Date: Saturday, June 20, 2020
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Kick Off: 7:30PM AEST
Referee: Ben Cummins
Head-to-head: Played 132, Parramatta 62, Sydney 65, Drawn 5
Odds: Roosters $1.44, Eels $2.80
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Roosters 32 d Eels 18, ANZ Stadium, R3 2019
Roosters 44 d Eels 10, ANZ Stadium, R25 2018
Roosters 48 d Eels 10, SFS, R10 2017
Eels 22 d Roosters 18, Parramatta Stadium, R18 2016
“We’ll know how we’re going next week with them, won’t we?”
Parramatta has had a flying start to the 2020 season, but Eels coach Brad Arthur knows better than anybody it means nothing if his team can’t match it with the competition heavyweights. Five impressive wins on the trot won’t matter at all if the Eels can’t give the defending premiers a tough contest at Bankwest this Saturday, something they have rarely managed in recent times.
The average scoreline of the last four clashes between the Eels and the two competition benchmarks; the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm, is 34-11. Parramatta only made three of those eight games a genuine contest and emerged victorious only once, back in 2016 when the Roosters finished second last to a historically bad Newcastle team, and even that took an 18 point comeback driven by Corey Norman and Manu Ma’u (playing in the centres!). The blue and gold have been pretenders against the best of the best for a decade, but hope has never been higher that the streak ends this weekend.
Both teams come in with completely different but very impressive leadups. The Roosters have annihilated all in their path since the COVID-19 resumption, dominating the Rabbitohs before absolutely crushing a Brisbane team the mighty Eels had softened up for them the week prior, then putting a similarly one sided beating on the Bulldogs last weekend in the James Tedesco show.
Parramatta has faced two tough, grinding encounters in as many weeks, building a lead and holding on against Manly before reeling in Penrith in two high quality, physical contests. Will the toll of those encounters leave the Eels with tired legs for this massive clash, or will it steel them for a contest against the defending premiers who have had two mere training runs in that same period?
There are a surprising number of shared opponents between the Roosters and Eels thus far in 2020. Before the shutdown the Roosters lost close games to Manly and Penrith, teams the Eels handled in the last two weeks. The Roosters destruction of the Bulldogs and Broncos in their last two games was more impressive than the Eels scrappy effort against Canterbury and their own crushing of Brisbane, but Sydney are a side more conditioned and experienced in taking advantages and stretching them into floggings. I doubt you can read much into either form line, those Roosters losses were a lifetime ago, and who knows what Parramatta would do to the Bulldogs if they played this week.
One thing is for sure, whichever team emerges victorious here will inherit the premiership favouritism. How long has it been since you could say that about a Parramatta game? It’s good to be good.
It is tough to call the Roosters a traditional rival of Parramatta, though both sides time as powerhouses briefly crossed in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Fun fact: the Roosters have never beaten the Eels in a finals match in four attempts. The most recent post-season clash between the two was back in 2000, a convincing 32-8 Eels win against the eventual runners-up. Easts were also vanquished on the Eels path to the 81 and 82 premierships, and beaten on the way to the 1977 grand final(s).
There is certainly a bit of Rooster about Parramatta at the moment. The Eels have implemented an “if you can’t beat them, take them” strategy in recruitment, with several former Bondi boys on the current roster. Michael Jennings, Blake Ferguson and Ryan Matterson all won premierships with the Roosters, while Kane Evans and Brad Takairangi have also had stints in the tri-colours. The player movement between the clubs has been a one way street in recent years, with no former Eels on the Roosters roster, though coach Trent Robinson did play a solitary game for the Eels back in 2003. Star winger Daniel Tupou is another Eels junior that didn’t kick on until leaving the Parramatta system (this is becoming such a frequent occurrence that it might become a regular feature).
Some famous names have worn both club’s colours, though the most famous of all may be supercoach Jack Gibson, who won two premierships at Eastern Suburbs before taking the Eels to their first three titles. Key member of the great Eels side of the late 70s, John “Bomber” Peard, was also poached from Easts, and immortal Arthur Beetson finished his career in blue and gold after making his name in the tri-colours.
That is only the start of the big names. Eels hall of farmers Dick Thornett and Bob O’Reilly, along with grand final winners Graeme Atkins and Paul Mares all finished their careers at Bondi after successful runs with Parramatta, and international turned administrator John Quayle was a defection the other way, as was fellow Australian representative and 70s hard man Graeme Olling.
In more recent times, current Eels assistant coach David Kidwell played for both clubs, while John Simon was a crowd favourite (at least for me) for Parramatta in his late 90s stint. Others to play in both the blue and gold and the tri-colours include Mark Riddell, Brett Finch, Michael Gordon, Paul Green and Chris Walker.
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
The Sixties tip delivered last week and it was never really at risk. With a strong historical foundation, I selected under 36.5 total match points and the typically tight clash saw only 26 points scored in the eighty minutes.
This week, despite both teams boasting strong defences in 2020, I am again swayed by history.
Eels vs Roosters encounters have been traditionally high scoring affairs. In fact, 20 out of last the last 24 clashes (including the last five games) have resulted in total match points exceeding 36.5.
So let’s again tackle the total points over/under market, and select over 36.5 points which is returning $1.90.
But, should you decide to seek a greater return, you might consider the line/over under double. Parra +9.5/over 36.5 points is paying $3.80, which is hard to ignore.
If you’re confident of a straight out Eels victory, the head to head/over under market is offering $6.50 for Parra to win with over 36.5 total match points.
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. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Ray Stone 15. Marata Niukore 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Peni Terepo. 18. Brad Takairangi 19. David Gower 20. George Jennings 21. Jai Field.
The Eels medical staff have had an easy run of it to start 2020, with the only changes forced by suspension. This week Kane Evans sits out after an innocuous chicken wing and some prior charges cost him a weeks suspension, creating a spot for Oregon Kaufusi. Ray Stone retains the bench utility spot, from where he played only 7 minutes last week. The high minute demands of the starting pack leave little time for the fourth reserve on the field, but Stone certainly makes the most of his chances and has a career ratio of one bone crunching hit per three minutes of game time (stat not verified).
On the extended bench, Jai Field makes his first appearance, becoming the “utility of choice” (and ballboy) over Will Smith and Jaeman Salmon.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 5. Brett Morris 6. Luke Keary 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Angus Crichton 13. Victor Radley. 14. Sam Verrills 15. Isaac Liu 16. Nat Butcher 17. Lindsay Collins. 18. Sitili Tupouniua 19. Mitchell Aubusson 20. Ryan Hall 21. Lachlan Lam.
Just in time, the Roosters will field their full strength lineup for the first time this season on Saturday night. Sydney have strike, in-form players across the park and through the bench, with Angus Crichton, Victor Radley and Lindsay Collins all in rich form.
While there isn’t much chance of rain, the Bankwest surface is becoming notorious for its slippery nature in these night games. The Eels have experienced this first hand in the last two weeks and were a lot better with ball handling against Penrith after some uncharacteristic mistakes against Manly. The slippery Bankwest conditions didn’t stop the Roosters putting Canterbury to the sword but they did make the dangerous James Tedesco even harder to tackle.
Both coaches will have the Thursday and Friday matches to study the new rules crackdown announced by Graham Annesley this week, and will be watching whether the threats of sin binnings for cynical early tackle slowdowns and offside creeping are toothless or not. Referee Ben Cummins has used the six again rule less than any other official, but he was also in control of the Newcastle/Melbourne game last weekend that was the straw breaking the camel’s back for Annesley’s mandate. He’ll be on notice to keep control of the ruck and Parramatta’s line speed has come up multiple times this week during the analysis of rule stretching. The Eels will need to be disciplined early to avoid an early glut of Roosters possession, they are not a team you want playing with momentum and confidence.
How we win
Recent Eels losses to the Roosters have had a real “men against boys” feel to them, and while I don’t expect that same result this time around it is critical that the Eels start strong and really smack the Roosters pack in the mouth. A few repeat sets and an early try conceded will see Parramatta heads drop and fans hearts with them. If this was played in front of a crowd you would be able to hear the fans deflate and thousands of poor partners sitting on the couch will need to listen to “hear we go again” rants.
Brad Arthur has gameplanned well to neutralise his opponent’s strengths, shutting down Payne Haas, Tom Trbojevic and Viliame Kikau in consecutive weeks. He faces a whole new challenge in trying to shut down James Tedesco, who has taken another step up last season, where he was already regarded as the best player in the world. Tedesco can be slowed, and the Tom Turbo blueprint gives some hope, but rushing him will expose less agile defenders to his footwork and power to break arm tackles. The Parramatta slide and scramble defence has been good this year, though a notable weak link remains the lack of trust Blake Ferguson has in Waqa Blake. If those two can work out the issues then the Eels line will prove tough to crack.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see Parramatta throw more at the Roosters in attack than we’ve seen in recent weeks. While Junior Paulo and co. need to hold back on risky offloads, I expect Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown to get the ball wide more often than recent weeks, when they’ve been content to win the arm wrestle then play off the back of it. Victory in that arm wrestle is not guaranteed against the Roosters pack, so the Eels will need to give an all-star backline more opportunities in space. Their opposites are no slouches, but Blake, Jennings, Ferguson and Sivo are all capable of beating even the best in the world in a one-on-one situation.
The rest of the gameplan will be “easy to say, hard to do”. Shut down the offloads, both from the pack and outside backs, running off of Joseph Manu is where Tedesco can do some real damage. Make Kyle Flanagan do the playmaking, and pressure his kicking game. Hit hard in the middle and make Radley and Crichton find hard yards in the trenches rather than their preferred wider pastures. If Mitch and Dyl are on song, the Eels will be hard to beat, as long as everything else goes right too. The Roosters are the back-to-back defending premiers for a reason, and it’ll take a lot to beat them.
We all know about James Tedesco. He is hard to tackle, has an endless motor and seems to be in support for every run a teammate takes. He’s a danger across the park and you can really only hope to contain the damage he causes. Aside from right side miscommunications the Eels have had a strong slide defence and done a good job scrambling on second phase play, they will need to both keep eyes on Tedesco at all times and adjust to his position quickly.
Last week was a good blueprint for this style of defence, as Parramatta limited the chances on the inside for Api Koroisau and Nathan Cleary while also getting to Viliame Kikau quickly and shutting him down very effectively. Jake Friend won’t trouble with his running game like Koroisau, but he will pick the right man short or wide, putting pressure on our inside defenders to make good decisions to then make strong first contact. It is mentally and physically demanding, but the Eels have proven up to the task in fitness every week thus far.
Both edges present a challenge to Parramatta defenders. Joseph Manu is strong and has a great offload, with an elite finisher outside him in Brett Morris and Tedesco always looming. Michael Jennings needs to get Manu to ground on his own, and if he needs help it should come from the inside rather than Sivo. The same rules should apply to the right edge, where Blake Ferguson just absolutely must stay outside on Daniel Tupou, even if it means Josh Morris breaking through. Let Gutherson try and help on Morris in cover rather than give Tupou saloon passage to the line, because Josh is exactly the type of experienced, professional player that will time those draw and pass plays perfectly, no matter how much Fergo thinks he can get a hand on the pass or an intercept.
Inside those edges we have an in form Angus Crichton, a confidence player and flat track runner that we should be able to bash out of the game but a real threat if we do not. Victor Radley is another high motor player that loves support running and has good ball and footwork skills, and Boyd Cordner still has some fire in his runs when he needs it. They’ll all demand enough attention to create those one-on-one chances that our right side has struggled to cover.
That’s not to mention the danger of Luke Keary’s long passing game and general playmaking ability, the relentless momentum Taukeiaho, JWH and Collins generate, and the mastery of the ruck the Roosters generally exhibit. While it would be nice for the referee crackdown to punish the Roosters more than the Eels, it would be a hollow way to win and take away the Eels only opportunity to test themselves against the premiers before the finals.
How it goes
A lot of the result will ride on how Brad Arthur plans to contain James Tedesco, and what other opportunities that focus will present to a versatile Roosters side. If Parramatta defend like they have been then they will shut down the easy opportunities that presented themselves to Tedesco last week, there won’t be arm tackles and weak attempts from tired forwards to break through. One worry is if the Eels choose to rush him and can’t set feet before making contact, a situation which Tedesco feeds on and opens up his inside step and passing game. You probably most want him passing, but most of the few tries the Eels have conceded so far this year have come from those situations.
One area I am not worried about is fitness. Last year the Roosters came home strong against the Eels in a highly competitive game until the 60th minute, but as Vossy repeated plenty of times last weekend, Parramatta are the ultimate final quarter team this year. A lot of that comes from the groundwork laid in the first 60 minutes, grinding and bashing the opposition, and I don’t see the Eels doing that to the Roosters pack, or even if they do, the tri-colours forwards wilting as other teams have. This works the other way too, Parramatta should be able to get back in to the arm wrestle if the Roosters gain ascendancy, as long as Brad Arthur is willing to change his bench rotations. RCG and Paulo are playing big minutes in the middle, this might be the week to lean a bit more on Niukore, Brown and Stone to assist the middles. We’ll need those more agile defenders in the ruck if this is a fast paced game.
Even off the back of two training runs, I don’t expect the Roosters to take this game lightly or come in underdone. They are confident beyond the point of arrogance, caring little for who their opposition are and what they have done, knowing that if they implement their gameplan and play their best then no team will compete with them. I don’t expect the Eels to be overawed either, they should be very hungry for this opportunity after some momentum building wins, but winning a game like this will be a first for this Parramatta roster.
I’m expecting a third week in a row of cracking Eels football, but I’d be tipping with my heart over my head if I predicted a Parramatta victory. There are plenty of paths to an Eels win, but there are even more for the defending premiers, who also have history on their side. If we get up I’ll be ecstatic, but as long as we prove we can beat the premiers I’ll be happy, even if that isn’t the result we get on Saturday night. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Roosters 22 Eels 18
Man of the Match: Luke Keary
Images courtesy of NRL.