The Cumberland Throw

Whisky Musings – Round 4: The Tragedy Of The Forward Pass

Round 4 Drink Of Choice – Old St Andrews


Parramatta continued their flawless start to 2020 as they fought off a resilient Manly outfit in the post-COVID return to Bankwest Stadium. The 19-16 victory will be more widely remembered for its controversial finish in which a crucial forward pass call denied the visitors a last-gasp chance at victory but Parramatta will gladly accept the win nonetheless…and perhaps more importantly the invaluable lessons to come from Saturday night.


The better team let it come down to one play

The game may have finished in controversy but it shouldn’t be a controversial take to say that the Eels were the better team throughout the majority of the contest. Parramatta controlled the ruck better than Manly, both in possession and without, applied greater defensive pressure and executed an outstanding long-kicking game that consistently pinned the Sea-Eagles’ back three deep in their red zone.

In spite of all this, a handful of lapses – especially by the right-edge – opened the door for Manly to mount a comeback and they duly obliged. Parramatta’s 18-2 lead should never have been challenged the way it was and while I give our arch-rivals credit for never going away, this game holds important teaching tape for our budding contenders for how to shut the door on good teams.

Parramatta ceded quick play-the-balls during crucial moments in the second half and these were the few times that Manly looked genuinely threatening against the Blue & Gold defensive wall. The Eels likely would have been better served playing for a slow 6-again call or even escalating it to a full penalty and resetting their defensive line.

Waqa Blake has been ferocious on defence this season but inside his own red zone he will need to learn to temper his aggression ever so slightly in order to make more consistent contact. Across the ballpark Parramatta will need to improve their focus with the ball in hand. A swathe of unforced errors gave Manly possession and position they did not earn and denied Parramatta a chance to put the game well beyond reach.

As negative as all the above sounds, the Eels still played plenty of solid footy and executed a well-thought out game-plan pioneered by Brad Arthur and his offsiders. They wouldn’t have been in a position to win otherwise. Still, this game should be an important milestone for the Eels. One they can use to elevate the consistency of their level of play as they continue to build to the postseason.


BA cuts the nitrous oxide

Tom Trbojevic, aka Tommy Turbo, is one the the NRL’s premier attacking talents and he regularly eviscerates defences across the competition. Against the Eels however he has been a non-factor by and large with Brad Arthur consistently finding ways to scheme him out of games. Trbrojevic has scored just a single try against the Eels in 7 games and the only clubs he sports worse strike rates against are the Melbourne Storm (1 try in 8 games) and shockingly the Wests Tigers against whom he has failed to score against in 7 attempts.

Last night it was Parramatta’s exemplary long-kicking efforts that took Manly’s most dangerous player out of the game. Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown and Reed Mahoney might as well have MacGyvered laser sights to their kicking boots with the accuracy of their kicks as they dissected the Manly backfield. Parramatta’s relentless kick chase ensured that maximum advantage was gained from these incisive kicks and almost completely blunted Trbojevic’s influence on the game.


A single incorrect call is a tragedy, two dozen missed calls are a statistic (wait, no they aren’t damn it!)

Okay, so Stalin’s famous quote doesn’t translate perfectly here because currently, as far as I am aware, there are no advanced metrics tracking missed calls through the course of a game. Still, as the furore over the final play of the game continues to bubble away in the general public it is worth reminding everyone that Danny Levi was playing American football out there for the entire 80 minutes.

I was stunned throughout the contest that Manly were not pulled up for a gaggle of forward passes right up until that fateful moment and the frustrations of the Parramatta players were captured perfectly on the sideline microphones. The ebb and flow of Saturday night’s pulsating encounter could have changed dramatically if any of those forward passes was called – but they weren’t.

The Eels had to roll with the punches and make do with what the officials gave them (including a horrible non-call late in the second half when Lachlan Croker blatantly slowed down a Clinton Gutherson play-the-ball from a line break) and for over a decade they haven’t been good enough to overcome that.

Amusingly, now we sit on the other side of the ledger where the Eels go about their business and opposition teams howl wildly about the calls that cost them.


Parramatta’s new play-Maika

The hulking monstrosity lurking on Parramatta’s left-edge more commonly known as Maika Sivo has earned a reputation for bull-dozing opposition flankers en route to scoring and occasionally banishing poor souls to the shadow realm with his trademark fend. Last night shone a new light on his growing skillset as he nabbed a pair of try assists and was deployed in a new role for a set play.

Sivo lined up as a pseudo centre/backrower on the left edge in the dying moments of the first half as the Eels hurriedly set a scrum. From there Michael Jennings fed him early ball and the Fijian tour de force split the defensive line on a crash line and popped a gilded offload to Dylan Brown to give Parramatta the perfect result before half time.

Before Semi Radradra’s untimely departure from the club Brad Arthur was exploring exciting ways to further integrate his superstar winger’s terrifying arsenal of skills into Parramatta’s offence. Now it seems like Sivo is ready to follow in the footsteps of his forerunner in what could a substantial boost to one of the game’s most devastating backlines.


Taka’s tricky fit

For the second time in 2020 Brad Arthur failed to find a way for veteran utility Brad Takairangi to take to the field. Against the Bulldogs and now the Sea-Eagles the game-state simply hasn’t opened a path for Takairangi to earn playing time. With the return of Nathan Brown upon us it poses an interesting question for BA to tackle – what is his optimal bench rotation?

Kane Evans has been dominant – arguably the game’s best interchange prop – working in the second rotation while Marata Niukore has quickly become an invaluable cog in the forward pack. These two are indisputably automatic inclusions in Parramatta’s top roster leaving a fierce battle for the final two spots. Peni Terepo has been tasked with greater link-play responsibilities recently but how will that mesh with the return of the Eels’ premier lock forward?

Oregon Kaufusi produced one error in an otherwise solid if unspectacular return to first grade last night while Ray Stone, the man that made for him due to illness, has flashed intriguing potential as a bench utility in his limited opportunities.

With Shaun Laune and Ryan Matterson locked in for 80 minutes on either edge and given that Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard entrusted with massive stints for big men in the middle the question becomes – what bench configuration holds the most value for the Eels?

Do we want greater versatility in the form of Takairangi or Stone to cover for a wide array of negative scenarios at the risk of dead minutes or would we prefer to get the guaranteed value that Terepo or Kaufusi can provide in small bursts to augment the Eels Big 3 prop rotation?


The Final Word

Parramatta’s 4-0 start has all sorts of historical implications (last time it happened was ’89, ’86 and ’83 in reverse chronological order) but most importantly the win over Manly keeps the Eels ahead of the chasing pack as they enter a gruelling gauntlet in their draw. Starting with last night’s victory over Manly, Parramatta will duke it out with the Panthers, Roosters, Raiders, Cowboys and Knights before the return fixture against the Sea Eagles in Round 10.

That disgusting stretch features every team inside the current 2020 (mid Round 4) Top 8 barring the Melbourne Storm, most of which double as either premiership contenders or favourites. Parramatta has shown they have all the assets and tools to hang with the heavy weights but they aren’t the finish product yet. Just as last night highlighted that they have the ability to dominate a good team, it also showed that they can still let the foot off the throat.

Brad Arthur’s big challenge now is to take the tape against Manly, distill the good and bad from it and drill that killer instinct into his charges so that Parramatta can forge ahead of the competition in the coming weeks.

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Extremely good dissection and summary mate Especially re unable to find way for taka . Desi only used 16 as well ,


Exactly true about Taka. The load fell onto the middles not the edges. He simply didn’t fit into the needs of that game.


Then theres that band of exciting kids nearly ready to emerge , time for a final cleanout ,i wont be happy till our reggies side is 80% development players .


Telling it like it is… as always.


That’s our Forty!

Colin Hussey

Did not see the game, and it begs a question relating to the non use of Taka off the bench for two games in a row now, sadly it seems a repeat of last year when we saw the same thing with another player not being used off the bench for more than a few games.   If the NRL decided to reduce the numbers of bench players and the interchange which has often been cried out from many circles the eels side seems to be silently pushing that way.   Anyway with Brown back next week, means at least… Read more »


Colin, I believe it’s a case for BA using the bench as he needs them, rather than as a pre-planned idea of having to replace certain players at certain times. I think that he probably has approximate ideas, but if the game unfolds in certain ways, that changes. I’m looking at examining the bench in my next Spotlight.

Longfin Eel

Agreed. This is not U6s where you need to make sure every player gets a game. We need to use the bench in the best way possible. Taka would be fully aware of what his role is, and if injuries don’t force a change, then he sits and waits. Inevitably injuries will mean Taka will get game time and we are lucky to have someone of his calibre to call upon.


Great analysis. 4-0 start is flawless nowithstanding the lapses provide room to improve. Good point re the different tactics; defensive wall closed the turbo down, kicking to the corners very effective and Sivo became an offload beast.
With your point about Waqa – high chance Riff will direct plenty of attack to him next week so this needs to be sorted.
Crazy to see we haven’t started with 4 wins since the 80s.

Achilles' Eel

Your summary of the game was spot on Forty20. The boys got a fright, there are lessons to learn, the two competition points are in the bag, and onwards we march. What else should one expect from a round 4 match against one of the competition’s heavyweights?   My only regret is that I have to put up with rugby league commentators willing to give me a physics lesson all because I can’t go to the footy currently. Perhaps that lesson would have been far more interesting if it weren’t influenced on whom these commentators had wagered on to win… Read more »

Achilles' Eel

Yes, the Walker try was contentious to say the least. I also thought Taufua bounced the ball during the putdown of his first try as if preparing for his service match. Still, all this talk of separation sees me feeling like I’m sitting in on a hearing for a divorce settlement at times.   I’m more disturbed by the Head of Football making statements so soon after the final whistle and before there’s been time for a proper and thorough review of the game. People in authority should exhibit more tact and due diligence under the circumstances. Leave the sensationalism… Read more »


Great summary Forty. Dessie seemed to push the bad call aside and suggest Manly were on the wrong side of the refs all night. Geez, he got that wrong. His team got leniency all night and a big leg up from us. The self inflicted pressure almost got us. Whatever, our roster gives every indication of staying in games and competing.


Love your work Forty

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