Date: Saturday, October 10, 2020
Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta
Kick Off: 7:50PM AEST
Referee: Gerard Sutton
Head-to-head: Played 128, Parramatta 55, South Sydney 70, Drawn 3
Odds: Eels $2.85 Rabbitohs $1.45
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
South Sydney 38 d Parramatta 0, Bankwest Stadium, R16 2020
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
There isn’t a lot of optimism among Eels faithful right now. Having not progressed beyond the second week of the finals in the last two attempts, now we play the only team to really put a beating on Parramatta all season long, the South Sydney Rabbitohs. A side that just put 60 on the Roosters, and has won its last two against top eight sides by a combined 106-28. Injuries, form, bookmakers and just about everybody who is paid to talk about footy are against the Eels in this one, so what reason is there for hope?
This Rabbitohs team might have toweled up the Eels last time we played, but they aren’t the Melbourne Storm. This is a side that lost to the lowly Bulldogs only four weeks ago, and the week before that nearly let a 14 point lead slip against the Tigers. They might be full of confidence after putting a record breaking score against the Roosters (primarily by exploiting a makeshift edge of Mitch Aubusson and Matt Ikuvalu) then pounding what is left of the injury ravaged Newcastle Knights, but only a month ago they were making up the numbers in the finals in most eyes.
It won’t be easy, but Parramatta’s premiership chances are far from extinguished. Last week gave plenty of reason for hope, and on a different day with better injury luck, that effort beats the Storm. Remember how you felt at about the 15 minute mark last weekend and bottle it, because the Eels are going to need every last ounce of support we can give them.
What happened last time
Parramatta lost. Badly. Dylan Brown got injured and the whole NRL world was awakened to just how fragile the Eels edge defence can be. Waqa Blake was a tire fire, getting an F from Mitch in the grades that I thought was as generous as the space he left on the edge for the Rabbitohs to charge through.
The most jarring aspect of that game was how bad the forward pack was. RCG and Junior had ordinary efforts by their high standards, while Shaun Lane was a disaster both defensively and in managing to create an obstruction that wiped a try off the board. On that back of that, Mitch Moses had his worst game of the year. It is hard to see the Eels repeating that ‘effort’, even if it will take a bit more to fix the edge defence the Rabbitohs ran through all night.
Sixties’ Lucre Quest (Quoted markets are NSW TAB)
The punting tip delivered last week, courtesy of the Eels receiving a whopping 17.5 points start. There were some nervous moments when the Storm threatened to kick away, but Parra fought back and were unlucky to not finish even closer than they did.
This week, it’s again hard to resist a big start in the line/total double. All odds in that market are set at $2, and I’m backing the Eels who get 10.5 start into under 49.5 total match points.
For those keen to back the Blue and Golds in the premiership market, the odds have blown out to $31. That makes Parra the longest price of the remaining teams, and by a considerable margin.
It might be worth a lobster?
Happy, responsible punting.
Go the Eels!
1. Clint Gutherson 2. George Jennings 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. Will Smith 15. Andrew Davey 16. Kane Evans 17. Ray Stone. 18. Oregon Kaufusi 19. Brad Takairangi 20. Haze Dunster 21. Daniel Alvaro
Well, all hands on deck didn’t last long. Maika Sivo is officially done for the year with an MCL injury, though his performances suggest he’d been done for two months before that. George Jennings may actually be an improvement considering we haven’t seen Sivo steal a man’s soul since the last time Melburnians could leave the house. Blake Ferguson is unlikely, but named, and Marata Niukore continues to be the public face of the crusher tackle crusade, this time sitting out for two weeks.
Maybe Brad Arthur took a look at the Rabbitohs bench and decided to go for agility, maybe he just plans on playing RCG and Junior for 80, but replacing a tough, effective middle forward in Simba with a small edge runner in Ray Stone instead of another solid middle in Oregon Kaufusi, that was a surprise. Dunster is in the reserves but it is unlikely he makes his first grade debut in a semi final, more likely if Fergo can’t go we will see Waqa Blake shift to the wing and Brad Takairangi come into the centres. I mean, that can’t be worse, can it?
1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su’A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray. 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Jed Cartwright 17. Keaon Koloamatangi. 18. Steven Marsters 19. Hame Sele 20. Troy Dargan 21. Patrick Mago.
Just in case you weren’t feeling bad enough about the last Eels/Bunnies meeting, the Rabbitohs did that without Alex Johnston, who missed the game with concussion. They are missing Latrell Mitchell, and while James Roberts can be described as absent, I wouldn’t say South Sydney really misses him right now.
That Rabbitohs bench has about as much depth as the women creeping into Waqa Blake’s DMs after the round 16 game. Cartwright and Koloamatangi are raw prospects, while Knight and Nicholls are probably outside the 17 at most clubs. They do play reasonable minutes, the Bunnies pack is one of the few that really shares an even rotation, something to watch out for if Brad Arthur gives long stints to the starting front row, they’ll be coming up against a regular cycle of fresh legs.
Gerard Sutton is the referee, he was in charge of the last Eels/Rabbitohs clash and in between, the tough loss to Penrith. Despite those games, Parramatta are 4-2 under his control in 2020. Souths are 3-2 this year with Sutton. More worryingly, Sutton has been in charge for two of the most lopsided set restart counts against the Eels this year, a ridiculous 8-3 count against Penrith, and 8-4 in the Eels win against Newcastle. Parramatta can’t afford to be giving Souths many shots near the line, so Sutton giving a fair shake of the six again is crucial. It’d be nice if the few the Eels do get are not on the first tackle, 20 out from our own line too, please.
Weather is looking good for Saturday, and while the Eels “home ground advantage” at Bankwest was reduced to all members of both clubs getting access to tickets at the same time, Souths didn’t exactly show up in numbers last weekend against Newcastle, so hopefully the crowd is mostly Eels fans and a half full stadium can make enough noise to intimidate the Rabbitohs, just a little bit. If the Rabbitohs score early and I hear South Sydney chants the rest of the game, I will be very disappointed.
How we win
Parramatta are only going to win this game one way: belting the crap out of the Rabbitohs up the middle. The Eels pack is far superior and they need to stamp their authority on this contest, making sure Souths start each set deep inside their own 20, forwards slowly walking back while the outside backs have to try and relieve some of the pressure. Dane Gagai and Campbell Graham are decent runners out of their own half, but they are also centres and it will be tough for them to get back and take the first run of a set. Corey Allan, Jaxson Paulo and Alex Johnston aren’t going to be starting any Rabbitohs set on the front foot if they need to bring the ball out from the corners.
Defensively the Rabbitohs forward pack don’t present a complex challenge. Only Murray, Knight and Su’A are capable of an offload, the remaining Souths forwards have a combined 15 offloads between them this year. Murray and Su’A are decent attacking players, good edge runners and threats near the line, but running into a set defensive line does not play to their strengths. Thomas Burgess has been better this season but is still good for a drop ball or a missed tackle, it just runs in the family. Parramatta should be able to out muscle this group, limiting the damage Damien Cook can do from dummy half but even more crucially, reducing the number of times both edges need to make decisions while on the back foot.
The other half of this field position gameplan is holding the ball. If Parramatta makes more than a couple of unforced errors in general play, this game is as good as over. They cannot give away any cheap possession, and repeat sets will be suicide whether given by the referee or coming from the Rabbitohs kicking game. For Parramatta to win this game we need to be looking at a 55-45 possession split, and the Rabbitohs posting the kind of low “tackled in the opposing half” numbers that make the half time analysis.
Now, the Fox Sports try concedes stat only has Waqa Blake for ten this season, and I’m pretty sure he let that many in against Souths last time, let alone the other 19 games, so take it with a grain of salt, but that Campbell Graham/Alex Johnston edge looks plenty exploitable, with 32 try concedes between them. That’s more than Waqa and Ferguson. Cody Walker has been responsible for a fair share of tries, too. If the Eels attack is on song, it may become a game of “who has the ball, scores”, especially if Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson are on their game.
Yet Cody Walker isn’t getting compared to Jarryd Hayne in 2009 because of his defensive prowess. That he is being compared at all to Hayne shows the power of memory to forget just how good Hayne was and for how long, but Walker is the form attacking player of the competition and his preferred method of attack is right down the Eels weak right edge. Last time around he was dangerous across the park, you need to mark him hard on the inside and out whenever and wherever he has the ball, but giving him a retreating line inside the 20 is as good as putting the points on the board.
One big unknown here is the status of Blake Ferguson. Should he miss the game, Waqa Blake moves to the wing and suddenly we’re looking at a new combination on the edge. It says a lot about how bad things have been that I feel like anything else can’t possibly be worse, but Brad Takairangi at centre presented plenty of its own problems back when he was a first grade regular. He isn’t as agile as Waqa, but he won’t be shooting out of the line as often either. Laziness has usually been Taka’s issue, there will be no room for arm grabs or failing to support on the inside if the ball moves past him.
How it goes
One concern from last week is that the Eels looked gassed at the end of the first half, when conditioning has been a strength of the team for most of the year. Even against Penrith with a ridiculously unbalanced time in possession, the Eels didn’t look gassed out until the final few minutes. Maybe it was an adrenaline dump from being up against the Storm, maybe the shift in bench rotation didn’t play to the Eels’ strengths, but it can’t happen again. Parramatta needs to be a vice, an Eel-aconda crushing the life out of the Rabbitohs every minute of this contest, with the ball and without.
If the Eels can tire the Rabbitohs out, dominate the middle and win the field position battle, then they just need to defend the few chances they give away. Make Walker try a bit too hard, make him take risky kicking options or force long passes that aren’t on. Make Reynolds do anything other than put a kick in. Force the speed merchants of the Rabbitohs backline to beat you with strength instead of pace. Make the Rabbitohs attack from the no-mans-land of the 20-40 metre range, and most importantly, defend it.
Ahh, defence. There is nothing, not even a ten minute session with Michael Jennings, that can fix the Eels edge in a week. Hence my focus here on limiting the Rabbitohs opportunities. If Parramatta face many more than a half-dozen repeat sets, they are done. Cooked. That is not a lot of penalties, errors or six-agains that they can concede. Perfection is tough to achieve, but this is the semi finals and that is what it is going to take to beat this South Sydney team with the weaknesses the Eels have.
I’m more hopeful than confident that they can, but I certainly think those odds you can get for the Eels are a steal. I expect a few tricks, a few pieces of brilliance from the King, Dyl, Moses, some killer offloads from Matto and Junior, and a relentless march through the middle of the field is enough for Parramatta to overcome the damage the Rabbitohs attack will do on our edges. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 28 South Sydney Rabbitohs 24
Man of the Match: Clint Gutherson