Round 3 Drink Of Choice – Yamazaki Single Malt
How good? HOW GOOD? Rugby League is back after a crazy hiatus and the Parramatta Eels barely missed a step in the showcase return game as they buried the Brisbane Broncos under a mountain of pressure and possession to take the commanding 34-6 victory. It certainly wasn’t a perfect hitout with the Eels squandering a number of red-zone opportunities care of loose handling but stunningly Brad Arthur has somehow social distanced his team to a higher level of play.
There was fire and brimstone from the forwards mixed with guile and deception from the play-makers sprinkled with just a sprinkle of jaw-dropping athleticism from the backs. Above all of it however, barring a momentary lapse from an otherwise standout Marata Niukore, the Eels suffocated the home team when on defence. It was a superb continuation of the tone established in the first two rounds many a moon ago and it has delivered Parramatta a rather incredible plaudit that I will touch on later in this blog. On that teaser, shall we get into the thick of the wonderful relaunch of rugby league?
Prime movers and deft maneuvers
Possession rates and completion percentages are a great way to establish statistical dominance but we are going straight to the ground game tonight where the Eels pounded the Broncos into the Suncorp soil to the tune of 2093m to 1158m. The list of exemplary performances is frankly exhausting but they all deserve a shout out so here we go:
- Clinton Gutherson – 23 runs for 249m
- Maika Sivo – 15 runs for 164m
- Michael Jennings – 13 runs for 129m
- Waqa Blake – 13 runs for 127m
- Blake Ferguson – 17 runs for 147m
- Dylan Brown – 14 runs for 106m
- Reagan Campbell-Gillard – 18 runs for 194m
- Junior Paulo – 15 runs for 136m
- Shaun Lane – 19 runs for 168m
- Ryan Matterson – 17 runs for 150m
- Marata Niukore – 14 runs for 137m
- Kane Evans – 17 runs for 179m
From the scintillating touches of budding superstar Dylan Brown to the thunderous steps of Junior Paulo, the Eels brought the full array of their lethal running repertoire to the fore tonight and Brisbane, due in some part to self-inflicted wounds, simply couldn’t go blow-for-blow or step-for-step as it were.
The Eels then took it one step further (don’t we all love puns?) as they built off their dominant running performance with a bevy of quality offloads that stretched an exhausted Brisbane defence to its limits. Parramatta strung together 23 offloads to Brisbane’s 5 while the numbers don’t account for the amount of late passes at the line and switches of play that the Eels deployed to keep the Broncos on the backfoot. Again, Paulo was titanic here as the one dubbed Proptimus Prime added four offloads and a try assist to his haul . Amazingly he was bettered by Ryan Matterson who matched his try assist and added an additional offload to tally 5.
For the longest time, even in their darkest days, the Eels have been plenty capable of entertaining and exciting attack. That identity hasn’t been lost by any means in 2020 but they are showing a willingness to let the flashier play come after their hard work has brutalised the opposition defence and that is something I can get behind.
The old fox and the young Staggs
The ageless Michael Jennings continues to dazzle. For each step of top-end speed he has lost in recent years he has absolutely made up for it in guile and understanding of the game and it was on full display tonight as he took highly touted NSW origin prospect Kotoni Staggs right through the Kindergarten to Year 12 of rugby league.
Jennings took his career tally of 4-pointers to 148 tonight with a flurry of left-foot steps that saw him weave around defenders and score under the posts and in doing so broke the backs of the home team. As always though, it was his savvy defence that underpinned the performance and while Staggs did manage to embarrass Maika Sivo in the early exchanges he was promptly brick-walled by the wily veteran centre for the remainder of the game.
Jennings heads the triumvirate of former-Roosters who boast premiership winning credentials at the Eels and more than ever he looms as a central figure for the Eels as they set out to establish themselves as legitimate front-runners.
Fortune favours the blue & gold
It should be mentioned that the Eels had their slice of luck tonight. On top of Brisbane’s litany of general play miscues both Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd were left to rue butchered attempts to reel in grubber kicks for a try. The Eels maintained ascendancy throughout the game and dominated both possession and territory so it remains to be seen if it would have been enough to turn the tides but nonetheless it is worth mentioning. Beyond that the Broncos lost a man early on when Alex Glenn departed the game with a nasty cut that gashed through flesh right to bone in his lower leg.
New ruck rules explore an interesting space
I am thoroughly undecided on where I stand in relation to the new 6-again ruck interpretation. The Eels benefited from it in consecutive fashion early in the first stanza before never seeing a call again for the remainder of the game (despite dominating the ruck) while the Broncos lost early momentum due to it but received a wild 6-again call on the last tackle later in the first half.
Thematically I think it is an interpretation that comes from the right place. Its intent is to speed up the flow of the game and allow play-makers and skilled forwards to shine and that is a great thing. It is also wildly open to games snow-balling out of control with early infringements against one team piling on fatigue which in turn creates further ruck infringements and so on and so forth as teams enter a tortuous downward spiral. Naturally the worst outcome is that the pace of the game outstrips the ability of teams to reasonably defend but for now it is very much wait and see over the next month of play.
Regardless of how this new design space in the rules plays out, I am vehemently against dropping the interchange allotment from its current rate of 8. Fatigue and attrition already have huge roles in the game and with ever-growing importance of safe-guarding against serious head injuries, teams should have access to 8 interchanges a game.
Raymond 3:16 says I just whooped your ass
COVID-19 may have robbed him of a shot at a starting berth for the better parts of months but Ray Stone did his damndest tonight to ensure he gets a long look in first-grade as an interchange forward. Stone’s punishing burst off the bench saw him unseat several Broncos with his granite shoulders while he proved a capable ruck option in attack against the fatiguing defence. He finished the the latter part of his 21min stint at dummy-half as Reed Mahoney was put on ice and while his passes weren’t as crisp as Parramatta’s rep calibre rake, it certainly put the nightmares of his debut against the Storm to rest as he found Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown every time with nary a bounced pass to be seen.
I am never going to be tagging him with superstar billings but Stone plays the game with a chip on his shoulder that is the size of the Mariana Trench and whenever I see someone bring that edge and intensity to a team I can’t help but root for them. So here is to hoping he can stay fit and really carve out a niche on the bench for the Eels.
Can I get a hell yeah?
Payne Haas Appreciation Post 2.0
I gave him a deserved shout out in the 58-0 embarrassment at Bankwest last year where he stood head and shoulders above his compatriots and once more he draws an appreciative golf clap from this blogger. Haas churned out 162m from 16 carries and piled on a further 49 tackles (1 missed, 3 ineffective) as he played a lone hand in a pack that was beaten 7-ways into next week. He is an out and out superstar that will only get better pending his ability to stay healthy and it is hard not to admire his special qualities.
In saying all that, while he had a good game tonight, it felt like the Eels honestly bottled him up perfectly and even if the production was there, the impact wasn’t. Denying the opposition their best weapons is another tenet of a prospective premiership team and the Eels are making good on this in the opening rounds of 2020.
Eels on historic defensive pace
I teased it in the lead-in for tonight’s musings but Parramatta’s defence hasn’t just been good it has been G O O D. So good in fact that you have to go back over three decades to find a team that set a better pace after three rounds as Dan Ginanne points out on Twitter. This isn’t to say that the Eels can definitely maintain this ironclad pace throughout the abbreviated season or that there isn’t a hefty loss or two in the tea-leaves but defence, something that has traditionally been the Achilles’ Eel (more puns, yay!) of Parramatta, is more than just setting the tone so far in 2020 – it is defining their victories.
We will have to wait and see how it will all entail down the road but the intent and enthusiasm from the players is clear as day and that is all you can ask for at this time of the season.
14 points conceded by Eels in first 3 games.
Least by any team in 31 years @TripleM_NRL
— Dan Ginnane (@DanGinnane) May 28, 2020
The Final Word
I could have splurged out the word count on superlatives for Dylan Brown, or for the fittingly golden boot displayed by the resurgent Reed Mahoney or indeed on any of the three backrowers who starred in their various capacities. Junior Paulo deserved a second write-up dedicated to his insane engine and ridiculous play-making skills – something that could easily be transplanted to the ineffable Clinton Gutherson. Yet it is 1:15AM and the buzz of the win is finally dying down so I will wind down my ramblings accordingly.
Next week we meet an old arch-enemy in the Sea-Eagles but we will be playing on the hallowed grounds of Bankwest so there is plenty of cause for optimism. Many media pundits have tipped Manly as their dark-horse for the 2020 title while the Eels, barring the Round 2 debacle of 2018, have matched up extremely favourably with their traditional rivals in recent seasons so this shapes up as an entertaining match.
Catch all the coverage for that blockbuster and more on TCT in the coming week and as always, stay safe in these trying times!
Credit to the NRL and AAP for all images used, statistics provided courtesy of Champion Data.