes.
That said, Robina hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Parramatta, and considering most of the time the crowd balance was 50/50 for the Eels, we can’t assume it was the rabid home fans that gave the Titans an edge on their home turf.
Mildly interesting fact: of the 19 times the Eels and Titans have played, ten of those matches have been played in round 20 or later, including the last three. That might explain the Eels recent dominance of the rivalry; the last time the Titans had something to play for in August, Barack Obama was still the US president.
Popular former Eel and victim of the 2016 salary cap cull, Nathan Peats, is the only Titan to have previously worn the Blue and Gold (the Titans colours of course being light blue and yellow). He is much missed as a personality, but the emergence of Reed Mahoney has more than filled the gap he left in the playing roster. Eels utility Brad Takairangi is the only former Titan in the Parramatta squad, though to call this a revenge game is a massive stretch considering he played the last of his 39 games for the Gold Coast back in 2014.
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
Firstly, welcome to Gol’s first preview. We’ve known Gil for a number of years and it’s terrific to now have him on board for his weekly insights.
I’ll still be dropping in this section, as punters look for guidance for bets to avoid!
Oh, for a functional punting brain!
This was the logic from last week’s game against the Dogs which I included in the preview:
“If you follow the only statistic that rarely changes between these teams (see above), then you take on the total match points market. Selecting less than 39.5 points – @$1.90 – would have produced a return for punters in 7 of the last 8 games.”
I hope you followed that part of my preview. Unfortunately, I ignored all logic and went looking for longer odds. The losing punt was to be expected.
This week, I’m looking at a TAB special market.
You can group Fergo and Sivo together to be either the first or second try scorer at the generous odds of $2.50.
Fergo was unlucky not to cross for the first four pointer last week, whilst Sivo’s try scoring feats are well documented.
I’ll put my $20 on that this week.
Current bank: -$20
Usual gambling warnings apply.
1. Phillip Sami 2. Anthony Don 3. Kallum Watkins 4. Brian Kelly 5. Dale Copley 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Mitch Rein 10. Sam Lisone 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. Jai Arrow. 14. Nathan Peats 15. Jai Whitbread 16. Tyrone Peachey 17. Moeaki Fotuaika. 18. Jaimin Jolliffe 19. Sam Stone 20. Shannon Boyd 21. AJ Brimson
How do you know a team got the wooden spoon? A prop won their player of the year award.
The return from injury of said player of the year Moeaki Fotuaika via the interchange bench is a boost for the Titans. The talented young prop can single handedly lift a pack with his strong charges and he was sorely missed last weekend. Brian Kelly has forced Tyrone Peachey back to the bench, and AJ Brimson looms in the reserves as a potential late inclusion at fullback. Phillip Sami was an effective battering ram at the back last week, but the playmaking class of Brimson would add another dimension to the Titans attack.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Ryan Matterson 12. Shaun Lane 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Brad Takairangi 15. Marata Niukore 16. Kane Evans 17. Peni Terepo. 18. David Gower 19. Ray Stone 20. Oregon Kaufusi 21. George Jennings.
Brad Arthur is loath to change a winning formula, so Peni Terepo remains on the bench despite the form of Oregon Kaufusi and Daniel Alvaro. Brad Takairangi will be hoping to actually see the field this week after the Cook Island Control Tower was never cleared for takeoff in round one.
Early forecasts suggest a warm, dry track for Sunday evening. Heat shouldn’t be too much of a factor with a late 5pm local kickoff. The biggest intangible will be how both sides handle playing in front of no crowd and the impact that will have on adrenaline, fatigue and the referees.
We’ve drawn the short straw on referee appointments with Henry Perenara and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski. From my observations, Perenara is the rare official that is biased against every NRL side, such is the volume of his questionable calls, and he seems to take pride in not being influenced by the home crowd, which won’t be a concern here.
I believe Perenara’s true skill is murdering a game with nitpicking penalties, inconsistency in decisions and his lack of regard for the flow of a match. Many of the Eels away losses have come on the back of a glut of early possession to their opponent; we need to give the nitpicker no reason to pull out the whistle in the opening exchanges and earn ourselves a 50:50 (or better) share of possession in the first quarter.
I will openly admit to knowing nothing about Ziggy, but I bet Andrew Voss loves him.
How We Win
If the Eels can get into attacking positions, the points will flow. Bryce Cartwright tackles like the ball carrier has an infectious disease; his right side combination with Ash Taylor last weekend looked like the two were keeping social distance before it was state mandated. Shaun Lane and Dylan Brown will be crossing off the days until they face those two like kids counting down to Christmas.
The key to an Eels victory will be getting to those attacking opportunities. The Titans had a disastrous start to last weekend’s clash and the Eels need to exercise their significant advantage in starting pack strength to win the field position battle early and give Moses and Dylan chances to put on points. Jarrod Wallace was poor last week and journeyman Sam Lisone won’t have RCG and Junior Paulo shaking at the matchup, while Proctor and Arrow are relatively one note runners. Despite his efforts in round one Mitch Rein has retained his starting role over the ghost of Nathan Peats and he should be targeted frequently, especially if we can isolate him behind the ruck off quick play-the-balls.
While Sixties promised in last week’s preview that the Eels would show far more in attack than we’d seen in the preseason, I can understand Brad Arthur keeping his powder dry against the Bulldogs in what amounted to trench warfare. The Titans should give our guns more room to fire and players like Cartwright, Taylor and Rein present big targets when we get close to the line. In the unlikely event that targeting those players doesn’t yield results, Maika Sivo v Anthony Don is a matchup ripe for exploitation, Sivo should be hungry after he was so infrequently involved in attack last weekend.
The Titans were their own worst enemies against the Raiders, but once they stopped gifting the opposition easy field position they held their own in the arm wrestle on the back of early contributions from their outside backs and the “head down and charge” approach of Proctor and Arrow. They got plenty of second phase play going, and late offloads have long been a threat to an Eels team that can struggle to put a ball carrier to ground.
The Eels were up to the challenge of containing the attacking “threats” of Lachlan Lewis and (checks Big League) Brandon Wakeham, but the Titans have a few more weapons across the park. Cartwright’s offload and Peachey’s footwork offer attacking threats outside the halves, and Ash Taylor is a danger given time or space, and his precise kicking game could undo our outside backs if given enough chances. Sivo really struggles to react quickly to grubbers and Blake Ferguson is good for a few baffling failures when defending kicks each season.
Phillip Sami needs the Eels full attention, he was running hard at fullback and while he won’t be throwing Ponga-esque cutout passes he will beat an arm tackle or catch a lazy defender out. Peni Terepo and Shaun Lane in particular need to be alert, both can struggle to get their body behind a tackle under fatigue.
As a man who lives and breathes statistics I feel as naked as a bench prop on Mad Monday with only one round of data to work with. One set of numbers that caught my eye was that not one of the Titans forwards made more runs than any of their outside backs or fullback. That is both a mixture of some impressive workrate from the Titans centres and a lack of involvement from their big men.
The Eels by comparison got the usual heavy workrate from Clint Gutherson and Blake Ferguson, but also had every member of the starting pack take at least 10 runs. Backs taking on the workload can get a set started, but ultimately you need the big men to get a roll on for your halves to have room on plays four and five. I would feel confident of the Eels winning the field position battle if the Titans retain a similar balance this weekend.
My favourite stat of the week? Zero. That is the number of players in the Eels first grade squad currently unavailable through injury or suspension. Long may that last.
How it Goes
Some may call it foolish to make bold predictions about games being played in “first time for football” conditions such as in front of an empty stadium, but if we want to wear our premiership contender pants then “Titans away” is a game you tick off as a win at the start of the season and I see no reason why we shouldn’t expect an Eels victory here. Parramatta fans have justifiably been wary of both high expectations and away games, but expecting the worst and falling into a “woe is us, here we go again” heap the moment the smallest thing goes against us is the kind of minnow mentality the club and its fans need to break away from. There is nothing wrong with confidence.
The Titans were too loose defensively last week and the Eels have the tools to make them pay, even if we kept them in the shed for round one. I expect we get on top quickly and post early points, playing from in front and with confidence. I’m not so bold to predict a big win, but I expect a comfortable one. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 28 Gold Coast 14
Man of the Match: Shaun Lane
Images courtesy of NRL, AAP and Cbus Stadium