Date: Thursday, August 27, 2020
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Kick Off: 7:50PM AEST
Referee: Gerard Sutton
Head-to-head: Played 127, Parramatta 55, South Sydney 69, Drawn 3
Odds: Eels $1.44 Rabbitohs $2.80
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 26 d South Sydney 14, Bankwest Stadium, R12 2019
South Sydney 26 d Parramatta 20, ANZ Stadium, R20 2018
South Sydney 42 d Parramatta 24, ANZ Stadium, R15 2018
Parramatta 22 d South Sydney 16, ANZ Stadium, R26 2017
The Eels returned to their “doing what needs to be done” ways against Melbourne, with a strong defensive effort taking them to a convincing but hardly emphatic victory. The attack still had its issues, but in the post match press conference Brad Arthur let us all know why: the team has barely worked on it for the last month as he continues to drill the defensive side of the game. The results are there, the Eels are once again the best defensive side in the competition, and while there were still a couple of moments, the edge defence looked better against the Storm, and the scramble D was particularly effective.
The Rabbitohs sit firmly in “best of the rest” territory, almost certain to make the top eight but yet to defeat any of the teams above them on the ladder. They’re hardly alone there, the top six sides hold a record of 50 wins, 6 losses against teams outside the top six. The Eels are the first big test of several waiting for the Bunnies in the finals run, three of their last five are against Parramatta, Melbourne and the Roosters, but with a top eight spot all but secured it is hardly a must win for South Sydney this Thursday.
Some might be worried about the hot form Souths come into this game with, having put 50 points past Manly when the Sea Eagles season was on the line. After all, that same Manly side beat Parramatta (with a healthy assist from the Eels themselves) only a month ago. It isn’t the first time the Rabbitohs have come in against a top side off a big win, and last time that didn’t help them beat the Panthers who controlled the match in a 20-12 win. The class gap between a Manly side that has clearly given up and an Eels team that must win out to have any hope of the minor premiership is immense, so while the Bunnies will be fired up for this one, they haven’t proven once this year that they can hang with the true contenders for 80 minutes.
With the whole footballing world seemingly against the Eels right now, from Gus Gould continuing to run his mouth about our (lack of) premiership credentials, to Craig Bellamy having the gall to call us penalty milkers and the associated huff that comment has fed throughout the week, it would be a great time for Parramatta take the first shift towards finals gear and put up an impressive display on both sides of the ball.
For a team rich in history and very keen to remind you of that, there is little shared between these two clubs over the 70+ years of the Eels existence. The one and only finals clash between the two was way back in 1965, a 17-2 win to the Rabbitohs in a minor semi final in a year South Sydney lost the grand final to St George.
The Parramatta chapter would have been a tough one to write for the author of Souths big book of feuds, though the old book website (that today looks as much in need of maintenance as the Balmain Leagues Club) blasts the Eels for some generic arrogance, wealth and expectations of success. Even the Titans and Cowboys at least get references to players and football events in their entries. Then again, the Tigers don’t even get an entry, which is a bit amusing considering a whole book was written about what Souths did to Balmain in the 1909 grand final.
Eels lock/robotic assassin Nathan Brown is a former Rabbitoh, known more as a hothead over there than as the hard running, hard tackling, no nonsense machine we know and love today. Rabbitohs depth halfback Troy Dargan is a former Eels junior and one of the few players I never seem to see in the “why do we let our juniors go?” discussions. Considering people are complaining about letting Matt Doorey of the Bulldogs go after he played one first grade game, that says a lot about Dargan.
Easily the best story to come from players with shared history between Souths and Parramatta is Fuifui Moimoi, who famously walked off the training paddock claiming “I play ten minutes, I train ten minutes” after a reserve grade cameo for Souths that weekend. Fui never played first grade for the Rabbitohs but became a cult hero and a legitimate superstar of the game at the Eels, cracking 200 games in the Blue & Gold.
Brian Hambly, one of the early Parramatta superstars and Eels Hall of Famer, made his start in first grade football at Souths. In the following decade star Souths five-eighth, Denis Pittard, shifted to the Eels to play 32 games in 1974/75. This was followed by Dr Nathan Gibbs who moved from Redfern to Parra in 1984, though he only made 9 appearances in the Blue and Gold. More recently there has been a heavily worn track between Redfern and Parramatta, with some of the biggest names including Nathan Peats, Dean Widders, Wade McKinnon, Eels assistant coach David Kidwell, Jason Bell, Joe Galuvao and Joel Reddy.
The most infamous name to wear both jerseys is Chris Sandow a.k.a “the contract that set the Eels back five years”. The livewire, tackle shy halfback was exactly what the Eels didn’t need in a period they were high on individual brilliance but low on game control. His four year stint at the Eels felt like forty until he sooked his way out of the club with an insipid performance against the Bulldogs, in what was ultimately his final NRL game.
Other lowlights shared by both clubs include Kirisome Auva’a, Chris Walker, Beau Champion and a starting forward packs worth of mediocrity in the mid-2000s.
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
I have to give credit to the Storm defence last week. The desperation to defend their line, combined with some low percentage passes from the Eels, ensured that the total match points suggested in our tip was never likely.
But with 100 markets in this week’s match, there’s no shortage of options to choose from as we climb back onto the horse.
Once again I’m very confident about an Eels victory, and I’m going to turn to history to justify the suggested punt.
In 16 matches since 2010, Eels clashes with Souths have yielded an average of just over 43 total match points. Indeed, five of the last seven encounters have produced 40 or more points, and the two matches that didn’t both totalled 38 points.
Therefore, I’m looking at the head to head/over under double and selecting Parra at over 38.5 total match points. Finger (and toes) crossed.
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. Ray Stone 15. Andrew Davey 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi. 18. Stefano Utoikamanu 19. Haze Dunster
20. Will Smith 21. Brad Takairangi.
Another week, another masterful sidestep of the injury bug that continues to plague the NRL as a whole. Listening to the excellent Rugby League Digest podcast this week, former Wallaby and now sports analytics guru Ben Darwin talked about some of the more interesting, lesser known measures of sporting success, one being continuity. Playing together each of the last 15 rounds hasn’t made Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake seem any closer to getting on the same page, but let’s call them the exception that proves the rule. It does go some way to explaining the Eels strong middle defence, and will bode well for attacking combinations to bear fruit once Brad Arthur let’s them work on them at training.
In the actual team, Marata Niukore becomes the first victim of the crusher crackdown, with a judiciary assist from Craig Bellamy. If penalties on field are deemed sufficient for the Storm incidents but Marata needed to ‘cop something’ for his own effort, give me those on field penalties any day. As an aside, readers who stuck with the ‘War and Peace’ effort that was last week’s preview would be well versed in the grubbery of Nelson Asofa-Solomona, who had it all on display against the Eels and somehow escaped with a fine for throwing a shoulder into the exposed head of Niukore. I don’t pretend that the judiciary is ever consistent, but he deserved to sit for a few weeks for the recklessness of that “tackle”.
Darwin also stated that one of the big factors in performance around continuity was the jersey a team wears, so all of you out there claiming our yellow away jersey is cursed, you might actually have something there.
1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Corey Allan 3. Campbell Graham 19. Steven Marsters 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tavita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray. 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Patrick Mago 17. Keaon Koloamatangi. 20. Troy Dargan 21. Kurt Dillon
4. Dane Gagai 18. Jed Cartwright.
Dane Gagai has fallen to a hamstring injury, giving Steven Marsters a chance to add to his impressive debut last week. Alex Johnston is also out with concussion, unable to recover in the short turnaround. That leaves the Rabbitohs backline down three starters, with James Roberts also out until the finals. Talking about continuity, there should definitely be some unfamiliarity between the South Sydney defensive line that could be exploited.
In the pack, seeing the names it looks like a couple of players are injured but only Ethan Lowe of the regular starters is on the sideline. Thomas Burgess is having a strong year and Cam Murray remains an elite player, but few will be scared of that Bunnies bench.
Another night game at Bankwest, and the cold snap of recent weeks should disappear as it is expected to be a nice, warm late winter day out Parramatta way, with no chance of rain. It should be ideal conditions for the Eels if they plan to start moving the ball around a bit more. At the very least, it will be friendly for their heavy offloading style.
The Eels have drawn the feature referee once again in Gerard Sutton, a fair mark of how many big games that Parramatta has been part of this season. They are 4-0 under Gerard this year, and 7-1 since 2019. Souths last week got their first win from three attempts under Sutton in 2020, and were 4-3 under Sutton in 2019. He’s the best referee in the game, and hopefully he doesn’t feel the pressure of all the “penalty milking” drama of this week.
Souths do have a couple of wins away from home in 2020, though those are against the Bulldogs, Dragons and Cowboys, hardly intimidating opposing teams and venues.
There are two keys to success here for Parramatta: the pack and Mitchell Moses. The last two years have proven that Damien Cook is the best player in the world when the South Sydney pack is on top, and Jake Granville when they are struggling. Parramatta are well built to contain the plays that Cook thrives on; their middle defence has done an excellent job at recovering from quick play-the-balls and not allowing the opposition to turn them a full set roll-on. Cook won’t have the luxury of seeing his chances coming in a set as his pack rolls through the middle, he will need to pounce on the rare opportunities he gets.
On the other side of the ball, the Eels pack should be able to find their groove through the middle of the park, especially with Junior Paulo and RCG coming off reduced minutes last week. I would expect to see that a bit more from Brad Arthur in the coming weeks in games against lower placed sides, or when he feels the match is under control. RCG and Junior might not get a full game off, but they will get a few more 40 minute nights instead of 60+. Reed also got a bit of a rest last week and should be better for it.
That should give Mitchell Moses a solid platform to work from. He has looked a little out of sorts since his return from injury, particularly finding his timing with outside runners. He has been forced to hold passes or reverse field several times, and the Eels close range attack has suffered for it. Last week his kicking game was a touch off as well, and he can’t afford that as the best way for Parramatta to nullify Latrell Mitchell will be kicking in behind him and forcing Latrell to run to get the kick, then run it back into a strong defensive line.
Mitch needs to get that passing timing down, because the South Sydney edges are there to be exploited. There are no regular combinations and several rookies in the line, they should frankly be no match for Sivo, Jennings, Blake and Fergo. It is just a matter of getting those opportunities.
Parramatta need to keep this game in the middle of the field. Cody Walker won’t find the inside seams he loves to exploit close to the line, thanks to the Eels compressed defence, but that same defensive style will have Latrell Mitchell licking his lips in anticipation. Mitchell creates mismatches whenever he joins the line, demanding the attention of two defenders and then unleashing his long passing game. He is a man built to exploit the Eels defensive weaknesses, and it will take incredible trust from the outside defenders to hold their assignments if Latrell targets Mitch Moses and gets him one-on-one.
The grubber hasn’t been the weapon of choice for halfbacks this season, largely thanks to the combination of the “tackle in the air” rule and the threat of seven tackle sets making high kicks short of the line a much more appealing option. That has played into the hands of Sivo and Ferguson, who haven’t got great turning circles and in Fergo’s case, doesn’t mind an air swing at an inopportune time. Adam Reynolds has one of the best short kicking games in rugby league, and it will be a risk for the Eels, especially if they rush up to shut down Mitchell and Walker.
The Rabbitohs as a whole are a very middling team, mid-pack in tackle breaks, post contact metres, possession, errors and penalties conceded. Two areas stand out, the Rabbitohs are dead last in the NRL in offloads, and are second best in missed tackles for the year. That doesn’t carry over to ineffective tackles, where the Bunnies are mid-pack, and while Parramatta are up there for tackle breaks this season, it is offloads that fuel the Eels success in 2020 and it doesn’t look like Souths will be able to stop them any more than other Parramatta opponents this year. It does put more pressure on Moses and Brown to get the attack right, as Souths are unlikely to give cheap chances away to players like Jennings and Blake who thrive on breaking tackles.
How it goes
I don’t see this game as a coming out party for the Eels, but I think they answer a lot of critics and start to unleash the attack after nearly two months of parking it in favour of strong defence. Not that the D will slack off, but Brad Arthur seemed very happy with where the defence is following the Storm game, happy enough to start talking about it post game and admit it has been the sole focus of his coaching for the last month. If actions speak louder than words, Arthur was comfortable enough that the team could hold out a weakened Storm side that he rested RCG, Junior and Reed for extended periods.
That attack isn’t going to come overnight, but Souths have hardly been a brick wall in defence this year and there will be chances across the park. As long as Parramatta can continue their excellent discipline and limit the Rabbitohs chances, at the other end of the park the points will come. Whether it is the strength out wide of Matterson and Lane, who are both in good touch, or the outside backs exploiting the lack of experience of their opposites, I would be very disappointed if we see another low scoring effort from the Eels.
The Rabbitohs will be full of confidence, but there has to be that nagging feeling in the back of their minds that they haven’t been able to best a top six side this year. They’ve got close on occasion, but they’ve never been the better team, the unlucky team, against elite competition. A lot of people expect that to change this Thursday, but instead I think we’ll be talking about just how good the Eels are looking come Friday morning.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 26 South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses