Date: Sunday, August 2, 2020
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Kick Off: 2:00PM AEST
Referee: Chris Sutton
Head-to-head: Played 147, Parramatta 65, Canterbury 77, Drawn 5
Odds: Eels $1.13 Bulldogs $6.00
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Eels 8 d Bulldogs 2, Bankwest Stadium, R1 2020
Bulldogs 12 d Eels 6, Bankwest Stadium, R23 2019
Eels 36 d Bulldogs 16, ANZ Stadium, R2 2019
Eels 14 d Bulldogs 8, ANZ Stadium, R19 2018
The Eels may no longer command top spot on the premiership ladder, but how good is it having the Bulldogs anchored to the bottom? In a year with some historically bad teams in the Broncos, Warriors and Titans, our old rivals down Parramatta Road are hot favourites to out-suck them all and claim the most hotly contested wooden spoon in memory. The Bulldogs are terrible, and I can’t be happier about it.
Unfortunately for Parramatta, for only the second time this season the Bulldogs will be coming into a clash with the momentum of a win behind them. The dirty Dogs always play the Eels tough, and look to have found the defensive steel and “just scrappy enough” attack that took them to an unexpected winning streak to end 2019.
The Eels didn’t look convincing at times against the Tigers, but after giving them a head start it always felt like Parramatta would win once possession evened out and they stopped giving away cheap field position. It was a slippery, sloppy night at Bankwest, one that won’t go down in the annals of great football, but it was an ultimately convincing win against an opposition that wouldn’t go away.
The fact remains, Parramatta haven’t looked like the world beaters of the COVID return for nearly a month now. Scrappy against Newcastle, downright bad against Manly and sloppy against Wests. Fans will be hoping for a convincing performance against Canterbury, which should be enough to get the two points considering the gulf in quality between these two playing rosters.
The Bulldogs are to Parramatta everything that the Tigers wish they were. True rivals, born through years of fierce competition and shared history, begrudgingly sharing stadiums and stealing players. These clashes always have plenty of feeling, so regardless of table position you should expect a fiery contest.
The Bulldogs are one of those rare rivals, one that drives you to cheer neutral teams on like they are wearing Blue & Gold when they play those bums from Belmore. It may have been a decade since the Eels and Bulldogs clashed in a truly meaningful NRL match, but in no way has this old rivalry cooled.
The Eels and Bulldogs rivalry may have come to the fore in the 1980s, but there were a trio of finals battles in the 70s that the Eels got the better of, knocking the Bulldogs out of the 1975 finals after having to play two playoff games in three days to earn the right, then backing up three days later to beat the Berries 6-5. Parramatta would do the same in 1978 before the Bulldogs got one back and denied the Eels a spot in the grand final in 1979.
Then we have the 80s. The decade started with “The Entertainers”, a Bulldogs team mostly made up by brothers named Mortimer or Hughes who won the 1980 premiership, before the Eels would romp their way to three successive titles. In 81 and 82 those Entertainers couldn’t even find their way to the finals, but in 1983 Parramatta beat them not once, but twice in the finals on the way to the title.
Then sadly it was the Bulldogs turn. 1984 saw them beat the Eels twice in the finals on the way to their own title, including in the grand final to deny the Blue & Gold a rare four-peat. They repeated the trick in 1985 with a commanding qualifier win.
If there was one blemish on those golden years of the 80s, it is that Parramatta had to use noted shithole Belmore Oval as their home ground after burning down the stands at Cumberland Oval in celebration of the 81 premiership. If you ever wonder why Eels fans are unusually anti-environmentalist, it isn’t just because most of the fanbase won over by the 70s and 80s is now over 50 and associates anything green with communism or marxism or socialism or idiotism, it is the long delays and court action of the “Friends of Parramatta Park” who fought a new stadium build at every turn and meant it was five long years before the Eels could return to the brand new, world class Parramatta Stadium. I love Bankwest, but I do miss the old girl sometimes.
So it was 1986. The Bulldogs were aiming up for their own three-peat, and it seemed destined that the two clubs that had combined for all six premierships that decade would be facing off to decide decade-domination rights. Spoiler alert: we won. In a tense, tryless grand final good prevailed over evil and the Eels beat the Bulldogs 4-2, sending Ray Price and Mick Cronin into retirement as winners. I’m pretty sure the decade ended abruptly after that, what a way to finish.
What was born in the 80s on the field exploded in the 90s off of it, with Eels/Bulldogs clashes late in the decade striking fear in Tangaras, train guards and McDonalds North Parramatta staff as Bulldogs fans regularly went on a run of public property destruction, noise pollution of O’Connell Street and occasional violence against fellow football fans in the wake of the match, win or lose. The Bulldogs issues with troublemakers in their fanbase were well documented (and the flames fanned repeatedly) by the media, but clashes with Parramatta particularly brought out the worst in them.
A large amount of that ill feeling was due to Super League, where four Canterbury players reneged on their Super League deals with the Bulldogs to remain loyal to the ARL. That loyalty resulted in their mass transfer to Blue & Gold, as Jim Dymock, Jason Smith, Dean Pay and Jarrod McCracken headlined the “9 Million Dollar Team” that pulled the Eels out of a decade of mediocrity (with some help from coach Brian Smith). The “dirty four” as the Bulldogs referred to them were passionately hated by Canterbury diehards, and the club they played for along with it.
On the field, there was one particularly well remembered finals clash between the clubs in 1998, otherwise known as the “Paul Carige game”. Why is it that any time in sports, if a single game is named after a player, it is never for a good performance? I’m not going to relive that one here, the memory is too painful.
Things cooled down between the Eels and Bulldogs in the 2000s, on and off the field. All games between the sides were played at the cavernous Stadium Australia, troublemakers had been identified and banned, and rarely did the two clubs have shared moments of strength on the field. One notable exception was 2009, where a huge crowd of 75,000 saw the Eels defeat the Bulldogs the grand final qualifier, one of the greatest modern atmospheres at a football game. I’ll never forget the sight of the stadium, divided into one half Blue & Gold, one half blue and white, and the noise each side made throughout. It was what football dreams are made of, especially the 22-12 result in the Eels favour.
Sadly, both clubs are more known for their off field issues in recent times. Both have lost seasons to salary cap scandals, though only the Bulldogs managed to unfairly retain a premiership winning roster they built using illegal methods by all players taking pay cuts. The Bulldogs now appear to be going through the kind of boardroom turmoil that plagued the Eels for the best part of a decade, with factional power struggles infecting the football operation as long time officials and administrators are sacked or undermined, while club legends and their relatives desperately try to gain or retain power. I hope it lasts forever.
The Canterbury Four might be the most infamous names to play for both clubs, but they are hardly alone. Eels grand final winner and noted boardroom agitator Terry Leabeater came to the Eels after a stint at the Bulldogs, while more recently Andrew Ryan went from single handedly bombing an Eels semi-final against Melbourne to becoming a Bulldogs captain and legend.
Willie Tonga was one of the original “but we lose all our juniors!” brigade, stolen by the Bulldogs but returning to the Eels later in his career to prove they didn’t miss much. Tony Williams was another promising youngster that was plucked from the Eels ranks, though not by the Bulldogs. They still got better years out of him than Parramatta did on his eventual return a decade later. Frank Pritchard may have retired as an Eel, but he had much better days at the Bulldogs years before.
Krisnan Inu and Reni Maitua both had vastly different runs at each club, Inu was great for a few years at Parramatta, Maitua a Bulldogs star, but neither made much impact in the other colours.
In the current squad, Shaun Lane is a former Bulldog, making his first grade debut in blue and white back in 2015. On the other side of the field is former Eels half and posterboy of the salary cap disgrace era Kieran Foran, while on the sidelines for the Bulldogs is one of Parramatta’s great recruitment mistakes in Will Hopoate.
Then we have the lesser lights. Ben Roberts. Kris Keating. Chris Armit. Daniel Irvine. Lee Te Maari. “Bloody” Johnathan Wright, a long time symbol of Parramatta mediocrity, and poor old Pat O’Hanlon, whose career was derailed and eventually ended by injuries.
(I have to include the halfback who was infamous for his long mane: Terry Reynolds – Sixties)
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
After so many near misses this season, the punting tip came good with a $4.75 winner last week when Mitch Moses scored in the Eels win over the Tigers. A Parra victory is always that much sweeter when the punt comes in too.
Unfortunately, I don’t see much value in this week’s odds.
Even though the Eels have been victorious in seven of the last nine clashes against the Dogs, the encounters have generally been close, low scoring affairs. It played out exactly that way in Round 1 when a late try provided the Eels with an 8-2 win.
That said, the Eels have the capacity to put on a big score and that’s probably why the bookies are offering 17.5 start for the Dogs, and setting 40.5 as the total match points line.
History tells me that’s far too generous. The form guide says the odds makers are on the mark.
Personally, I regard this as a high-risk punting match. So, steering clear of anything that involves total points or points start, I’m tipping Michael Jennings to score the first, second or third try at odds of $3.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
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. Andrew Davey 15. Marata Niukore 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi. 18. Brad Takairangi 19. Stefano Utoikamanu 20. David Gower 21. Will Smith.
With one in five NRL players injured at the moment, the Eels are remarkably full strength for this clash thanks to the return of Kane Evans and Oregon Kaufusi. The Gun has made a fast recovery from his broken hand, while Evans has overcome a niggling calf injury. Kane hasn’t played since the Panthers game in round 5, but was in some of his best form prior to going down.
Some may find controversy in my “full strength” claims above, but Andrew Davey has in my opinion leapfrogged the injured Ray Stone as our journeyman of choice on the bench. Davey has offloaded for tries in both of his first grade games and shown plenty of heart and ability in limited chances.
There is less argument that Oregon Kaufusi is not one of our four best props, he was immense in replacing Evans and is a welcome return after Brad Arthur refused to trust Stefano Utoikamanu with meaningful minutes in the early stages of his first grade career. RCG has thrived in his new, big minutes role but expect the moustachioed menace to get a bit of a breather now the Gun is back, especially if the game is well in hand.
There are some doubts over Ryan Matterson after he suffered a concussion against the Tigers, but with ten days rest between games Brad Arthur is giving him every chance to play. Expect Brad Takairangi to come in as a direct replacement should Matterson not be able to go. Peni Terepo is the only other player in the casualty ward right now, with a still undisclosed injury or issue, but he wouldn’t be making this top 17 right now anyway.
1. Nick Meaney 2. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 3. Tim Lafai 4. Jake Averillo 5. Marcelo Montoya 6. Kieran Foran 7. Lachlan Lewis 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Dylan Napa 11. Josh Jackson 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Luke Thompson. 14. Jack Cogger 15. Sione Katoa 16. Sauaso Sue 17. Ofahiki Ogden. 18. Kerrod Holland 19. Renouf To’omaga 20. Chris Smith 21. Reimis Smith.
Tim Lafai makes his return to the Bulldogs in this one, pushing Kerrod Holland and his poor defence and terrible game sense out of the side. Shame that. The Bulldogs backline is unrecognisable from the season opener, Will Hopoate is out injured while Christian Crichton and Reimis Smith are demoted. Jake Averillo is a rare Canterbury back in that he has speed to burn, and represents the only real threat in the Bulldogs outside backs.
Kieran Foran seems to enjoy coming back to play his former club, he pairs up with the recently un-demoted Lachlan Lewis. Luke Thompson is another new face at lock, he’s been fine in his first runs of NRL football but certainly hasn’t made a Burgess-like or Graham-like impact. Raymond Faitala-Mariner is in good touch in the back row.
There is frankly very little to fear on that Bulldogs bench, Sauaso Sue is good for one effort game a year, and I think he’s already played it. Katoa and Cogger are both playmaker backups, a strange choice considering how well known it is that Parramatta will play through the middle of the field. Holding only two known middle forwards, both who have been getting 20 minute stints at most in recent weeks, feels risky.
A day game! A proper day game! After the last Sunday game against Newcastle was hampered by rain, it looks all clear for this Sunday with the early start and no excuses to be able to play dry weather football for the first time in a year. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Eels put away the offload regardless, trying to beat the Bulldogs through the middle with high completion football, but wouldn’t it be nice to see them throw the ball around a bit?
Chris Sutton adjudicates his first Parramatta game in 12 months, his last Eels assignment was the New Zealand Warriors game last season, another Eels win most remembered for a forward pass call. Correct decision, for mine. Parramatta are 2-1 under Sutton since 2019. The Bulldogs are 1-3 under Sutton over that same period, having not won with him in charge since round 6 last year. Sutton has been less reluctant to blow six again restarts than most referees, but does blow more penalties than average. Considering the Eels run of the “top” officials so far this year, we had to get one of the lesser regarded refs sooner or later. It could be worse.
ANZ Stadium is so large and the Bulldogs membership so disillusioned that, for the first time this year, Eels members will be able to purchase tickets to an away game. The Blue & Gold army won’t outnumber Dogs fans, but chances are they’ll be louder.
It is also Indigenous Round, something that means a lot to a couple of the Parramatta squad, Blake Ferguson and Will Smith. Smith is unlikely to get a run here, but he did have a say in the design of the jersey the Eels will wear on Sunday, while Blake has traditionally stood tall when representing his heritage. If ever there was a week to break a try duck in style, this would be it (though last week’s Superfrog effort will always be a try in our hearts).
How we win
The only time the word Bulldogs appears on the top 50 list of NRL.com for post contact metres and broken tackles is in the site footer, a fair summation of the lacking threat posed by the Bulldogs squad. Compare that to the otherworldly form of Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who is surpassing all expectations since joining the Blue & Gold, and his able supporting cast of Junior Paulo, Ryan Matterson, Nathan Brown and Shaun Lane. If this game comes down to a battle of field position, and it should be a priority of the Parramatta halves that it does, then it is hard to see anything other than an Eels domination of the middle of the field.
Once they are close enough, Parramatta must correct their recent struggles with structured attack. Dylan Brown is simply running the ball too often, playing the hero when he should be distributing. He is a danger with the ball, but makes most of his breaks with ball in hand from midfield and his own half, close to the line he needs to draw defenders in and find Lane, Sivo and Jennings, or combine with Clint Gutherson to create a numbers mismatch. Too often backline movements are dying in his hands.
Reed Mahoney needs to avoid falling back on the crutch of crash lines and distribute the ball early in sets. RCG, Paulo and the back rowers are massive threats close to the line, but the balance hasn’t been right in recent weeks. This game is primed for Mitch Moses to put on a clinic, and he could fix both issues by confidently calling for the ball more often, giving Reed a confident option, letting Dylan step back and pick his spots better, and also start to activate our dangerous right edge who, you may not have heard, haven’t managed to find a way to get Blake Ferguson over the stripe in 11 games.
Not to pick on Mahoney, but opposing teams have been doing exactly that close to the line in recent weeks, and he needs better protection from his outside defenders if big men target him. The best way to stop that happening would be to deny quick play-the-balls in the defensive 20, but better awareness from his outside men of when Mahoney might be targeted and adjusting defensive positioning to help him out would undoubtedly be appreciated by the headgeared menace.
The Bulldogs defensive line is a buffet for attacking opportunities, right or left side take your pick, the matchup is favourable for Parramatta. DWZ and Meaney are prone to errors under the high ball when pressured, while Tim Lafai will be lucky to have had three training sessions to form a combination with his defensive partners. A man not good enough to play in the Dragons team this year, who will barely know his teammates’ names? That’s my kind of matchup.
It didn’t work for the Cowboys or the Warriors, but the infamous “dead coach bounce” has helped the Bulldogs to one close loss and a big win since Dean Pay was put out of his coaching misery and released. Steve Georgallis doesn’t have much top line coaching experience, but his interim coaching stint with Penrith all the way back in 2011 started in similar fashion before his replacement was announced and the Panthers fell to pieces. Let’s hope the next Bulldogs coach is named before Sunday then. Georgallis has got this Bulldogs side playing tougher, mistake free football, making the tastiest lemonade he can out of this bunch of lemons (and a couple of tomatoes).
On top of that, Canterbury always plays Parramatta tough. It’s a legitimate rivalry game, and the Bulldogs have found some success in recent times by dragging the Eels down into a grinding, ugly game of football. It worked for them last year at Bankwest, even when Parramatta should have known what was coming, and they gave a greater account of themselves in round one this year than they managed in most of the following weeks, defending tough but ultimately not having anything with the ball in hand.
In recent weeks, the Bulldogs have been completing at over 80%, that was up to 90% in their big win against Newcastle, all the more impressive considering the conditions. They don’t bust many tackles and they don’t offload, but they are completing sets and making their opposition work hard for points. With Parramatta having shocking starts to the last three games and regularly giving away possession in the early stages, there is a chance the Bulldogs find their way across the line early and gain some confidence, making a much tougher job for the Eels.
The Bulldogs have the worst attack in the competition, but they have improved in recent weeks with Kieran Foran back leading the side. Canterbury are kings of the “crap” try, short kicks, deflections, bargeovers, you aren’t going to see many sweeping backline movements and well worked set plays. Foran does his best work close to the ruck, picking his short runners and timing inside passes, and Parramatta was targeted in this area by both Manly and Wests with some success. The best defence against this kind of grinding attack is to not give it easy chances close to the line, so the Eels need to improve in their discipline and not give up easy field position.
Raymond Faitala-Mariner is the man to watch as the most likely to score a soft bargeover try like we saw from Martin Taupau and Luciano Leilua in the last two weeks. He is the only Bulldogs forward capable of busting a tackle and the only one with legitimate burst to his runs. Tolman, Jackson and Thompson are more plodding metre eaters, and Dylan Napa is overrated as an enforcer type.
One interesting statistic is that the Bulldogs middle men of Tolman, Napa and Thompson are all among the NRL leaders in decoy runs per game. Decoy runs could just be predictable block plays that defenders easily disregard, but in dry weather and close to the line the Eels need to be aware of shifting quickly and not overcommitting to the close runner.
In the outside backs there is little to fear, though you haven’t needed to be an elite outside back to break through the defence of the Eels right side in recent times. Waqa Blake continues to rush in on ball carriers as far as three or four in, but it seems to be working more often than not at the moment. Jake Averillo is the danger man for the Bulldogs, he has a bit of speed and daring to him that is not matched by his fellow backs.
How it goes
I don’t see this being a pretty game, as the Bulldogs have been masters of dragging Parramatta down to their level and playing the game on their terms. That usually means an arm wrestle, limiting the opportunities that the Eels attack gets to exploit defensive mismatches at the line. Parramatta need to be patient and careful with the ball, respecting the opposition despite their position on the table. They didn’t do that the last two weeks and played from behind in both games. Giving the Bulldogs some confidence would be the worst thing they could do. Well, not really, the worst thing would probably be an all-in brawl that gets 5 Eels sent off in the first minute, but letting the Dogs get some pep in their step would be rather terrible.
If the Eels don’t show up thinking they’ve already won the game, they should be too much for Canterbury to handle. Across the park the matchups are in their favour. A high impact front row that are attacking threats against a workhorse and a firebrand that hasn’t had heat for years. Crafty, multi-dimensional halves that are threats to run or pass, and a fullback that can chime in to any attacking raid and create further mismatches. Backs that can break tackles and create for themselves, not just take advantage of opportunities given to them. A bench with forwards on it. If Parramatta play like they think all they need to do is show up to win then it will be a long night, but all they need to do is play like they have been and it will be enough.
If the Eels come out in a mood, this could be anything, especially if they break the dam wall early. It would be nice if this turns into a “spit and polish” run, getting attacking shapes together and throwing the ball around with confidence, but history against the Bulldogs suggests that is wishful thinking. As long as when the hard work is required, Parramatta steps up rather than folds, this should be a comfortable, but hard earned win.
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 20 Canterbury Bulldogs 6
Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses