Round 11 Drink Of Choice – Starward Nova
Even if you are working a dream job inevitably there will be a stretch where everything conspires to impose a seemingly infinitesimal amount of drudgery upon your weary shoulders. No matter how hard you try, normal sequences don’t go right for whatever reason – your register is slightly out at end of day, the balance sheet doesn’t quite add up or you drop an item of importance despite giving the task your utmost concentration. The workplace grind had caught up with the Parramatta Eels in recent weeks, of that I have little doubt. They had been running red-hot for two months, even amidst a mounting injury toll, and they just couldn’t push forwards any longer culminating in the insipid performance against the Sea Eagles last week.
Parramatta weren’t alone in that regard. The Sydney Roosters and Canberra Raiders have produced a handful of scratchy performances in recent weeks that can equally be attributed to the weekly grind and the wear and tear on playing personnel.
The Eels needed to reset this week and ultimately they did just that. Even if some of the same issues plagued their start to the game for the third straight week, they pushed through the mental barrier to get the job done. And sometimes that absolutely is enough.
Best wishes to Michael Chee-Kam
The media tried their darndest to build this game up as a revenge fixture laden with more spite than a throwdown between Michael Jordan’s Bulls and the Bad Boy Pistons. That bled into the game for a single moment when Russel Packer’s solitary contribution of note for the entire game (barring an awful crusher tackle) was concussing Ryan Matterson in the 11th-minute of play. Packer tried to jaw-on with the dazed Matterson, who was quickly ensconced by a concerned Blake Ferguson who showed outstanding camradie and initiative to take care of his wounded brother.
The response in turn from the Eels (and the crowd as well it should be said) when Michael Chee-Kam suffered a horrific head-knock thankfully didn’t reciprocate any of the earlier negativity. Chee-Kam, who underwent convulsions, after suffering consecutive concussions in lightning fashion from contact with Shaun Lane’s hip and then the Bankwest turf looked to be in the worst kind of way as a swarm of trained medical staff attended to him. Fortunately, early reports following his departure from the game on a medicab suggested he was up and about and would head to the hospital for scans at a later point.
It was a graphic reminder that these men are indeed mortal, even though they engage in one of the most gladiatorial codes in the world every week. I hope Michael Chee-Kam can make a speedy recovery from the ordeal.
Brown vs Blore is what rugby league is all about
Continuing with the positive theme for the time being, a shout out to Nathan Brown and the rookie Wests Tigers forward Shawn Blore for a frenzied series of skirmishes where both men tore into each other with the kind of single-minded zealotry usually reserved for ancestral blood feuds. The old school run-in all started when Blore whacked Brown off the ball, an infringement that should have resulted in a penalty. The Eels did score an unrelated penalty shortly after and from there the two went at each other with hammer and tongs. It was a fantastic spectacle with neither player resorting to cheap shots or foul play and instead simply throwing their every fibre into each run and tackle.
Even better, as soon as the game was wrapped up they immediately sought each other out to shake hands and share a laugh about the heated engagements. That right there,that is footy, ladies and gentlemen.
Hot-hand Harry can’t go the distance
There is no doubt that Harry Grant is the best player at the Wests Tigers by some considerable margin. Everything positive about their gameplay runs through him and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he jumps ahead of Reed Mahoney for Origin selection at the end of the season. The Tigers surged out of the gates last night on the back of his scheming work from dummy-half and while the pass was blatantly forwards it was his final-touch that put Luciano Leilua over for the first try.
Yet as good as he was in that opening half an hour – and he was red hot – he struggled to make an impact as the game wore on and the Eels began to establish their dominance through the ruck. Obviously a portion of Grant’s ineffectiveness comes from the sheer difference in class between the two forward packs but he too will learn to better pace himself as the match experience comes to him.
A big man try for the ages
The legend of Reagan Campbell-Gillard is growing on a weekly basis. Not content with smashing out his 5th consecutive game in excess of 200m on the ground, The Fully Loaded Man channeled the very best of Payne Haas with a heroic 50m effort that resulted in one of the most spectacular big man tries in the modern game.
Andrew Davey and Clinton Gutherson both deserve plenty of credit in the lead-up for a quality off-load and short-ball respectively but whenever a Mack truck transforms into a Maserati it is hard to do anything but admire the sheer majesty of mother nature working in her beautiful, mysterious ways.
Spare a thought for Adam Douhei if you can because he is going to be on a lot of highlight reels for the wrong reason moving forwards.
Another slow start but the cool head prevails
Thursday night marked the third straight game where the Eels haven’t been able to kick off to a clean start and in doing so have gifted their opponents the opportunity to seize the initiative. Against the Knights they showed a steely resolve that completely conquered the self-inflicted handicap while the effort against Manly swung to the other end of the spectrum. Last night they were more true to the kind of defensive intensity that has defined much of the 2020 season but even so they spotted the Tigers a number of soft tries.
Part of the fight back this week was engineered by returning shot-caller Mitchell Moses as he scored a stellar individual try and marshalled his team around the park on the back of an excellent long-kicking game. His chip kick was a result of keen vision and pure genius but he did a wonderful job of completely nullified the impact of the Tigers’ back three throughout the game.
I can’t say that I am chuffed about another start bogged down by errors and inefficient play but the boys rolled their sleeves up and got the job done after a 5-day turnaround. As I intimated before, sometimes that is indeed enough.
Blake Ferguson might be on the greatest try-scoring drought of all-time. Not from the length of the streak by any means but from the nature in which he has been denied throughout the 2020 season. He started in Round 1 against the Bulldogs by nearly scoring the opening try of the year in a barnstorming effort down the right sideline only to graze the paint and he trumped that by several orders of magnitude last night.
Although the knock-on/accidental offside against Davey and Gutherson were 100% the correct calls on the play, Ferguson’s insane hops and hang-time followed by his gravity defying put-down (HOW DIDN’T THE BALL SEPERATE FROM HIS HAND!?) make it one of the greatest tries that never was.
Maybe he breaks the duck egg in the most mundane of ways against the Bulldogs but no-one can fault Fergy-Fergs for not trying his utmost to break the streak through 11 games!
The Final Word
This was a game that the Eels had to have. I spoke about how great teams don’t lose two on the trot earlier this week and Parramatta did what they had to do against a Wests Tigers team that was chomping at the bit to spring an upset. The 5-day turnaround coupled with a battery of walking wounded in their starting roster meant this way always going to be a tough game and they soldiered through the pain barrier.
Even with the win, Parramatta face the likely prospect of dropping a place on the ladder this week with the Panthers expected to reclaim first place with a win over the Gold Coast Titans while Melbourne should leapfrog the Eels on points-differential with a solid win over the Broncos.
All that is secondary in importance mind you. If the Eels keep winning the ladder takes care of itself (since we play both the Storm and Panthers in the coming rounds) and for now they have secured a mini-bye with a 10-day break until their clash against the Bulldogs. Parramatta now have the chance to recoup and regroup before launching an all-out assault on the second half of their draw with a number of reinforcements due on the horizon. We are nearly full-go folks and I am pumped up for what the future will bring.
See you all next week!