Date: Sunday, September 6, 2020
Venue: Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Kick Off: 4:05PM AEST
Referee: Grant Atkins
Head-to-head: Played 40, Parramatta 22, New Zealand 18
Odds: Eels $1.42 Warriors $2.90
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 24 d New Zealand 22, Bankwest Stadium, R19 20219
New Zealand 24 d Parramatta 14, ANZ Stadium, R11 2018
Parramatta 32 d New Zealand 24, ANZ Stadium, R13 2017
New Zealand 22 d Parramatta 10, Mt Smart Stadium, R6 2017
Let’s not dwell on that too much. Parramatta were garbage last week, we all saw it, and if you’ve been reading TCT and these previews throughout the year, you would have been worried about the Eels edge defence regardless of what the numbers said. Hopefully the issues being exploited on national television in embarrassing fashion will finally see action taken on fixing them, or whatever action Brad Arthur has taken thus far finally sinks in.
That game will not define whether Parramatta can win the 2020 premiership, but the team’s response to that capitulation certainly will. Another gutless loss here to the undermanned Warriors will see all but the most delusional Eels fan making plans for the last Sunday in October. A good win and the team takes some momentum into what once could have been a battle for the minor premiership in the battle of the west next week.
The Warriors have won four of their last five after looking like the whole “living away from home, nomads on the road thanks to COVID” thing caught up with them. Instead, sending the homesick home and sacking Stephen Kearney has given the Warriors a new lease of life and a slim chance at playing finals football. The Warriors only losses in the last six weeks have come against the Roosters and Panthers, both times giving the Eels top four companions all they could handle.
New Zealand will have to do it without Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings, the two Eels players loaned to the club as part of the NRL sanctioned deals to keep the Warriors afloat in 2020. As is standard for a loan agreement, the Eels prop and winger will not play against the club paying them, the first time Warriors loan players have faced this issue.
This one won’t be easy, but it is put up or shut up time for Parramatta. The Eels have to win this game.
Even accounting for the relatively short existence of the Warriors, there is very little notable history between these clubs on the field. There are two finals clashes, both won by the Eels. In 2001 one of the most convincing finals beatings of all time kicked off what should have been a Parramatta premiership run, as the Eels won the first v eighth clash with the Warriors 56-12. Jamie Lyon scored one of those tries you used to see in Footy Show junior league highlights, where one kid runs around the entire opposition team to score as the Benny Hill theme plays.
The second finals clash was a real grinding affair, where the Eels dug deep and took out the fourth v fifth battle 12-10 in hostile territory. This was back in the days of the McIntyre system where this was almost always a meaningless match, but it was an impressive win after Parramatta limped into the finals winning only two of their last six games (although one of those wins was a fabulous 68-22 win against Brisbane, aka the coming out party of Jarryd Hayne).
There has been a bit more action between the two clubs off the field, most notably a couple of shared coaches in Daniel Anderson and Stephen Kearney. Anderson was a Brian Smith protege who moved on for opportunity, leading the Warriors to their first real success and a grand final appearance in 2002. He came back to the Eels in 2009, his largely successful return abruptly cut short by the political machinations of Roy Spagnolo and his board, whose cleanout of all club personnel not appointed by them extended to a coach that took the Eels to a grand final the year before. Anderson returned to the club as its first head of football but was soon dragged in to the salary cap scandal and eventually left the club for good in 2016.
Kearney is one of the worst coaches of all time, and his run at Parramatta is among the poorest in rugby league history. That he got the Warriors job several years later is baffling, a testament to how people can forget and how a narrative (that Kearney was unlucky and “nobody could have succeeded” in the basket case Eels organisation in that time) can build a man up. He was particularly well known for his bewildered looks at post match press conferences, giving Eels fans absolutely no hope that he could turn the team around.
Eels breakout bench weapon Marata Niukore has some Warriors ties, playing under 20s at the club before moving to Parramatta in 2017. The Warriors only former Eels are current Eels, with Daniel Alvaro and George Jennings on loan to the kiwis as they deal with the impact of COVID. As is standard for these deals, neither has been allowed to play against the Eels this week.
Cult hero is usually used to describe a player that isn’t much chop but is loved by the fans anyway, and the moniker fits no player better than Mark Tookey. Tooks was beloved by both Warriors and Eels fans as the man with a body many in the stands would compare favourably with who barrelled through defences in (very) short stints. The mohawk and goatee were nice touches, and “Tooooooks” was very fun to chant.
Some other good players have worn Blue & Gold and whatever the Warriors colour scheme was of that year, including Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu, Wade McKinnon, PJ Marsh, John Simon and Mark Horo. Lesser lights to be shared between the clubs include Lee Oudenryn, (famous for beating Martin Offiah in a footrace at Parramatta Stadium), Michael Witt, Suaia Matagi and Mr. Mediocrity himself, Jonathan Wright.
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
The Bunnies broke the hearts of Parramatta supporters with that Bankwest Stadium thrashing last week. They also made those of us tipping the Eels with the punting dollar look like complete fools.
This week, I’m not looking to history for any guide. The Warriors are playing a different brand of footy to anything they’ve played in the past. The challenge of being away from home and loved ones seems to have unified the group, and they’re hitting the type of form that could be expected from a touring team who enjoy each other’s company.
Despite their recent encouraging form, the no-compete clause in borrowing arrangements sees the Warriors lose both Eels loan players – George Jennings and Daniel Alvaro – for this match. They are truly doing it tough for numbers.
I don’t know whether this will be a high scoring affair or not, but the Eels should bounce back to the winners list.
I’m tipping a win by at least two converted tries and as such, I’m looking at the “pick your own line” market.
Taking the Eels at minus 10.5 points will return odds of $2.35. There’s your winning ticket!
Happy and responsible punting everyone.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Jai Field 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. Marata Niukore 16. Kane Evans 17. Oregon Kaufusi. 18. Haze Dunster 19. Andrew Davey 20. Brad Takairangi 21. Stefano Utoikamanu.
We knew the Eels couldn’t stay healthy forever, but why oh why did the injury curse have to strike Dylan Brown? Brown is out with a syndesmosis injury that required surgery, with expected recovery to take eight weeks, best case scenario would be six. Dyl reckons he can be back in four, or in time for the finals. I hope he is right.
Brown is replaced by Jai Field, who will likely play a similar role to the last time he deputised in the halves. With Mitch Moses outside him he should feel more comfortable playing his natural running game, which was barely seen in any kind of space during his last stint.
Marata Niukore returns to the bench after his suspension, replacing Andrew Davey. Brad Takairangi comes into the reserves, presumably as a utility, but many will be hoping to see him in place of Waqa Blake come Sunday.
1. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 2. Adam Pompey 3. Hayze Perham 4. Peta Hiku 5. Gerard Beale 6. Kodi Nikorima 7. Chanel Harris-Tavita 8. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 9. Karl Lawton 10. Lachlan Burr 11. Jack Murchie 12. Tohu Harris 13. Jazz Tevaga. 14. Wayde Egan 15. Adam Blair 16. Josh Curran 17. Isaiah Papali’i. 18. Paul Turner 19. Tom Ale 20. Adam Keighran.
Losing Alvaro and Jennings for this clash leaves the Warriors with only 20 available players, and that backline does not make for pretty viewing. Yet recent form for the Warriors has been strong, the back row and halves in particular have played well, while Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been in great touch.
Despite the need to loan players and almost having a full squad of unavailable players, Adam Blair can’t crack the run on side, nor can Isaiah Papali’i. It says a lot about how both men are going this season, though Papali’i holds some interest as an off contract forward who could potentially play in the middle.
Early forecasts for Sunday are fine and low-mid 20s, great football weather. The afternoon game should give the Eels forwards their best chance in a month to offload, not that it has helped the team in recent times. A dry track will also make the footwork of Tuivasa-Sheck even more dangerous than usual, he will need to be marked tight.
Referee Grant Atkins gets his second Eels game of the year, Parramatta are 1-1 under him, most recently losing the Dragons game. He wasn’t the reason for that, those that remember refereeing controversy from that game are better directed towards the bunker officials. Atkins sits at the higher end for set restarts, mid range for penalties, but is not an outlier. Atkins hasn’t been in charge of the Warriors this year, but they were 1-1 under him in 2019. If you want to complain about the referee choice, just be thankful we avoided Henry Perenara in what was one of the few “Henry game” candidates we will play this year.
The Warriors don’t have home ground advantage this season, but they are 3-3 at Central Coast Stadium, and those losses include playing the Roosters and Panthers tough and being right in the contest for most of the match. The Eels have never played a premiership match at Gosford.
Brad Arthur and the Eels team have repeated one thing this last week: that the fix for last week’s collapse is an easy one. Let’s hope BA is right, though I have to wonder if he could easily fix the fragile right edge combination of Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake, why he wouldn’t have done it say, after the first Manly game when it was clear there was a communication issue between the two.
Waqa was a total liability last weekend, a collapse of confidence saw him questioning his already questionable decision making, resulting in his being completely at sea for most of the night. He wasn’t alone, Maika Sivo was particularly ordinary as well, but Blake stands out on both sides of the ball as a defensive liability and a handbrake to attacking movements on his side.
A scary fact: Blake Ferguson has scored only two tries since Waqa Blake joined the Eels in round 19 last year, after scoring 8 in his first 15 games without Waqa. Waqa has some deadly footwork and can beat just about any man one-on-one, but he loves to step off his right foot and cut inside, and when he makes a break through the line that way only seems to have eyes for his inside support. The inside men haven’t helped get Waqa enough space to beat a man on the outside and then find Fergo down the corridor, something Ferguson excels at (just look at his highlight reel of acrobatic putdowns), but this is a combination that needs work with the ball and without.
Dylan Brown is a massive loss, defensively, in effort and for the threat his running game presents. That last part should be replicated by Jai Field, though he is more a speed and step runner than Dylan, who breaks through with his acceleration, power and some deception. Field didn’t get many chances to show off his open field footwork in his last stint, the Eels need to do more to get him those opportunities in space. That falls on the shoulders of Mitch Moses, who has to shake off the rust and control this team and the game.
Moses hasn’t had the happiest time with his kicking game since returning from injury, especially his usually deadly short kicks. His running and passing game seems to fall into a habit of digging into the line too deep or not nearly enough. When he goes very deep into the line before passing, the outside defenders pressure the receiver and the result is a lot of dropped balls on short passes wide. Nathan Brown has also been guilty of this, his deep run draws in defenders but it is also shutting down the space his outside men need to attack. When Moses doesn’t dig in at all, he just shovels the ball wide and the defenders shift and cover. There is a happy middle there, and Mitch needs to find it this weekend.
The dominant Eels pack has been dormant for nearly a month now. The stratospheric numbers of RCG and Junior Paulo were unsustainable, but both aren’t finding very effective offloads and sides are aiming up through the middle, cutting down their post contact metres. It should create some room out wide, but the Eels shifts have been sloppy as mentioned above. Perhaps a week of getting dirty in the middle and trying to grind out a Warriors pack made up of spare parts is exactly what the team needs.
Peta Hiku is basically the anti-Waqa, a man who is overly generous in dishing out try assists to his winger, in recent weeks this has been Adam Pompey. They will be attacking the left edge of the Eels defence, so Michael Jennings has the duty of shutting him down and Maika Sivo the duty to stay on his bloody wing and trust Jenko. Seriously Maika, Hiku could throw a flick pass from underneath a rugby union scrum, just stay out wide and wait for it. Hayze Perham and Gerard Beale get to test out just how much Waqa Blake can improve in a week. It is as kind a test as the Eels could hope for.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has become a bit of a “purists” player, one that does a lot of little things well but has stopped putting up big attacking plays that make highlight reels. In recent weeks he’s found some space and some lazy defenders for his electric footwork, though I expect the Parramatta inside defence to hold firm on him. The Eels defensive formation does require quick shifts from the inside out on the edge of the ruck, to mark the short crash line then shift and help the outside, which might create some lanes if RTS gets in to first receiver. Clint Gutherson will need to be on his game to make sure he meets Roger as the last line.
Halves Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita won’t scare many fans, but they have been playing solid football in recent weeks and scarily for Parramatta, have been unlocking the Warriors down both edges with pinpoint passing games and well timed darts at the line. That’s about all you need to do to break the Eels edge most weeks, and while Todd Payten might be flicking through Domain for condos in Townsville, he wouldn’t have been needing to pay much attention to the Eels/Rabbitohs replay to see an opportunity out wide.
Some names to watch in the pack are Jack Murchie and Jazz Tevaga, both high effort guys who pop up in the right place. If either of them score, there is a good chance the Eels aren’t meeting the small effort areas a team needs to succeed. Let’s hope Adam Blair gets out there early, his effect on a football team is like that of a single drop of tabasco in a glass of milk.
How it goes
Look, I just want to win here. If Parramatta aren’t broken, they should win a tough game. If they come out like a team trying to make amends for being embarrassed last week, they should be able to look very good against what is a high effort but ultimately bits and pieces Warriors team. If we get what we’ve seen for the last two months, and especially the last three games, you’ll be seeing jerseys thrown through the atrium of Parra Leagues on Monday morning.
Tactics and gameplan don’t really matter here. The Eels just need to be better. I’m hoping they can start their wind up this week for throwing a massive rotten egg in the face of Gus Gould and all the other doubters with a big win against Penrith next week. No win, no matter how impressive, will convince anybody this week, but a loss and, well, you won’t be seeing me on social media for a couple of months.
Lets Gone Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 22 New Zealand Warriors 14
Man of the Match: Michael Jennings