Round 7 Drink Of Choice – Kraken Black Spiced Rum & Ginger Beer
I love a dirty late night kebab, as the title may suggest. This here should be a blog revelling in all the puns that come with the territory of a big night out, a blog that celebrates the incredible heroics of a wounded Eels outfit. Of course there should also be some nitpicking over yet another week where the right edge were the obvious weak link in defence. Instead we are going to have a nice, hearty talk about officiating. We might eventually get to some actual talk about the footy but there is plenty to unpackage from a spectacularly awful effort from the officials first.
Where was the phone call from Graham Annesley?
The media furore over an errant forward pass call that aided the Eels against Manly in Round 4 was fuelled heavily by a bizarre proactive response from Graham Annesley when he took the extraordinary step of contacting Fox Sports immediately after the game to decry the judgement of the officials. Fast forward three weeks and surely the Parramatta Eels are entitled to the same treatment following a try that was scored only because of a Jarrod Croker pass that travelled so far forwards that the ball may as well have entered year 2021. No? Okay, fair enough. I guess you can’t get too hung up on one call.
How about the Canberra Raiders receiving a penalty in the first half when Corey Horsburgh, who was unfortunately injured in the regulation tackle, attempted to punch on with an incredulous Ryan Matterson? Not only was the tackle perfectly legal, Matterson never engaged the enraged redhead in the one-sided fracas and despite that somehow Ashley Klein saw fit to award a penalty to the Raiders.
Or what about a pivotal moment early on in golden point when Maika Sivo showed outstanding hustle to lead a kick chase and smash Jarrod Croker on his own goal line with a cracking tackle attempt that forced what should have been a match defining error. Instead, not only did Klein incorrectly award a penalty – he took the stunning extra step to put Sivo on report for a tackle that was clearly below the shoulders in a breathtaking display of incompetence.
Meanwhile, Jordan Rapana not only executed two blatant cheap shots at the heads of players on the ground (with a closed fist no less) but also did his best to decapitate Daniel Alvaro in the final moments of the first half. Somehow Klein, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to decide that three such egregious incidents of foul play were not worthy of the sin-bin. It continues a frustrating trend in 2020 where opposition players seem immune to the 10-minute time out despite committing obvious professional fouls or repeatedly performing dangerous acts of foul play.
Beyond these big complaints the game was just poorly officiated in general. Both teams got away with a swathe of forward passes while once again the new ruck interpretation was policed with wild inconsistency. The Eels were also on the wrong side of a crucial 50/50 call early in the first half when Mitchell Moses was initially ruled to have knocked-on in a bat-back attempt that replays strongly suggested fell neutrally sideways. It was the sort of call that you are generally happy to wear because it was genuinely a line ball decision and the video official couldn’t over rule the on-field decision in good faith.
The circlejerk and subsequent counterjerk over ref-bashing is always a timeless topic on the internet but for mine at least, the officiating situation is a very real issue. While an official apology from Annesley would be entertaining if nothing else, I would much rather see the issues addressed on a weekly basis. I am not even talking about giving the video official the power to adjudicate on forward passes. If Gavin Badger can not make a call on the Croker pass from a perfect vantage point then there is a fundamental issue with officiating that speaks to a lack of talent, focus and simple understanding of the game.
Don’t even get me started on the Match Review Committee and the Judiciary. Less than a week after Nathan Brown copped a Grade 2 Careless Tackle charge for an innocuous high shot on Victor Radley (in the same game where Radley clobbered Clinton Gutherson on the chin and received a Grade 1 Careless Tackle), Cameron Murray received NO CHARGE for nearly decapitating Nathan Cleary in a tackle attempt that I can only describe as a tomahawk tackle. Disgraceful doesn’t even begin to describe how rotten the entire process is.
Anemic right edge continues to bleed points
Waqa Blake, as much I love his sexy skip and fend and his ridiculously brilliant smile (seriously, best in the NRL type stuff in both categories), is walking a razor thin line. He is benefiting greatly from the suspension of the Canterbury Cup because as it stands, his defence is simply not up to scratch. Opposition teams have clearly keyed into it during their weekly video preparation as well because we have now seen the Sea Eagles, Panthers, Roosters and Raiders all exploit him in crucial exchanges.
The arm-grabbing was thankfully less prevalent tonight but a shocking read to pass on responsibility to interior defenders for Elliot Whitehead allowed the game to go to golden point. The adage about the man with the ball in hand being the biggest danger has held true for well over a century for good reason and Waqa completely threw it out the window…and in doing so very nearly threw the game out too.
Thankfully the Eels rallied in heroic fashion to claim a memorable golden point triumph but the leaky right edge stands out by far as Parramatta’s greatest hurdle in pursuit of the premiership.
Eels will have to wait on Moses in quest to find the promised land
The story line with the most damning ramifications from this game was easily the calf tear sustained by Mitchell Moses. Parramatta battled valiantly for the vast majority of the second half without their star play-maker with Dylan Brown, Reed Mahoney and Clinton Gutherson all stepping up to assume greater responsibilities in running the team.
Brown continues to impress with his poise and hustle, showing an unflappable attitude and indomitable spirit that suggests that no game is too big for him. The fact that he very nearly executed another cross-field try saving tackle that he had no right to make speaks volumes to the singular drive he possesses. Mahoney hauled himself back into the contest following a mediocre first half to send Ray Stone over for his maiden NRL try with a deft sleight of hand pass while Gutherson not only nailed the game-winning field goal but found Maika Sivo with a gorgeous cut-out pass that saw the talismanic winger chalk off yet another team on his try scoring bucket list.
Shockingly, the only team left for Sivo to score against is the Canterbury Bulldogs. Who would have thunkit?
Initial assessment on Mitch Moses suggests a “calf tear”.
Good news: effectively rules out achilles rupture
Bad news: looking likely at least a grade 2 calf strain
General recovery guide:
Grade 1: 1-3 weeks
Grade 2: 3-6 weeks
Grade 3: 6-10 weeks#NRLEelsRaiders pic.twitter.com/IU5Kxhxnes
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) June 27, 2020
The loss of Moses is a huge blow no doubt and the Eels will be sweating on a relatively favourable grading for the calf tear. Mitchell has been blossoming into a far more mature and composed iteration of himself – far removed from the mercurial spark plug player he once was – and his goal kicking and general play kicks were tasks of utmost importance entrusted to his gilded boot.
I don’t think Brad Arthur will over think the answer to this bastard of a problem. Brown, Mahoney and Gutherson will run the show (with Gutherson handling the goal-kicking) while Brad Takairangi will hold down the fort at five-eighth. ‘BA’ might have to revoke Takairangi’s kicking licence but the rangy utility has done the job in the halves for the Eels in seasons past and crucially – he is the only option that is match fit. Jaeman Salmon, Will Smith, Jai Field and the newly acquiried Jordan Rankins are all well short of a gallop and to be honest, I don’t think any of them offer more than Takairangi.
Forward pack flexes on another heavy weight
There is a lot of running left in the 2020 season but with each passing week I can’t help but fall more in love with fearsome group of forwards the Eels have assembled this year. The best part is that they did it all tonight without Nathan Brown and Kane Evans. Superhuman efforts from Junior Paulo (19 runs, 197m, 2 offloads, 31 tackles, 3 missed, 1 ineffective) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (22 runs, 217m, 50 tackles, 1 missed, 4 ineffective) head lined a phenomenal effort from the forwards.
Shaun Lane, one crucial error late in the game asides, put Michael Jennings over for career try 151 with a gorgeous offload brought about by a courageous crash line. Beyond that he ended up with a ‘quiet’ 152m from 16 carries and 41 tackles (4 missed, 2 ineffective/0. On the other edge Ryan Matterson opened up proceedings with a try and still pumped out 122m from 14 carries and 41 tackles (2 missed, 2 ineffective) despite losing his half and even moonlighting at five-eighth for 15-minutes while Waqa Blake underwent a head injury assessment.
It is rare that a team can lose a player of the quality of Nathan Brown and have someone step cleanly into the gaping hole but Marata Niukore has not let the team down at all. Desperately unlucky to have not claimed a try from a Mitchell Moses’ bat-back, ‘Simba’ powered through 12 runs for 123m and topped the backrowers with 42 tackles (1 missed, 1 ineffective).
For the second week a row Oregon Kaufusi led the way from the bench and I could not be more chuffed for Parramatta’s budding bookend. Stefano Utoikamanu captured all of the preseason hype from the media but Kaufusi has done a wonderful job optimising his frame for the NRL and is now reaping the benefits. 11 runs for 111m with a spotless 24 tackles is everything you want from rotational prop and I wasn’t surprised in the least to see Brad Arthur single him out for praise in the post-match presser.
- He remains stranded on a duck egg in the try-scorer column but I want to give a little bit of love to Blake Ferguson this week for doing a lot of ugly work in the middle. Try-scoring opportunities for ‘Fergo’ have been somewhat sparse of late and they probably won’t get any better with Mitchell Moses riding the pine for the foreseeable future. Despite that, he busted his chops to the tune of 149m from 20 tough carries tonight and for that I salute him.
- How good was it to see Ray Stone break through for his first NRL try? It was a solid bounce back effort from the tearaway backrower following a forgettable game against the Roosters in Round 6. COVID-19 has a lot to answer for already but the fact that 30,000 fans were robbed of a certified Aussie masterpiece when ‘Smoko’ by The Chats wasn’t blared out over the PA following his try. Curse you coronavirus.
- While Parramatta should never have let it get to golden point, they should be applauded for how they handled extra time. Opting to kick off and back yourself in defence is a huge call but the correct one, in my opinion. They were horribly short on luck throughout the regulation 80-minutes of play but they cashed in perfectly on a knock-on from Canberra in a contested scramble for a Reed Mahoney offload. Clinton Gutherson screwed his first shot to the right in the first half of golden point but made no such mistake the second time around as he drilled it down the middle.
- The Eels did a great job of restricting the influence of all three of Canberra’s elite talents. Josh Papalii still piled on the numbers (24 carries, 197m, 34 tackles, 2 missed) but was held in check through the middle while Josh Hodgson and Jack Wighton each picked up a try assist but failed to take over the game. You may tire of hearing about it but with how things are travelling, this is going to be an ongoing theme of whisky musings.
- I will never fault a man for crying in an emotional moment in sports. In that light, Corey Horsburgh shouldn’t be ridiculed for shedding tears at a time where he sustained what may be a serious ankle injury. He should however have the everloving piss taken out of him for trying to start a fight with an innocent player over a clean tackle. It was a bush league move and again speaks to how amazingly inept Ashley Klein is that he awarded a penalty to the Raiders for attempting to instigate a fight over the tackle.
- Andrew Voss made multiple call backs during coverage to the incredible statistic that the Eels and Raiders have scored exactly 1193pts against each other in the 58 encounters they have played since 1982. As maddening as the final stanza of the game was, it was fitting that a single point now separates the two teams in 2020.
Random statistic heading into tonight's call on @FOXNRL of @TheParraEels v @RaidersCanberra …Clubs have met 58 times since 1982, and have scored the exact same total of points. 1193 each! Maybe a draw tonight? Can't wait for 7.30pm kick off in this one. #NRL #nrleelsraiders
— Andrew Voss (@AndrewVossy) June 27, 2020
The Final Word
The Eels are back on top of the table and will finish the week as the competition leaders for the 7th straight round (technically it is a lot more weeks than 7!). They are still chasing the shadow of the Sydney Roosters but a 1-1 split between the two 2019 grand finalists is a fair result no matter how you spin it. Mitchell Moses is a huge loss but the silver lining here is that the draw opens up somewhat for Parramatta in the coming rounds. The Cowboys are up next and beyond that the Knights and Sea Eagles loom large but if the Eels can navigate their way through the final steps of this gruelling gauntlet then they just might be right.
This could also be a massive catalyst for the growth of Dylan Brown. Parramatta’s blossoming superstar has kicked down every door standing in his way so far in his young career and he is exactly the type of player that will take his game to the next level – even in the face of immense pressure.
I wouldn’t exactly call the Cowboys resurgent after a manic loss to the Tigers in Round 6 and a victory in Round 7 over the Knights in which they nearly blew a huge lead. Still, they are finally scoring points again and the Eels could be considerably undermanned heading into Round 8. The status of Kane Evans and Peni Terepo will be key things to monitor ahead of Team List Tuesday as Brad Arthur looks to fill out a depleted bench.
In the meantime, I am very, very keen on Graham Annesley’s Monday breakdown on NRL.com of the round’s officiating. I mean, it is no phone call or anything but we might even get an apology!