The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 1, 2021: Eels vs Broncos

Game Info

Date: Friday, March 12, 2021

Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane

Kick Off: 8:05PM AEDT

Referee: Adam Gee

Head-to-head: Played 59, Parramatta 25, Brisbane 33, Drawn 1

Odds: Eels $1.33 Broncos $3.30

Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo

Last Four Encounters:

Parramatta 26 d Brisbane 12, Bankwest Stadium, R19 2020

Parramatta 34 d Brisbane 6, Suncorp Stadium, R3 2020

Parramatta 58 d Brisbane 0, Bankwest Stadium, QF 2019

Brisbane 17 d Parramatta 16, Suncorp Stadium, R24 2019


For the first time in premiership history the Eels are playing a must-win game in March, as Parramatta fans threaten to burn the stadium to the ground, again, should the Eels not come out of the gates looking like premiership contenders in 2021. The negative vibes coming from Eels Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin (secretly the best Eels community) should they lose will be seen, felt and probably heard from space.

Eels fans aren’t the only ones expecting the worst for Parramatta in 2021. Experts, analysts, amateurs, people with cars as their profile picture on Facebook, and the slim overlap in the venn diagram of rugby league fans and university statistics graduates, all of them expect regression from Parramatta this year. “They were lucky in 2020”, “they won a lot of close games”, “they didn’t beat anybody”, “their draw was soft”, “hurr durr straight sets”, you’ve heard it all before and you’ll be hearing it plenty more over the next six months because the pass mark for the rugby league world to begrudgingly admit the Eels are “okay” is reaching week three of the finals. Everything before that is just setup to a punchline that Parramatta fans will hope never lands.

I for one am going to try and enjoy the 28 weeks of football we have until the point we are allowed to judge the Parramatta 2021 season. What else am I going to do with my weekends? Let’s dig into another year of patented (and only somewhat drawn out) TCT Eels previews.


Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

After 2020, I should probably give this caper away.

Even with the Eels winning 75% of their regular season matches, I found a way to incorrectly tip (using the exotic markets) 75% of the time! I reckon there’s an art in managing that.

But a new season is a new reason to recharge the punting optimism.

There can be outrageous value in tipping the results of multiple matches in the early rounds, as the teams rarely find true form at this time of the year and “upsets” are not uncommon. Of course you have to find them. My suggestion is to pick three matches where you believe there’s value in the outsider and take a multi.

As for this game, there’s very little value in taking the Eels. You’d have to look for a huge margin or even take the Broncos to get decent odds. I’m anticipating a close match so that’s not for me.

Consequently, I’m looking into the “score a try and win” market. My selection is Moses try/Eels win @$4.

Good luck and of course gamble responsibly.



How we look

In 2020 the Eels were an elite defensive side whose breaches made them look embarrassingly fragile, like an impenetrable stone castle that replaced the right side wall with rotting grey cardboard. Invading armies know exactly where that cardboard sits now and will target it ruthlessly, so hopefully Waqa Blake has at least upgraded to fibro and chicken wire.

Yet the numbers show Parramatta had a premiership-worthy defence in 2020, it was the attacking side of the game that let them down. The most noticeable shakeup to the 2021 attack will be the swapping of the Eels left and right edges, as Dylan Brown and Shaun Lane swap places with Mitch Moses and Ryan Matterson. Brad Arthur said this was about unlocking Dylan Brown’s kicking game, which will be a relief to Mitch Moses who surely led all NRL kickers in being cleaned up after the kick last year. Of course, now markers get a free shot at his kicking leg if he is positioned on the left, so let’s see how this pans out. If Moses is back on the right side by round 10, you’ll know it has been an ordinary start to the season for the Eels.

A lot rides on Dylan Brown taking the next step

Whichever side the halves line up on, the elusive premiership will remain out of reach until Parramatta’s structured attack poses more threat. Too often the Eels moved sideways and ran themselves out of room, with no ball runner really committing their defender before spreading. Ball carriers need to start digging in to the line more to allow the big outside runners more chances to face arm tackles and defenders who haven’t had time to set their feet, lest we see more six man mauls pushing Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson over the sideline. That familiar sight was present against the Panthers in the trial a couple of times, but a few good backline movements against the Broncos will allay those fears.

It is about more than just Mitch Moses finding his running game (which never returned after he was injured early in the year in 2020), it is about not giving away which it will be, run or pass, until you are right on top of the defender. Mitch needs to get closer to the line before making his choice, Dylan needs to choose to pass more and commit to the run less. Fix those issues, and suddenly the Blakes and Sivo will have a lot more room to do what they do best: finish.



1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 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. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Isaiah Papali’i 16. Keegan Hipgrave 17. Will Smith. 18. Haze Dunster 19. Joey Lussick 20. Jordan Rankin 21. David Hollis

About as expected for Parramatta, with the bench looking a little thin thanks to the absence of Marata Niukore (suspension, back next week), Ray Stone (injury), Nathaniel Roache (not promoted from development squad) and I never thought I’d say this, Bryce Cartwright. Dave Hollis gets the “Stefano Utoikamanu memorial extended bench position” to reward a good off season, but he’ll need a few middle injuries or suspensions to see the field this year.

Isaiah Papali’i has had a huge preseason.

This gives Keegan Hipgrave his debut Eels jersey, alongside Isaiah Papali’i. Papali’i has had an impressive preseason from all accounts, while Hipgrave will be looking for a big debut to give BA something to think about when Simba returns next week. I’d expect big minutes from RCG, Junior and Nathan Brown in this one, but all three forwards on the bench will be playing for their spot in the round two team and should bring high intensity with them.


1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Xavier Coates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. Tesi Niu 5. David Mead 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft 8. Tevita Pangai Jr 9. Jake Turpin 10. Matthew Lodge 11. Alex Glenn 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan. 14. John Asiata 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Ben Te’o. 18. Tom Dearden 19. Rhys Kennedy 20. Richard Kennar 21. Cory Paix. 

Plenty missing from the Brisbane best 17 in this one, with Payne Haas serving a suspension for being a rude young man, Kotoni Staggs injured and Tom Dearden unable to beat Brodie Croft in the battle for the seven jersey. Flegler, Farnworth and Milford have overcome niggles to be named, Milford having missed a month of preseason with a broken hand.

Corey Oates is another notable absence, two years on from being in the discussion for best winger in the game, he’s now a Queensland Cup back rower with a 60% NRL try scoring rate, while the very definition of journeyman, David Mead (44% career NRL tryscoring rate) takes his place and continues to live off that one try a decade ago

Kevin Walters has proven a real 4D chess master with his “Croft or Dearden” media battle over the last two weeks that has undoubtedly left Brad Arthur flummoxed, so a few late changes wouldn’t be out of the question here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cory Paix move onto the bench to give Turpin a breather.


Thanks to a Facebook post by Beryl from Brookvale we have yet more new rules being heaped on rugby league this year, designed to introduce even more fatigue into the game and “unlock the little man” while also tapping into what makes rugby union so popular by making field goals more appealing. I can’t put the impact of the six-again any better than the Rugby League Eye Test has in an incredible deep dive, but the cliff notes is “more hitups, less adventurous play”.

It turns out when you reset the tackle count a dozen times a game (or more accurately, ten times in the first half and two in the second), you get a lot more tackle one and tackle two footy, but little extra tackle four and five play. That’s good news for teams with powerful packs like Parramatta, but also bad for teams that don’t capitalise on field position well, like the Eels of 2020.

A lot has been made of the fatigue factor the rules bring in. Don’t worry about that Panthers trial, I’d reckon even under the old rules you’d get forwards swearing to reporters after they played 40 minutes of footy in February with only one try to break the proceedings. Ashley Klein put the whistle away in that game for the most part, so I don’t expect it to be much of a guide for how season 2021 will play out. If refs start enforcing the ten metres with a six again rather than just bringing the defensive line back 13 metres and assuming they’ll cheat up, we may double the number of arm waves per game.

Adam Gee is the referee on Friday, a man I was shocked to learn has been refereeing NRL football since 2011. If the mark of a good referee is to not be noticed, Gee must be the greatest official who ever lived. That he refereed an awful lot of Tigers, Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Sharks games last year suggests otherwise. He did not officiate a single Eels game in 2020, but we were 2-0 under him in 2019. The Broncos lost the two games he officiated for them in 2020 by a combined score of 106-12, and one of those was against the Tigers. Gee loves a set restart, leading all referees in waving the six again last year. 

It will be a typical Brisbane summer night on Friday, hot, humid, sweaty and a chance of rain. It won’t be pleasant conditions for footy, but after training through 40 degree days at Kellyville the Eels should be ready for it. 

The Opposition

The Broncos trial form gave fans little hope one of their biggest issues (second half fade outs) has been resolved, as they burst to an early lead against the Cowboys before capitulating in the second half. I had put most of Brisbane’s second half struggles last year down to mental weakness, but the removal of Anthony Seibold and Darius Boyd should have cleaned out those issues. It bodes poorly for the Broncos if their endurance issues are physical, as the Eels pack is likely to belt them into submission early on before running away with the game late, which was the tale of both clashes in 2020. Despite the “new rules” beatups after the Panthers trial, the Eels should be one of the fittest clubs coming into 2021, much as they were in 2020 and especially after the COVID break. The rest of the NRL catching up to the Eels fitness levels post-COVID was one of the underappreciated reasons for Parramatta’s late season struggles.

Kevin Walters has given little reason for optimism beyond his not being Anthony Seibold, as he struggled to nail down key positions in the Broncos spine through the off season. Presumed first choice hooker Andrew McCullough was released, Thomas Dearden went from first choice halfback to having to play a Queensland Cup trial the weekend before the season starts, while young gun Tesi Niu never got close to dethroning Jamayne Isaako at fullback, who himself has been remarkably unimpressive as a custodian. Anthony Milford is the only veteran in the spine, and he missed most of the preseason with a broken hand, and has been on a steady decline in form since the 2015 grand final.

Supercoach in the making right here.

The biggest danger will be the high effort early stages, where the Broncos come out firing for their new coach, inspired by having a clean slate. If the Eels aren’t up to the task or take their inferior opposition lightly, Brisbane have the troops to put up a couple of quick tries and suddenly the adrenaline dump and fatigue that Parramatta are waiting on is replaced by a second wind and the Eels have to play catch-up footy. Control and discipline will be crucial in the opening exchanges. Tevita Pangai is almost certain to line up Mitchell Moses early on for a few runs, the line will need to protect him.

I expect a similar gameplan to how the Eels started 2020 against the Bulldogs, keeping the attacking powder dry and relying on tough defence and a relentless middle drive to win a field position game that will eventually lead to hard earned points. After the 2020 season struggles with ball in hand, fans will be hoping to see some new wrinkles to the Eels attack, or to at least see them not moving sideways and flat footed when attacking the line, but I would only expect to see free-wheeling football if Parramatta has the game comfortably in hand off the back of tough middle work.

The story

There is plenty of danger here for Parramatta, but nothing they shouldn’t be able to handle if they turn up prepared. If Tevita Pangai and Matt Lodge come out with a point to prove and match the Eels in the middle, the ad lib, confidence football that Milford plays best will follow and be a real danger for Parramatta. Yet high levels of motivation don’t overcome technical deficiencies and lack of skill, and I expect the Eels to weather the storm and overcome the Broncos late in the game. There will certainly be chances for points there, especially out wide, and the Eels just need to position themselves to take them.

I’m as curious as I am confident. I want to see improvement in the Eels’ attacking structures, and in the decision making of the right edge defence. I want to see Shaun Lane play like he gives a damn, and Maika Sivo steal a man’s soul. I’ll settle for any kind of victory first up, but it would be nice to have some of these pressing questions answered before Parramatta get their first real test of where they sit in 2021 when the defending premiers come to town.

Prediction: Parramatta Eels 28 Brisbane Broncos 16

Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses

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27 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 1, 2021: Eels vs Broncos

  1. Brad

    Eels 28-12
    Moses 2 tries and 4 goals to start the season
    Fergo to also get an early meat pie this season

  2. BDon

    Haas, Staggs, Oates…that’s a fair bit missing. And the spine? But a young team in a fast game. Focus and composure is the key to these sort of games, the option of causing your own demise must be taken off the table.

  3. DDay

    Nice teaser Gol. Enjoying the Eels having the ascendency over the Broncos – moderately confident. Agree Eels may start modestly like the 1st game of 2020 but should be too experienced; Eels 18-10

    1. Colin Hussey

      First half in Melbourne just finished, they are well on top of the UG muttons. Storm certainly have adjusted to the new rules well, one thing of note though it did not have the same degree of speed as the trial against the riff, also there was not the amount of latitude allowed tonights game as last weeks shemozzle.

      I believe the average game will gradually speed up as the season goes on, thing tonight (first half) is the ref has given a degree of latitude in the tackles which has benefited storm, as they still lay over the opposition. Fast play the ball and getting it out along the line is where they are dominating,

        1. Colin Hussey

          Not a fan either sixties, there were not that many tonight down south but it gave the players a breather the last one the storm were playing for time as their back rowers were standing and not packing, while souths were set some typical smart play aspects with that. The ref called time out and they got back in the scrum, in those cases give them 30 seconds to pack or be penalised, not good but a bit of breathing time.

    1. Colin Hussey

      Close ending in Melbourne, both sides went well but the bunnies were somewhat better in the 2nd half, and closed the gap. If the way Atkins reffed tonight and a similar standard was continued the new rules seemed ok. Thing is though Melbourne would have been cooler than Sydney and especially in Brisbane, as such both teams need to know how to pace themselves in the conditions.

      One of our sons lives on the GC and says the humidity is a killer at times, with storms coming tomorrow, ball handling and fast plays will be a big aspect, the backs have to show some strong running, and ball needs to be treated like a hand grenade with the safety pin out, get rid of it to a player in a better position and one that has a bit less time running, meaning a bit fresher. Let the ball talk and take up the running.

  4. greg okladnikov

    That opening line… of the best opening lines ever to a preview …or to any piece of writing. Made me laugh!!!

  5. Sparky

    Great read again guys. You never disappoint. The switching of sides for our edges makes sense to me. If you look at the stats from last year, I think you will find most teams were stronger offensively on Thier left edge. Our left edge defensively was very strong too so that makes sense to put Dyl and co. out there. Also if you look at Lane and his offloads. He likes to offload with his left hand back on the inside. If he is on the right edge then expect to see Fergo getting a lot more ball in open space. Same goes with Matto. He likes to offload with his right and was looking to turn it back inside, so him being on the left will get more ball to sivo.

    I may be wrong but this is just an observation I have made. I’ll be at the game with my 6 year old little fella which will be his first NRL game. He is so excite

    1. sixties

      Thanks mate and hope you and your boy enjoy the game. We’ll keep an eye out for your observations!

  6. Longfin Eel

    If I’m coaching Parra, I would want to see that all the pre-season work is coming together. No doubt they have worked on the issues that were evident last year and the players should be wanting to show the coach that they are invested in getting it right this year. So that points to Parra knowing exactly what they need to do, and having a focused attitude to the game. Last year they came out a bit lethargic, but by all reports pre-season has been a little different this year.

    I’m not expecting a finals performance from Parra tonight, just a night of keeping errors to a minimum and showing some attacking spark at times, with solid defence.

      1. Anonymous

        We I got it completely wrong unfortunately. How does that happen after training so well together? Pressure getting to the players? They look more lethargic than round 1 last year.

  7. John Eel

    I thought Papali’i was outstanding tonight in his first game for the Eels.

    180 metres and 60 post contact metres. Great debut. And only 22.

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