Round 13 Drink Of Choice – Nikka Whisky From The Barrel (with a chaser of rainwater)
Just a week ago the Eels produced a singularly insipid effort to limp over the line against the Canterbury Bulldogs. While the victory counts all the same come the finals, the 2-point victory felt hollow as Parramatta fell prey to the same self-destructive tendencies that had plagued them for over a month. Yesterday, in inclement conditions as challenging as any team will face in 2020, the Eels ground out a very different 2-point victory as they downed (and very nearly drowned in the process) the Cronulla Sharks in a 14-12 triumph that finally suggested that they are ready to get right.
The Eels weren’t close to perfect mind you. There were errors. Oh lawdy there were errors. Blake Ferguson added evidence to the notion that you might need to a mechanical engineering degree if you are going to throw a Harbour Bridge pass. He also dropped an uncontested bomb cold. Not to be outdone, Maika Sivo forgot that in order to score or save a try all you need is downward pressure while Oregon Kaufusi coughed the ball up twice in a rough outing for the young pup.
17 errors is awful for an ordinary game but the conditions were anything but ordinary. Parramatta executed their game-plan for the majority of the 80-min and knuckled down on crushing the fundamentals of the game when the contest entered its crescendo. The back-to-basics win might be exactly the tonic the Eels needed so let’s break it all down.
Browns Shine Brightest In The Gloom
On an afternoon where the setting was a million different shades of grey, it was the two Browns that shined with an incandescent glow. Dylan Brown returned to form in spectacular fashion as he scored the opening try of the game and then put Kane Evans over for a crucial 4-pointer in the second half. Indeed, the youngest Brown did such a convincing job of selling a dummy to the right-edge of the Cronulla Sharks that you have to wonder what he could extract from the Wests Tigers or Brisbane Broncos if he pursued a career in player management.
Dylan looked likely to breakout for a big carry or a try with nearly every possession and one of the decisive moments of the game came in the second half when the Eels, who admittedly benefitted from a 50/50 call, got bailed out from a drop from Ferguson on their own goal-line. Brown quickly scooped up the ball and sliced through the defensive line for a massive 35m gain to flip the script in a flash.
In typical fashion, Dylan was a rock in defence as he cut down Sharks with impunity. Hell, if he was the protagonist in Jaws the movie might have been widely panned for animal cruelty. Yes Ronaldo Mulitalo did manage to score one on him but that was more a function of a bad over-read from Michael Jennings in cover defence as well as the circus act of a put down that Mulitalo executed.
Not to be outdone, Nathan Brown finished the game as the best forward on the park. Nathan somehow pushed out 179m from 20 carries on a track that was so heavy that even Makybe Diva would have struggled to get into second gear. While other forwards put together great efforts in the rain, Brown was the one playing at a different speed. It was yet another performance that underscored how important our firebrand lock-forward is to the team.
Luckless Lane Still Rebounds
Shaun Lane was at the heart of two rather unfortunate calls on Sunday. The first came in the opening stanza when Lane was adjudged to have played at a Shaun Johnson kick. My initial impression naturally was the complete opposite with Johnson having played to the line before lacing boot to ball and Lane merely holding his ground and deflecting the ball. Later in the second half he had the ball, rather obviously, raked out in a call that was initially hailed as a loose carry. While the initial call from the referee was poor I don’t have any qualms with him denying the Eels the ability to challenge the ruling because the timing had clearly expired.
Despite those ‘indiscretions’ marked against him, Lane produced a performance that was desperately needed for the Eels. His 12 carries for 98m might not wow you but Parramatta deployed the lanky backrower as their fulcrum for attacking raids down the left-edge yesterday. Parramatta delivered early ball to Lane often with option looks based on his read of the defensive line. Given the conditions he primarily tucked the ball under his arm but there were definitely shapes that suggested the Eels were looking to emulate the movement that cracked the Bulldogs open last week.
With Ryan Matterson due back in Round 14 I am keen to see how the balance of our attack shifts but the timely returns to form of Dylan and Shaun on the left-edge is huge no matter how you spin it.
Who makes way for ‘Matto’?
Speaking of Matterson’s imminent return, we now arrive at the burning question ahead of Round 14 – who drops out of the team for him? It seems likely to be a two-way battle between Ray Stone and Andrew Davey and my first impression is that Davey’s awesome feel-good story might be put on hiatus for the time-being. Stone was rushed back into the team this week following his recovery from a broken hand – a tell tale sign of his value – and while he is at home in the back-row, crucially he provides the Eels with emergency cover for Reed Mahoney.
I will put it on record that Davey has done nothing wrong though. As with his other caps in 2020, even if the stat-sheet doesn’t scream big impact Davey made a number of quality defensive plays in his brief stint off the bench including a brilliant read and tackle on an outside/inside gambit.
Matterson is an 80-min talent on the right-edge making Davey superfluous to requirements in any game that proceeds according to plan. Still, the savvy rookie has impressed in his first-grade run and has no doubt put his name at the front of the queue to play first-grade again when opportunity calls.
The Final Word
I am sure there are a number of talking points that I have forgotten or glossed over but I can’t stress how happy I was that the Eels pulled off this back-to-basics win. I lavished Dylan Brown with praise but Mitchell Moses was instrumental in this regard with a kicking game that barring two errant attempts (and one of those still netted a line drop-out!) punished the Sharks all game. Brad Arthur noted in his presser that Junior Paulo made a timely call to push in a scrum that produced a shock tight-head for the blue & gold and while their numbers weren’t as gaudy as recent showings, both ‘Junez’ and Reagan Campbell-Gillard were rock solid. One might even called them w(h)etstones!
Part of me rues the fact that we weren’t able to measure ourselves against a Top 8 rival on a dry track but by the same token perhaps playing in the rain was exactly what the Eels needed to wash the stink of their recent struggles off themselves. Either way Parramatta keep finding ways to win and ensure that the three-way shootout at the top of the ladder remains an intense race.