Round 2 Drink Of Choice – Lagavulin Single Malt 16YO
It was a monster day for TCT with myself and Sixties clocking in from 3:00PM to prepare for a landmark live broadcast of The Tip Sheet out of Pablos. After a marathon podcast that featured an all-star line-up of Joey Grima, Mary Konstantopoulos and Brett Kenny it was onto the blockbuster clash of Round 2 as the Parramatta Eels hosted the Melbourne Storm. Fast forward past the breakthrough victory as Brad Arthur and his merry men triumphed over a full-strength Craig Bellamy outfit and we arrive at 12:00AM where I begin this blog. So I do apologise in advance if the blogging fever or general fatigue get to me at any point.
There is plenty to talk about out of the 16-12 barnburner as the Eels and Storm put on a footy clinic in some of the most difficult playing conditions you will see outside of the famed ‘Sharknado’ game involving Cronulla. It won’t garner ‘Game Of The Year’ billing in lieu of flashier competition down the track but the Thursday night throwdown was an important victory for the Eels as they prevailed in a game laden with drama and intensity.
So let’s take it from the top as the Eels stay undefeated!
Poise and patience win the day
Credit for this one has to be distributed across the entire team even if the spine will invariably earn the highest praise. The Eels refused to cut corners tonight. They didn’t fish for easy outs, nor did they give away cheaps points. Brandon Smith, Nelson Asofa Solomona and Cameron Munster were all rebuffed on the goal line by desperate defence. Heck, the first try the Storm scored came on the back of a massive scramble effort from the aforementioned try saver on Munster that barely missed its mark while the second and last was an incredibly fortuitous deflected kick that found its way to Justin Olam.
Even with the Storm controlling possession (55% vs 45%) and time of possession (33:51 vs 27:41) they focused on staying in the battle for the middle. Even with Melbourne racking up 300 more running metres and with the Eels making an additional 65 tackles they didn’t try to force the issue. Instead, Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown and Reed Mahoney waited for the right windows to attack and were rewarded in the most spectacular fashion as Junior Paulo and Maika Sivo came up trumps big time to seal the win.
I am not sure if it is a full coming of age game for a young spine but it is a huge validation for the lessons that the likes of ‘BA’, Steve Murphy and Andrew Johns have been instilling into them over the last two seasons. This is how big time games are won – with clear minds. This is what it takes to make a run deep into the finals. Put this one in the memory banks lads and draw from it because it will serve you well.
No Waqa, no cry
News bubbled to the surface early in the afternoon that Waqa Blake loomed as a late scratching (as initially reported by Brent Read) which would later be confirmed with Marata Niukore the surprise candidate to replace him. There was a definite air of apprehension among the closely knit supporting bay I sit in. After all surely Craig Bellamy would exploit the ever loving daylight out of such a move, right?
Instead Marata, or Simba as we affectionately dub him, roared as he powered through backrower numbers at right centre. 129m from 13 carries and a huge defensive workload of 23 tackles (4 missed, 1 ineffective) immediately jump off the page but they don’t tell the full story. He went to war with Justin Olam tonight. Olam did rattle Niukore’s cage with a big shot but the backrower-come-centre repeatedly unleashed a monstrous fend and some shockingly light feet to take the points decision.
It was yet another example of Niukore’s tremendous value to this team and given that we now know that there is approximately a 4-6 week recovery period for Waqa, ‘BA’ might be forced to call upon those diverse talents again.
Maika Sivo has an extremely healthy reputation as a physical powerhouse in the NRL. Indeed, as perhaps the singularly most devastating finisher in the business currently, Maika has definitely carved his niche in the competition. Tonight though he added an impressive new tool to his repertoire as he donned some form of studded Air Jordans and took to the stratosphere to secure a brace of spectacular tries including the game winner.
In particular I want to praise his efforts for the try that decided the course of the game because he had plenty of ground to cover before he could even consider making a play at the ball. It was exactly the sort of hustle and desperation that is needed to unseat a powerhouse like the Storm. Maika put himself in a position to win the game on the back of pure effort and from there he unleashed a display of singular focus and rare athleticism to soar over George Jennings and then beat a a cadre of cover defenders to the line. You could almost cue the iconic haunting music from American Beauty to it, such was the artistic beauty of it all. Just like a 105KG shopping bag caught in the wind.
The People’s Chump
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson is a living legend and I am always up for a cracking rendition of the Rockbottom or The People’s Elbow but Felise Kaufusi crossed a line with a cheap elbow shot on Ryan Matterson that removed the dynamic backrower from the contest completely. Not only that but given Matterson’s history with concussions and Paramatta’s diligence in the field, the Eels will likely be without their star for several games. Kaufusi (the Melbourne player not our saintly Oregon) will probably attract a suspension for the foul play for the little it is worth to the blue & gold but the question remains, why was he allowed to stay on the field?
The NRL has established precedent that foul play directly leading to a concussion and forced head injury assessment can and will result in a sin-bin. Mitigating circumstances don’t matter either mind you. When Michael Jennings concussed a falling Isaiah Yeo with a high shot, he copped 10-minutes in the bin. It baffles me that Kaufusi was merely placed on report and thankfully it didn’t cost Parramatta but given how much we hear about how serious the NRL takes head injuries, that left a bad taste in my mouth.
The Final Word
I honestly didn’t put enough word to paper (or keyboard?) to do justice to the team effort tonight. Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo were immense as they led from the front in the ruck. Oregon Kaufusi and Isaiah Papali’i backed up their tremendous opening to the season with a pair of quality efforts and in Papa’s case we got to see more facets of his game as he comfortably ball-played in the torrid conditions.
The Eels even threw a small ball line-up at the Storm as Will Smith took over at lock late in the game. Smith, who has covered all manner of positions for Parramatta, took to the task with gusto as he nabbed a cheeky intercept and ran into the teeth of the Melbourne ruck defence with vigour. Even Shaun Lane bounced back with a good, honest outing that featured no lapses of concentration. It was simply a damn good team effort and that is frankly what it takes to topple a powerhouse like Melbourne. So kudos to all the players and coaches because that was an incredibly enjoyable (if tense) home opener in brutal playing conditions.
On to the Cronulla Sharks and hopefully a packed house at Bankwest on Saturday!