Round 6 Drink Of Choice – Reschs Pilsener (an old friend’s beverage of choice this week, to be fair)
The result we needed to have. Valiant in defeat. A quality loss. It is so easy to throw out empty platitudes in the wake of an undesirable result because when all is said and done, a loss is simply a loss. In many ways that holds true last night with the Parramatta Eels failing to overcome the NRL juggernaut that is the Sydney Roosters in gut-wrenching 24-10 loss.
The Eels mounted a legitimate challenge to the reigning champions. They had them teetering on the ropes at the 60th minute after unleashing a fearsome barrage of bodies blows in the second half. Then a dagger to the heart. A momentary lapse gave the tri-colours an inch as Luke Keary streaked into open space before sending Boyd Cordner over…and from there they took the proverbial mile. The Sydney Roosters are simply that good. They are the benchmark. The brash, upstart Eels weren’t their equal. There was no fairy-tale finish to the thrilling encounter. Dreams of an unprecedented 6-0 start evaporated into the ether. All Parramatta have to show for their efforts are a pocketful of lint and no silver-lining.
No silver-lining save for the fact that when all is said and done it is only Round 6. Whether you fall in the quality loss camp or not, the most important factor in last night’s loss is that time is on Parramatta’s side. The Roosters may have handed the Eels their first loss of the season but in doing so they reaffirmed how close the blue & gold are to the summit and just what it will take for them to conquer the mountain.
If there ever was a number to perfectly encapsulate how thin your margin of error is when you come at the reigning kings, Reed Mahoney’s tackling efficiency would be it. He was at his scheming best last night as he dissected the back field of the Roosters with both his long and short kicking game. He was a massive factor in blunting the impact of James Tedesco and piled on a game high 56 tackles to comfortably lead either team in defensive work load. It was a mammoth individual effort in which he missed just 2 tackles (with a further 2 ineffective tackles) for an outstanding tackling efficiency of 93.33%.
Only 2 missed tackles. One of which arguably cost the Eels the game when he failed to corral Luke Keary in the 61st minute (Mitchell Moses also has culpability here I believe for an incorrect read), a split-second lapse that allowed the tri-colours to wrest back momentum and control of the game from the Eels. It doesn’t get any crueler than that. That is how razor thin the margin of error is when you reach for the crown.
Right Edge Don’t Shoulder The Load
Well not so much as not shouldering the load as simply not using their shoulders. The Roosters found great success, and arguably their only success barring a bounced pass, in attacking Parramatta’s right edge. Waqa Blake (7 missed tackles, 4 ineffective tackles) had a horror night in defence while Mitchell Moses (5 missed tackles, 4 ineffective tackles) was also uncharacteristically poor with both contributing to a porous defensive formation full of arm-grabbing.
Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake have both been highlighted in this blog in recent weeks as the most significant weakness for the Eels in defence and the Roosters definitely keyed into that last night. The good news is that schematically Parramatta matched up quite well with what the Roosters threw at them down that edge. There weren’t critical breakdowns that led to easy overlaps – each time the Eels were afforded the opportunity to make tackle in the front line.
The bad news however is that the failures keep happening on a fundamental level. Moses has earned some leeway for his efforts here but Waqa has to make better and more consistent contact in defence – that is non-negotiable. Ferguson’s faults largely stem from Waqa’s mistakes inside but he too hasn’t been blameless in prior games. These issues loom large as the final hurdles towards the Eels assembling a premiership calibre defence and I have no doubts that Brad Arthur and David Kidwell will be working tirelessly to rectify them.
Side note – Ryan Matterson earned exemption from criticism here after grinding out 45 tackles with just 2 missed and 2 ineffective in another quality effort from the towering backrower.
Challenges of the challenge
Teams across the competition are struggling to optimally deploy the captain’s challenge and the Eels are no exception here. They were left to rue a squandered challenge in the early exchanges of the game following a knock-on from Michael Jennings that left them powerless to contest dubious rulings in lost possessions of Raymond Stone (ruled a knock-on against Parramatta) and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (ruled a penalty against Parramatta) at crucial junctures in the first half and second half respectively.
I don’t think there is, or ever will be, an exact science on when to pull the trigger on the captain’s challenge but it was definitely wasted by Clinton Gutherson last night and the ripples it had on the game were palpable. The Roosters were able to push the limits in the ruck and forced Ben Cummins into a handful of incorrect calls and Parramatta were left with no recourse but to wear it on the chin.
Simplistically, it might just be better to leave the challenge in the captain’s pocket until the second half unless there is a particularly egregious missed call early on. The odds of fatigue clouding the referee’s judgement in the second half seem better than rolling the dice on a miracle overturned decision early on.
While they have fallen short of upsetting the reigning premiers, the Eels did create a truly iconic moment when Maika Sivo delivered a thunderous knockout blow to James Tedesco en-route to scoring a rousing try. It is easy to forget the silky lead-up work of Michael Jennings to create the window for Maika to operate in but it encapsulated everything amazing about Parramatta’s veteran centre.
Then again, whenever you see the game’s best player gets flat-out Jonah Lomu-ed it is almost impossible to remember anything else. Thankfully ‘Teddy’ seems to be okay but Maika Sivo’s brutalistic show of raw power and stunning athleticism harkens right to the heart of the gladiatorial appeal of rugby league. What an amazing moment in a battle between two heavyweight teams.
I am not sure if he remembers Sivo’s booming carry itself but Tedesco is at least cognisant of the fact the he is about to trend worldwide for all the wrong reasons!
Everyone loves a good superhero origin story. Ironman, Batman Begins, Shazam, Round 6 vs Sydney Roosters, you know the usual Hollywood fare. One of those might not be like the others but hopefully last night’s loss will be the making of Oregon Kaufusi as he led the way from the interchange bench for the Eels. Kaufusi has clearly grown in physical stature since 2019, threatening to offload with nearly ever carry against the Roosters (even if he netted 0 total offloads on the night), and should be considered Kane Evan’s offsider on the bench moving forwards.
- Nathan Brown is looking at another 2 weeks on the sideline following a surprise Grade 2 charge for his high shot on Victor Radley. Challenging the charge would be massively off-brand for the Eels but the impact he has on this team is tremendous and losing him for a further 2 games would be catastrophic. It is doubly confusing that Brown ended up with a Grade 2 charge when Radley, who was miraculously not penalised in game, escaped with a Grade 1 charge for viciously clobbering the jaw of the 190cm Clinton Gutherson with a swinging arm. Stunningly, Radley isn’t even up for suspension and will merely be out of pocket to the tune off $700.00 if he takes the early guilty plea. Fight the good fight please Parramatta.
- Is there a more lion-hearted player in the competition than Dylan Brown? While he had a rare brainfart in the first half when he conceded a penalty for tackling an attacker in the air, his crossfield cover tackle on Luke Keary in the 70th minute is the sort of effort the separates the best players from the rest. He has good form in this category as well given he performed a similar feat in the finals last year against the Melbourne Storm.
- One massively encouraging sign for the Eels was the fact that their middle forwards held their own against a full-strength Roosters’ pack. On a night where Reagan Campbell-Gillard was a tad quiet, Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown stood tall. The return of Kane Evans and the rise of Oregon Kaufusi should give us legitimate cause to believe we can win the war in the ruck if and when these two teams meet again.
- Brad Arthur continues his best Bill Belichick impersonation in so far as limiting the impact of the opposition’s best player. A week after rendering Viliame Kikau an afterthought, the Eels did as good a job as you can in restricting the immensely influential James Tedesco. On first parse the numbers suggest ‘Teddy’ was on his way to a big game pre-concussion, the tape says that Parramatta did a terrific job in keeping the pinball wizard in front of a set defensive line – preventing him from weaving his tackle busting, ricochet magic.
- It took some time to roar into full operational capacity on Saturday night but Parramatta’s offence was a massive test for the justifiably vaunted defence of the Roosters. The Eels can blend smashmouth power footy with deft backline movements at the drop of a hat while their second phase play is always a wildcard. Putting aside the blue & gold goggles, it made for a fascinating back and forth between the two teams.
- I have zero doubt that Trent Robinson will find an extra gear for his charges in the postseason but Parramatta fans should be hugely encouraged that our under strength and developing line-up pushed the best of the best that far. The Eels have shown a willingness to take on lessons from each game thus far in 2020 and this one was a veritable gold mine in that regard for the blue & gold.
The Final Word
It stings that 6-0 will have to wait for another season. It pisses me off that the Roosters were able to run up the score when Michael Jennings was sent to the sin-bin in the final 10-minutes of play. It was a garbage finish to an awesome spectacle and should be fuel for the Eels moving forwards. The Roosters will rightfully assume the outright mantle of premiership favouritism from this result and that however does not bother me in the least.
They are the gargantuan monster they are chasing. They are the pinnacle. The benchmark. The standard by which all would-be challengers must surpass. The sit at the summit of a mountain more fearsome than Everest that we are fiendishly scaling. They may have beaten us but we glimpsed that summit in the process. We were found wanting this time but we now know what it takes to beat at their best in the regular season and even more than that, we know that they will be even better when it becomes sudden death footy. We have the team to accomplish the task but we need to stoke the flames of revenge for the better part of four more months.
Bring on the Raiders.