Round Drink Of Choice – Black Douglas Deluxe
What a bizarre game – fitting of these crazy times really. The Eels started in red-hot fashion as they raced out to an early 12-0 lead, seemingly shaking off all their struggles in attack from Round 1, before collectively lapsing into a state barely above that of a coma before half-time. Then during the break it looks like they got a hold of Michael Jordan’s secret stuff and ran hog wild to the tune of 32 unanswered points in the second half. To their credit, the Titans battled fiercely through a bevy of injuries for 50-minutes before the class of Parramatta prevailed in a manner akin to an avalanche.
The win came at a huge price though with Reed Mahoney likely sustaining a serious ankle injury from a somewhat innocuous bump with Tyrone Peachey. Parramatta and Brad Arthur will await the results of scans anxiously but I think it is best to assume the Eels will move ahead without the services of their ace rake for some time.
On the back of their imperious second half performance, Parramatta edged ahead of the Newcastle Knights to claim first place on the ladder care of their +46 differential as the books on Round 2. Given that the NRL is deadset on forging ahead in the face of financial oblivion, there looks to be plenty of twists and turns ahead in the 2020 season but for now the Eels have positioned themselves perfectly. Let’s live in the moment a little as we dive into all the action from Parramatta’s big win.
Supercars, much like NRL superstars, have a performance pedigree that just separates them from the rest of the pack. That was fully evident as Mitchell ‘Miura’ Moses left Phillip Camry – mean – Sami in his dust in a spectacular display of speed and confidence that lead to the opening try of the game. It was the sort of focused athletic arrogance that I love to see. An ice cold statement without any words that I am a better player and a better athlete than you and I am going to score from here. The only player in recent times that I can honestly recall that consistently backed himself in those situations was Jarryd Hayne – the human embodiment of athletic arrogance.
It was a stunning effort, with some terrific lead up work from Nathan Brown and Ryan Matterson, and I think it handily eclipses his effort to score the first try ever at Bankwest Stadium. Moses wasn’t done there mind you, not by a long shot as the ascending star played a crucial role in tries for Reed Mahoney and Maika Sivo while he was a sniper from the kicking tee knocking down 9 conversions from 9 attempts.
Dylbags a double
A quiet night at the office in Round 1 was quickly forgiven as Parramatta’s youngest star put in overtime today. Dylan Brown threatened to break out for a big run throughout the entire first half, regularly beating the first defender with footwork or breaking the first tackle with strength, only to be cut down moments before hitting the backfield. He wouldn’t be denied in the second half as he went on to score the try that would open the flood gates before icing the game in the 74th-minute to secure his double.
Finding ways to shine in the lesser play-maker role isn’t always easy but Dylan looks to be completely at home working as the foil to Moses. His short kicking game was fresher than any kind of royalty from Bel-Air and while a moment of laxness in the second half resulted in a poor error he finished the game with a staggering 139m from 14 runs. The best thing about it all is that we are only scratching the surface of his potential.
The Steel Curtain
Granted the Eels had their struggles early on with Ryan Matterson and Reed Mahoney both missing costly tackles but Parramatta exit Round 2 having conceded a grand total of 8-points and just the solitary try. That statement is attached with the qualifier that the Eels have faced the Bulldogs and Titans but Parramatta, for all their early season warts, have handled business in defence the way any would-be contender should.
Brad Arthur’s preseason emphasis on defence has his troops leading the likes of the Raiders (12-points conceded) and the Storm (14-points conceded) before a slew of teams that have already leaked between 20 and 40-points in the first two rounds of competition. It is a great foundation piece to build a campaign on and we will get a great idea of how legitimate their defensive credentials are in Round 3 when the Eels take on the Cowboys in their new house.
While the use of the cane has thankfully gone the way of the dinosaur, fortunately for the Eels the use of the Kane is entirely legal in 2020 as Kane Evans orchestrated a devastating stint off the bench today in a performance that completely transcends the numbers. Kane punched out a mild 81m from 10 carries but crashed over for a try while also helping Dylan Brown and Peni Terepo nab meat pies of their own. The Gold Coast struggled to contain the Parramatta bookend and that injection of fire and brimstone from the bench was hugely encouraging.
Evans had his starting role usurped by high profile recruit Reagan Campbell-Gillard after something of a redemption arc in 2019 and how he handled the transition back to bench forward was one of the stories that flew under the radar heading into the season. His ability to replicate the efforts from Round 2 will be crucial when the Eels cross paths with Top 8 contenders in the coming weeks.
In the past I dubbed him The Mountain That Strides after a certain imposing character in George R.R. Martin’s (frustratingly unfinished) magnum opus fantasy series. In the early exchanges of 2020, Junior Paulo has gone to another level and as such I think the Eels’ #1 bull has earned a new moniker. Thus I bestow upon him the title of Proptimus Prime and boy oh boy did he earn it after a monstrous 19 run, 191m effort that also featured 2 offloads, a try assist and a line break assist.
Paulo has been the go-to man for the Eels when the going has been tough in the first two rounds and he has thrived as opposing defences have thrown three, four and at times five defenders his way. His efforts have been lost among the wider audience with superstars like Jason Taumalolo, Payne Haas and David Fifita capturing the spotlight with outstanding performances of their own but 2020 is shaping up to be the year that Junior enters the pantheon of elite forwards.
31 seems to be indeed just a number for the ageless wonder that is Michael Jennings. The most experienced member of the Eels’ roster was at the centre (no pun intended) of a number of brilliant defensive reads and subsequently plays in the first half. In the second half he showed expert touch to split two defenders and get the ball around the corner to Maika Sivo to get the big Fijian winger on the board in 2020. He was put on ice shortly after that highlight reel play with replays showing that he made heavy contract with the ground in the same play. Hopefully it was all precautionary because Jennings is on a tear.
How many numbers go into 9?
The burning question for Round 3 (and beyond) is who will step into Reed Mahoney’s boots and how many players will it take? Clinton Gutherson did an admirable job covering at dummy-half but the Eels now have to scramble to fill the one position where they lack genuine depth. Will Smith, Ray Stone, Jaeman Salmon and Rhys Davies are all options inside the Top 30 but given the struggles that Davies had at dummy-half in the backend of the preseason you would have to think he wouldn’t be in the running.
The problem facing Brad Arthur is that neither Smith, Stone nor Salmon are capable of big minutes in the all important role. Obviously some combination of two of the three players can share the role but even then it will likely call for multiple substitutions to be used between the prospective duo – a huge handicap moving forwards. Parramatta could conceivably go to market and find someone out in the wild, Michael Lichaa is out there while they could also look internally at someone like Brad Keighran. As an unashamed fan of Stone I would love to see him fit into the formula somehow but Parramatta will need everything they can extract from Mahoney’s replacement(s) while Moses, Brown and Gutherson will have to pick up the slack in his absence.
The Final Word
It is hard to poke too many holes at the team when they sit atop the ladder after two rounds. They still aren’t anywhere near top gear but they are winning on the back of their defence while the attack came to life in the second half today. Reed Mahoney’s injury is a cruel blow to a team looking to a team looking to surge ahead in the early rounds and to a player looking to push for an Origin debut but that is the unfortunate nature of the game.
The Gold Coast Titans hung around with the Eels for 50-minutes before capitulating in the face of injuries and the blow torch that was been applied by Parramatta. That scenario should sound familiar to fans of the blue & gold because we were on the wrong side of it far too many times in the modern era. The good teams win can win ugly, the good teams can run away with games after sucking the life out of their opponents. The Eels are a good team. That was never really in doubt. We still have to wait for a couple of months to find out if they are a great team.