Round 15 Drink Of Choice – Dimple 15YO
This was always going to be a cursed game for the Parramatta Eels, wasn’t it? Thrash the Melbourne Storm and the media and general pundits can trot out the line that Brad Arthur and his troops didn’t prove anything against a depleted Melbourne line-up. Win solidly, as the Eels did last night, and you are badged a pretender for not putting away a weakened contender. Fortunately for all involved we avoided the shit-storm (pun only partly intended) that would have descended upon the press had Parramatta succumbed to the Storm …so we should all count our blessings there.
Thursday night’s 14-0 victory was far from an optimal performance by the Eels but it featured a complete defensive performance that was supplemented by an aggressive, albeit impatient, offensive showing. The shut-out was just 6th in the history of the Melbourne franchise, a credit to both the Storm’s resilience over time and to the defensive intensity of the Eels last night. The win pulls the Eels back on level footing with the Storm on the ladder and keeps Parramatta’s outside shot at the minor premiership alive.
Miscues and pushed passes still there but Eels signal renewed intent in attack
To say that Parramatta’s attack has been laborious over the last five or six weeks probably sells our struggles in possession a bit short. There have been flashes of our old selves in the occasional try in that stretch but the Eels have been quick to drop the tempo. The game against the Storm was fast. Of course Melbourne themselves also brought the heat but from their first possessions Parramatta were keen to move the ball wide with as few passes as possible.
Waqa Blake was the big beneficiary as he was allowed to post up against Justin Olam in clean 1-on-1 situations. While Olam made some great tackles initially, momentum in the duel seemed to shift with every extra carry given to Blake. Eventually the spotlight featuring of Parramatta’s right-centre allowed Ryan Matterson to gouge the Storm as their defence was caught in adjustmenting to the aggressiveness of the shifts.
Sure they left plenty of meat on the bones. Shaun Lane, Oregon Kaufusi and Matterson were all caught trying to opportunistically offload after making a great initial gain while neither Mitchell Moses or Clinton Gutherson could link up cleanly with the luckless Blake Ferguson with a crease to the try line. Technically I could include Michael Jennings on this list as well but I feel like that would be disrespectful to the amazing effort of Brandon Smith.
Moses is still well short of his best form as he continues to rebuild from his calf injury but he was noticeably straighter in attack against the Storm – as was Dylan Brown – and it went a long way to keeping those wider channels open. Mitch wasn’t able to find range with his attacking kicking game, although Ferguson still did his damndest to make them work, but at least his clearing kicks were quality.
Arthur reiterated in his post-match press conference that defence is still by far and large the number one priority at training. Thankfully that is showing up big time as the Eels lead the league in scoring defence and it remains a cornerstone pillar of our premiership push. The emphasis on defence goes a fair way to helping explain our inefficiencies in offence, although I maintain some of it was us simply getting into our own heads, but I am excited to see what we can do once the attack gets an oil change and a smidgen of love.
Right-edge stands the test
Naturally this entire segment needs to be prefaced with the fact that the Melbourne Storm were missing plenty of strike power but by the same token they also threw a lot at Parramatta’s right-edge on Thursday night with Ryan Papenhuyzen favouring that side heavily. They had some success with a few half-breaks that were quickly stamped out by eager cover defenders but on the whole, structurally that side of the field defended as well as it has in a long time.
Blake & Blake Inc. made correct reads and strong contact throughout (barring Waqa shooting incorrectly on one particular scrum) and their approach through the game had me feeling the most confidence in that edge since the competition resumed.
The wherewithal of the right-edge was a major factor in the Eels pitching just the 6th shutout in franchise history for the Storm but the ruck defenders deserve plenty of credit for putting the clamps on Brandon Smith and Nelson Asofa-Solomona. Shutouts should never be sneezed at (especially in the COVID era!) and the fact that the Eels were able to defend their goal line on a number of occasions speaks to the conviction they have in themselves and each other.
Welcome back Maika!
I haven’t had too much beef with the NRL Integrity Unit in recent times but they have a lot to answer for after they suspended Maika Sivo for the last three games without cause. Jokes aside, it was a rock solid return to form for the Fijian flying fortress as he answered the challenge levied at him by TCT during the week. Sivo scored a simple try, which is always great, but he was spectacular under the high ball and shouldered a heavier workload than Blake Ferguson.
As much as Craig Bellamy would like to insinuate he milked a crusher tackle for a penalty (more on that later), we know that Maika can get up dusty from regulation tackles at rather inopportune times for the Eels. If anything he fought hard to get to his feet every time on Thursday and was desperately unlucky not to earn a number of set-restarts.
Perhaps Sivo’s prolonged slump was emblematic of Parramatta’s wider issues in attack. After all Maika is a lightning rod for our team. The challenge will now be for both Maika and the team to use this game as the turning point for their struggles.
Reed rested, polished Stone
Lost among the talk about how the Eels should have hammered a depleted Storm outfit (that belted the Roosters in Round 14 mind you) was some curious – but positive – interchange strategy from Brad Arthur. After leaning heavily on his starting props and hooker for the last two months, ‘BA’ let his front-row triumvirate take a lighter load this week. Reagan Campbell-Gillard (44min), Junior Paulo (47min) and Reed Mahoney (52min) all clocked lesser minutes this week while Parramatta’s two premier bookends both fell short of the 100m mark on the ground as they eased up for the first time in forever.
The backrow gobbled up the missing production with Matterson (11 runs for 128m), Lane (17 runs for 174m) and Brown (20 runs for 168m) pounding the rock all night. Niukore, Evans and Kaufusi all chipped in from the bench as well with the trio accounting for almost an additional 300m between themselves.
Still, we all knew that Parramatta’s deep stocks in the forwards could step up if and when Junior and ‘RCG’ were spotted a breather. The big story out of these bench moves was Ray Stone’s 30min on the field as the gritty backrow utility played his best game at dummy-half by far in his young career. Stone was entrusted with two stints controlling distribution of the ball and his service was noticeably improved. Even better, he kept himself alive around the ball like any aspiring rake should allowing the Eels to generate some nifty second phase play.
Brad Arthur has been bullish on keeping Stone in the team and he is now being rewarded for those efforts. The only thing both coach and player need now is a slice of good luck with injuries and lord knows Stone has paid his dues there!
On Bellyache and the MRC
If you missed it, be sure to tune into this week’s episode of The Tip Sheet where Sixties and myself tear into both of these topics the way Nathan Brown rips into a defensive line but suffice to say – excuse me?
Firstly, on Craig Bellamy. I understand there is always an element of gamesmanship to press conferences but the fact that the media gobbled up the words of the architect of essentially every degenerate wrestling strategy in the modern game blows my mind. In a week where the NRL TELEGRAPHED that there would be a crackdown on crusher tackles, naturally there was going to be more than a penalty or two blown…especially when Cooper Johns and Albert Vete facilitated classic crusher motions.
Bellamy is obviously an outstanding coach but he clearly overstepped the mark in insitunatiing the Eels trains to milk penalties…but then again ‘Bellyache’ might actually be an expert in coaching his players to do just that and he is merely making an insightful read on the situation.
As for the Match Review Committee – I hope you all stub your toes. Nathan Brown gets two weeks for clipping a falling Viktor Radley on the chin while Radley and Nelson Asofa-Solomona get nothing for decapitating Clinton Gutherson and Marata Niukore respectively. Even worse, Niukore will now miss a week for a crusher tackle that was no worse (and arguably better) than that of Johns and Vete.
The system is completely broken.
The Final Word
For the 12th time this year the Eels got the job done. That number should not be lost on fans. The recent run of spotty form sure sucked to watch but good teams grind their way to the ‘W’ in spite of those tribulations and barring two lapses against the Sea Eagles and Dragons, the Eels have done just that.
In shutting out a depleted Melbourne Storm, Parramatta reinforced just how far their defence has come in a year. Their league leading 176pts against has been built on a single-minded dedication to the craft along with a massive buy-in from the playing group.
Now is the time to elevate their offence to the electrifying heights that we know they can achieve. The South Sydney Rabbitohs will be rocking and rolling into town in Round 16 following their whalloping of Manly affording the Eels a massive match-up that will test them on both sides of the ball. The Eels have laid the table on the back of painstaking efforts in defence – now is the time to work the magic in the kitchen to get this offence cooking!