Round 8 Drink Of Choice – Dimple 15YO
The Parramatta Eels keep on keeping on. In doing that one simple thing they continue to separate themselves from the spectres of the past that have held them back for so long. The stars had aligned in Round 8 for the sort of self-destructive loss against the North Queensland Cowboys that has derailed many a promising run in years gone by.
Parramatta were fresh off a heroic golden point victory over the Raiders – the last leg of a draining month of footy against a bevy of title heavyweights. Now they faced a bogey team that was almost impossible to not underestimate given their struggles in 2020. Worse still, it was a milestone game for the team’s central pillar. That isn’t even mentioning that the Eels were missing three key pieces in Mitchell Moses, Nathan Brown and Kane Evans.
A drop-off in intensity was less a possibility and more a given. It wasn’t so much a trap game as it was the Eels attending their own funeral.
A swirling storm front of excuses had been manifested by destiny to produce a Friday night horror show. Instead, the Eels defied the fates and delivered a commanding performance that left the Cowboys strewn on the canvas shortly into the second half. Brad Arthur will still be asking for more from his charges after a lapse before half-time dashed any hopes of a shut-out but the Eels are growing in stature with every passing week.
Gutherson’s Finest Hour (And 20min)
It was only fitting that Clinton Gutherson had a hand in everything tonight. Parramatta’s lion-hearted leader was a tour-de-force on the freshly laid Bankwest turf in his 100th NRL game. Those who are hard of sight could be mistaken for thinking it was Jarryd Hayne delivering his trademark bullet passes to Semi Radradra down the left edge – such was the quality of Gutherson’s ball-playing tonight. Scything kick returns, laser guided goal-kicking, tireless support play, big time shot-calling…you name it and short of scoring a try of his own the King did it against the Cowboys.
Gutherson might have as well been Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl out there because he was a human cheat code. Rugby League Week, may it rest in peace, were always stingy about handing out their vaunted 10/10 grading but this was an effort that would challenge for that title.
It was the culmination of everything that Gutherson brings to this team. Everything that he represents in the grand vision that Brad Arthur first dared to dream of way, way back in 2015 when a cheeky fist pump (and probably an accompanying ‘fuck yeah!’) at a junior footy game signalled that Arthur had secured the man who would eventually stand at the heart of rugby league’s greatest rebuild.
There is no doubt that James Tedesco, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck or Kalyn Ponga would all equally be superstars at Parramatta but Gutherson is ours. In spite of his origins he is quintessentially Blue & Gold. The unwanted son of a bitter rival that has carved out a hell of a name for himself against all the odds and all the adversity that the gods of footy could throw against him.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is my captain.
The Grinder And The Sidewinder
The contrasting fates of Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo could not be any more stark. Ferguson remains scoreless after eight rounds while Sivo’s historic four-try haul moves him into second place in the competition (just one behind Kyle Feldt). Ferguson would have been the most conflicted man on the field given that he had the best view in the house to see Jai Field scorched past Tom Opacic to score in the first set of the second half. While it was an exhilarating reminder of Field’s electric change of pace, Ferguson was unmarked on his right and I have no doubt that the luckless winger was thinking about the backflipping that monkey off his back the moment that Waqa Blake so brilliantly tapped that ball back.
On the other side of the field the Eels were serving them up to Sivo on a platinum platter. Clinton Gutherson and Dylan Brown combined to deliver three gorgeous cut-out passes to secure a hat-trick for Sivo before a deft tap-on from Brad Takairangi notched up up the fourth try. It was the easiest of tasks for a winger of Maika’s calibre and he duly obliged as his legend continues to take root on the left-edge.
A breakthrough meat pie still eludes Ferguson but he kept on the grind in Round 8. His 236m from 22 carries was only eclipsed by the comic book hero stuff of Gutherson while the right edge looked ever so slightly better in defence due in part to a marginally more cohesive approach from himself and Waqa Blake. At the very least we saw the Eels beaten mostly down their right due to jam/slide principles (winger/centre jamming in with the interior defenders sliding underneath to contain) rather than Waqa arm-grabbing. It is a start.
The man with the chromest of domes and the s-bend snoz might be stranded on a doughnut but his work to start sets is hugely commendable and a sneaky cog in the engine of the dominant run of our forward pack. Don’t sleep on that fact.
The Fastest Feet In The West
Brad Arthur made a statement on Tuesday when he eschewed the smoke and daggers and named Jai Field to the vacant #7. Arthur made of a point of wanting to back Field from the get-go and that carried through to the game where the Eels entrusted the new baby-faced playmaker to the first clearing kick of the game.
It didn’t go so well.
Reece Robson shot out of marker and put a truckload of pressure on Field and the subsequently rushed kick screwed badly off the side of the boot. It was, to put it bluntly, a shit start to the game. Yet neither Field or the Eels went away and when the next clearing kick required the talents of Field, he identified the shooting marker, deftly brushed past him and then got to his kick.
It was a tiny victory, a momentary piece of validation of the young man and the team’s faith in him but it was enough to suggest that he wasn’t going to be overawed by the occasion.
The man with the fastest feet in the West would go on to score a try in a showcase of his rare acceleration while he topped both teams with an eye-popping 8 tackle busts. While he missed 4 tackles, he kept himself busy in defence (18 tackles) and crucially played a part in holding up Coen Hess early in the first half.
It was as much as you could ask from a back-up half, let alone one that hasn’t seen any playing time in months. Arthur’s vote of confidence in Field was every bit as much a vote of confidence in the systems that he has put in place to facilitate such a performance. The Roosters and Storm are proud owners of similar such systems and it is one of the foundational keys to their sustained success.
Parramatta’s ability to call on hungry, young talent and expect them to do their job will define whether the Eels are ready to join the pantheon of the competition consistently elite. Tonight was a real step towards that goal.
Brad ‘Belichick’ Arthur Strikes Again
Of course full credit should be shared among the entirety of the coaching stuff, particularly defensive coach David Kidwell. The Eels held the otherworldly Jason Taumalolo to an actually human total of 162m from 16 carries and importantly, forced him into 58 tackle attempts. Of those 58 attempts, Taumalolo could only complete 45 – missing a staggering 9 tackles while also piling on a further 4 ineffective attempts.
The game’s most destructive middle forward was rendered to a complete non-factor by laser focused efforts on both sides of the ball in yet another showcase of astute tactical coaching that has now become a weekly feature in 2020.
It also shows a level of focus and diligence from the playing group that we have not seen in long time, if not ever, as they enact the detailed strategies of their coaches with gusto. Eventually, a marquee player in the opposition will break out for a big game against us, after all that is the nature of superstar talents, but the attention to detail and willingness to execute intensive plans to disrupt the best players lining up against the Eels is yet another step in the growth of this team.
- Another week, another gushing spiel about our forwards. Both Junior Paulo (23 carries, 205m) and Reagan Campbell-Gillard (20 carries, 200m) cracked the double-ton on the ground while Shaun Lane, Ryan Matterson, Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi all found themselves comfortably into triple figures for metres earned at the end of the game. Paulo also unleashed 8 (!) offloads including a lovely slip of the arm in the lead up to Maika Sivo’s third try. Tonight also marked Kaufusi’s third straight game where the young prop has breached 100m+ from bench. He has been immense in the absence of Kane Evans and will only get better from here.
- I watched this game from the comforts of my own home on account of COVID related fears pertaining to the well-being of other family members. Even so, it was awesome to hear the ‘SIVO, SIVO!’ chants booming through the sideline microphones from the small but raucous home crowd. Well done to everyone involved!
- Dylan Brown did everything required of him in his maiden game as the team’s primary shot-caller. He over-cooked two attacking kicks that resulted in 7-tackle sets and was visibly annoyed with himself in a sign of the standards he holds himself to but beyond that he kept his cool throughout the contest. He regularly tested the defensive line of the Cowboys (11 runs, 102m, 4 tackle busts) and will almost certainly break a home-run try at some point this season. Oh, by the way, you might very well be looking at the best defensive half in the competition.
- He might end up being stranded on 99* (as an Eel) for a while moving forwards but David Gower can still bring the juice. A first up error meant the rest of the night could only get better for him but Blake Ferguson’s stunt double (they were actually difficult to separate on the broadcast angle at times!) made it all count in the second half. He very nearly punched through into the backfield at one stage before tripping over and ended the night with an industrial 82m from 8 runs, 1 offload, 4 tackle busts and 20 tackles (1 missed).
- Milestone games have been the bane of the Eels for the longest time. We have made strides in that regard more recently but gee it was terrific to see the entire team rally for their captain’s 100th game. The weekly grind of the NRL absolutely wears down even the best of teams and that is why finding that extra gear for these sort of games is so important as the pomp and ceremony can help break the monotony. Well done to the team for doing their captain right.
- He has earned my ire in our last few outings on account of defensive deficiencies but tonight was a reminder of the spectacular athleticism of Waqa Blake. Blake scored a try of his own due to outstanding ball-tracking and also set up Jai Field with a beautifully timed leap and bat-back. He also picked up a penalty late in the second half when he was tackled in the air as the attacker under new 2020 interpretations. The Eels have a myriad of attacking tools at their disposal and this is one of the more jaw-dropping ones.
The Final Word
The Parramatta Eels keep on keeping on. We started this week’s musings with that thought and it is important that we finish with it. Brad Arthur and his offsiders have the Eels all about that business in 2020. Familiar stumbling blocks and pitfalls are being navigated expertly while the iterative process continues to churn out positive results every week. In spite of its success so far. this team doesn’t know how good it can be yet and that should excite all of us.
Next up are the Newcastle Knights, one of the more manic presences in the assortment of contenders in 2020. Parramatta have been up for every game of the 2020 season regardless of their opponent and they will be ready to take on the best and worst that the Novocastrians can throw at them next Sunday.