The Cumberland Throw

Whisky Musings – Round 1 2021: Eels Outlast Hobbled Broncos

Round 1 Drink Of Choice – Old St Andrews

Let’s not beat around the bush in the first musings of 2021 – the footy gods just about handed this game to the Eels on a silver platter. Parramatta started their campaign in probably the worst possible fashion you could imagine as a glut of errors gifted a shockingly plucky Brisbane Broncos 16-points in the first half. Shaun Lane, Nathan Brown and Maika Sivo all produced untimely drops that lead directly to Brisbane’s three tries as Anthony Milford and Xavier Coates torched Parramatta’s left-edge.

A cruel series of injuries to Matt Lodge, John Asiata and Coates crippled Brisbane’s line-up and interchange strategy and it is absolutely fair to say that they were gallant in defeat. In particular I hope that there is no lingering concerns for Asiata and Coates given the nature of their potential injuries. Add to that a generous sprinkle of luck with Herbie Farnworth grassing a potential 95m intercept try and Jake Turpin narrowly losing a race to the ball to Tom Opacic and it is safe to say that Parramatta had plenty fall their way tonight…and hey, that is how footy plays out sometimes.

It might end up as a solitary stand in the context of the entire season but Kevin Walters certainly had his charges up for the contest tonight and for that I tip my hat to him. Brisbane were an embarrassing rabble in 2020 and they looked a competitive side tonight – even without stars like Payne Haas and Kotoni Staggs.

Enough preambling though! The Eels ultimately secured a 24-16 victory and as much as the first half felt like your nails were getting pulled out with pliers, the second half surge was a timely reminder of the talent across the park for the blue & gold.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The Eels were repeatedly guilty of trying to force the ball laterally before they earned that right in the first half. Their general impatience and refusal to win the contest through the middle was taken advantage of by the home team and I imagine that there were plenty of frustrated fans thinking that Parramatta had learned nothing from 2020.

Half time was a godsend for Brad Arthur and his team with the break allowing the wayward Eels to refocus and recalibrate. Even with an errant pass from Ryan Matterson in the very first set, the second half saw a resurgent Parramatta attack through the middle relentlessly. Admittedly they were also taking advantage of an unnaturally fatigued Brisbane pack but the simplified game plan opened up opportunities for second phase football and probing darts from dummy-half.

24 unanswered points were piled on as a result with crucial contributions from the core players like Reed Mahoney (he was really good), Mitchell Moses, Junior Paulo, Clinton Gutherson and Blake Ferguson. Naturally there will be times when the Eels will need more complex stratagems to unravel the ironclad defences of teams like the Storm and Roosters but this game stands as a stark reminder that so many contests in rugby league are decided on who wants to win the collisions more.


The Smiling Assassin

How about Isaiah Papali’i? What a freaking club debut! When the Eels were listless in the first half Papali’i stood resolute and damn near took on the entire Brisbane pack on his lonesome. It didn’t stop there though with the ferocious, power-lifting dynamo sticking it to the Broncos for all of 57min in a long and glorious first game.

Papa’s massive motor and penchant for contact got me feeling some certain kind of way and before long it had me recalling another famous club debut under ‘BA’.

MIN 58 57
RUNS 14 15
METRES 182 180
TACKLES 13 (1MT, 1IT) 18 (1MT)

Player B is Papali’i, care to take a shot at who Player A is?

If you were able to dredge up the statistics from Round 1 of 2014 off the top of your head then full credit to you because Player A is none other than Manu Ma’u as he popped off against the New Zealand Warriors. The numbers between the two are shockingly similar and it creates a cool, if ultimately meaningless, connection between two backrow prospects that the Eels plucked from New Zealand.

The fact that Arthur trusted Papali’i with so many crucial minutes is a ringing endorsement of both his talents and his place in the team. With Marata Niukore back on deck for Round 2, Oregon Kaufusi flashing exciting growth and the monstrous core of Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Nathan Brown, I am equally curious and excited to see how our middle rotation plays out. There is a lot of talent we have to cram into limited minutes and ‘BA’ will likely need to be ready to run with the hot-hand in a given week.


Edge Case Scenarios

Gee, there is plenty to unpack here. Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown bounced back from an underwhelming opening half to steer the Eels home. Neither was anywhere near their best but we saw tantalising glimmers from both. Thankfully, Moses took control of the game with his boot late in the contest and his flawless form off the kicking-tee ensured Parramatta held the edge when both teams had notched three tries a piece. Dylan was aggressive in taking on the line and I love that but some careless handling counts against him – even if he somehow managed to spark a cracking try on account of it.

It should be said that Jamayne Isaako did a superb job in nullifying the short kicking game of the Eels. The flow of the game could have changed significantly earlier if he wasn’t playing Johnny-on-the-spot all the time.

Ryan Matterson, save for that errant pass to open the second half, looked pretty sharp and I think he will grow into a commanding presence on the left-edge. Matto continues to be a second-phase menace and the team look to be leveraging his above-average play-making skills more. Shaun Lane on the other hand had a horror season opener and given his struggles in 2020, the blow-torch will quite possibly be on the rangy backrower. Lane’s unique talents make him such a devastating weapon in full form but concentration lapses have crept into his game and those lapses tend to pop up at incredibly inopportune times.

While the Eels are somewhat thin on EDGE depth, Lane could quickly find himself falling out of the starting line-up and even further beyond. Keegan Hipgrave would be keen to eat into Lane’s playing time while Bryce Cartwright is due to return between Rounds 4-6.

Out at left centre Tom Opacic made the sort of debut that we expected of him – cool, effective and if anything, slightly understated. He did a terrific job containing Tesi Niu and ran a number of damaging lines back into the sliding defence. Milford did manage to plaster two tries on the left-edge but that was more a function of a brilliant kick and cut-out pass than Opacic’s defensive decision making.

Waqa Blake’s efforts to help cart the ball out of Parramatta’s half were very noticeable. Blake threw himself into the defence to the tune of 104m from 11 carries and while attacking opportunities were relatively sparse he looked sharp. The jury is very much still out on his defensive combination with Blake Ferguson though with the two seemingly not in sync in jam or hold decisions. I will say that Waqa was somewhat unfortunate in the lead up to the opening try as he got entangled with Herbie Farnworth which opened up a saloon passage for David Mead to the try line.

Ferguson and Maika Sivo looked dialed in and hungry in attack. Both were the owners of some brutal clearing runs while ‘Fergo’ shook off the demons of 2020 with a brilliant try assist for Gutherson and terrific individual try of his own. Neither were flawless though with a Sivo error under the high ball leading to points for Brisbane while Ferguson flirted recklessly with the sideline at times and paid the price. Both look to be far more engaged than their 2020 iterations though and with Haze Dunster anxiously waiting for his opportunity it would behoove both of them to stay that way!


The Final Word

Whew. That one wasn’t good for the heart but with the stream of consciousness that is musings behind me, I do feel a lot better for the experience. The first half exposed a lot of the flaws that dogged the Eels in 2020 and the fact that they took corrective actions in the second half to rectify that is a big positive. Yes they had plenty of luck over the course of the first 80min of 2021. The Broncos were ravaged by injuries and even beyond that the footy gods seemed to smile kindly on Parramatta but those are the breaks. There will be other games when it is Parramatta’s back against the wall due to cruel circumstance.

There is little time to celebrate a successful launch of the campaign though with the Melbourne Storm rolling into town for a Thursday night blockbuster. The Storm were the inverse of the Eels in Round 1 – they looked untouchable in the first half against the Rabbitohs before ceding significant ground and points in the back stretch of the contest. Perhaps more than any other fanbase in the NRL, the Eels know how much of a litmus test the Storm are and how difficult an opponent they are. One way or another, Parramatta will learn plenty about their 2021 selves next Thursday.

Speaking of Thursday, you can catch myself and Sixties shooting the shit in a live broadcast of The Tip Sheet on the green at Eels Lane from 4:00PM to 5:30PM. Feel free to drop by if so you are so inclined or catch us on the live-stream, the details of which I will reveal early next week!

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👌 fccn a


I didn’t actually expect this comment to stick lol. Oh my, I guess this is my first foray onto TCT. So, why not double down and just say what a phenomenal site this is, and thankyou to provide a place for fans of who truly love their team to mingle with reason, not spite. please keep doing what you do. Finally, anyone got some love for Danny Crnkovic? *grabs can of boot polish and wipes a smear under each eye* I shall sleep now, and…. well I guess my ego will draw me back to this site tomorrow morning for… Read more »

Last edited 2 months ago by Anonymous

Cheers Fiasco! Glad you enjoy the site. We’ll keep doing what we’re doing. And Cranky? How about his footwork!


Thanks for reading, fiasco!


That was an epic write up of an emotional roller coaster of a game! I thought we’d have lost for all money after that first half. Unfortunately I was working and only managed to catch parts of the game but what I saw was Papali’i running like a young Fuifui and Sivo and Ferguson attacking the line with power and speed too. Very impressive physical efforts. I heard a commentator say Paulo had a whale of a game. I believe it, he looked so dynamic in attack and defence. What a pleasure to start the season with a win of… Read more »


Rob, I reckon the difference between Parra Papa and Fui is that Papa might just have a bit more subtlety and a very good work ethic. Fui was a beast of a runner.


Harsh but fair Forty. The first 10 seconds, the dream start to the season, then the nightmare unfolded. In this torrid sport you will always make errors but we are starting to embed a habit of handing away momentum, it just happens too much. The fact that we can scramble out of trouble more often than not tells me we have great abilities, but we ll never go further in September while this persists.


A first half like that against a stronger team and we lose, but then again, BA has accused the boys of not respecting the opposition. So perhaps they might have turned up better against a higher rated team. Not acceptable is it? But for mine, the fact that they composed themselves and returned to the game plan is a good sign.


We always have a rusty game round 1. Im not to worried, and BA has too start papali’i next week. He moved him onto the edge in the 60th miniute so could be a sign.


Terrific debut. He would be thinking hard about a starting role surely?


Agree Forties, the football gods were kind. But fortune favours the brave and the Eels maintained their composure and once they started to graft and reduce the mistakes the result was never in doubt. Good hitout, there’s plenty to work on but good to start the season with a win.
The bench is looking strong, Papali’i was huge, Kaufusi a powerhouse and with Marata back next week the bench is a big improvement into 2021.
Can’t work out what BA is thinking re the utility…Smith was given 4 minutes whilst Reed tackled himself to a standstill?

Colin Hussey

I think that Reed showed that he is a better 9 this year and can last the 80minutes, the reserve for him could be a number of players and with the new rules and speed/intensity of the game, fit forwards are in real need. I would believe with Marata back next week if we keep Smith as reserve/back up for Reed, then the player to be dropped is likely to be Hipgrave, Kafusi showed how good he is and he showed a lot of improved plays last night, and pretty much a full time replacement.


Colin I don’t think the question is can Reed last 80 mins but rather will it shorten his career (eg Nathan Peats)? Some games last year Reed was targeted and did flag defensively at the back end of the game. With the rule changes lifting the game speed, giving Reed a breather would seem sensible.


I agree DDay


I have to agree about Smith Colin. He’s good option for many positions. Cover for Reed still remains essential in my mind.

Big roy

Most coaches reluctant to make changes when team on a roll and everyone seems comfortable and structures are working


Fair comment but not much use having a bench and not using fresh legs is my question

Big roy

Plenty of teams do it mate , no point making change just because you can , seen plenty when every team in nrl has used 16 and less on odd occasion i like brave and confident calls by coaches , provided they work 😁


If it didn’t work, then criticism would be fair, but I thought that Reed was in irresistible form last night.


Exactly Big Roy.


Interesting wasn’t it. Reed had such a dynamic second half it would have felt near impossible to replace him. I’ve liked our bench options since the signings were announced and we have a few unavailable at the moment. Football gods will give us a hard time in other matches, that’s footy!

Colin Hussey

There were times in the first half where I was glad to be inside watching on the box, almost tempted to go outside and pick up a brick and toss at the TV, glad I didn’t. From my perspective, the new rules seem ok, but I believe a need for a couple of extra’s as reserves for injured players that are ruled out of the game, the speed & tactics of the game mean that serious & game ending injuries should have a replacement, one back and one forward. Sad for me was to see the still drop off of… Read more »


Trying to make a decision like that for the bench will actually be a pleasant headache.

Michael Formosa

Spot on! Broncos copping injuries is the only reason we won last night but that’s not to say there wasn’t any positives.

Our new recruits show they are going to add to the team especially strengthening the bench.
Some of Sivo runs last night was outstanding.
Reed running more.
Oregon Kaufusi looks to be taking his game to the next level which is something I wasn’t sure he going to do.
Moses goal kicking is outstanding. Nailing from the sideline with the game on the line.


Michael, I thought that the new blokes provided evidence of why we signed them. Nice debuts.

Big roy

bumbled the first ,hung in then belted them into submission, no footy gods just to fit to strong and capable of handling the tough stuff nowadays , stuffed up then stood up , the only reason bronx in it because we put them in then we put them out , injuries sure but we inflicted them , be surpised if the broncos casualty ward not full .we were powering home , no mistakes early its a 60 point drubbing again ,when we got going they had no answers , cant afford starts like that again though .Thats how i saw… Read more »


Watching the second half again, I was pleased with how we found greater composure. 24 unanswered points is a good response to an atrocious first 40.

John Eel

Just as an aside something I noticed while watching the game last night.

If Xavier Coates wants to have a long and injury free career he would be well advised to get rid of the showboating when diving over for a try.


Fair call John.

John Eel

I was really impressed with the club debut of Papali’i. All off season Sixties has told us how well he trained.

He told us good he was running the angles. Last night we saw just how good he is. So impressed with ARM and post contact metres and worked well with Reed.

Lousy first half, great second half, enjoyed the win.

I am tipping Lane to start on the bench against the Storm


Papa brought all of the qualities I had witnessed on the training track John. I felt strangely proud watching the game unfold


Was there at the game. Great atmosphere but, thought there was a bigger crowd. It was a crush to get in. Missed the first ten seconds. Wished to have missed the first half it was a shocker. Dropped ball was murder for their attack. Let me say while the Broncos did score three tries parra’s defence was really good. If it had been the Storm or even South’s with al that ball added to parra’s error count it would have been a cricket score. Parra’s scrambling defence was up to the mark. Milford had a great first half and that… Read more »


Thanks for the “in the stands” perspective zero. What percentage of the crowd do you reckon were Eels supporters?


Estimate 25 per cent of 28000. But, it was such a crush to get – reckon there was more.


V good second half, first was poor I thought. I was hoping for better tbh but we won….enough said. I hope the attention and attitude is better this week…I cannot help but notice how flat the halves are again when catching the ball! V noticeable.
BTW am i the only one who thought the jersey’s we wore were avg??


Milo I’m not a fan of that jersey to be honest.

Big roy

Worst jersey in clubs history !!!! Embarrassing 💀

John Eel

Just looking at the stats in the Panthers game against the Cowboys.

Game not over but Fisher-Harris has played 47 minutes. Run over 200 metres with 100 post contact metres. That man is a machine


Form prop from last year and starting big this season.

Paul Taylor

Excellent write up as always. I was pissed off like everyone at the first half effort. WE were playing everything slower, sloppier and no intent. LANE is in serious poor form. I thgink had CARTWRIGHT not broken his jaw, he would have started there. WE need the creativity on the edges. Probably the reason the changes of sides happened and why they looked like strangers last night. SIVO much better running game, stripped some bulk and gained some speed. FERGO is playing like a man wanting a finalk 2 year contract. All our reserves did their job. PAPA is a… Read more »


BA will see out two years and beyond Paul. And we’d be in massive trouble if he left.

Big roy

you want to hope your wrong , place will fall apart if BA goes and plenty will go wth him, then-its start a rebuild all over again , surely youve seen enough rebuilds at the club , stability is the key ,he just needs to keep window off opportunity open ,its up to players then to make it work !!


As I said above Big Roy, we’d be in massive trouble if BA decided to leave. I reckon that the powers that be understand that too.

Big roy

Crikey paul there was no lack of effort as you say in first half it was poor execution , they had 67 %of the ball of our mistakes , lack of effort would have seen far worse than 16.0

John Eel

I have just watched the game again and given that since Junior stepped off his right foot against the Cowboys at the Southern end of Bankwest last year I can’t get enough of watching Paulo play. Two things about the Junior try. Firstly the work by Matterson to take on the defence and draw in three Broncos defenders. Then kept the ball alive before offloading setup the try. The second thing was I reckon Junior was accelerating before Reed got the ball. Certainly he was already at top speed by the time Reed turned looking to offload I am hoping… Read more »

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