What a great pleasure it was to sit in the stands and watch our team go toe to toe with the Storm and come out victorious.
Beating Melbourne in wet conditions, when they completed above 80% and had more possession, significantly more in the first half, is something that Parra simply could not have done a couple of years ago.
From the stands, there were times when the thought did cross my mind that I had seen this show before. But every time Melbourne got momentum, the Eels stayed calm and turned them away.
Melbourne never got to the lead because Parra held their nerve. The Eels did not beat themselves this time. I really wish that I could thank the players individually because they really did make our lengthy trip up and back in the wet conditions well worth it.
I could talk about the obvious; that being the wonderful kicking game which demonstrated a balance between attacking kicks and those that got Parra out of trouble and gained territory.
I could also talk extensively about the inability of the referee to police the ruck evenly (no surprise there) or to simply make the easy and obvious decision to put Kaufusi in the sin bin.
Side note – Mr Annesley, it was a wrong call. There was no grey area involved. Your response of referee discretion is actually covering up an error. If the NRL goes down the path of not admitting to errors, it starts to smell like an old boys club mentality of protecting your own, no matter the cost. The game doesn’t need that.
Of course, I could also talk about some Parra standouts, such as Gutho doing as Gutho always does, Nathan Brown running from the back fence and using his wonderful passing game, Junior terrorising the opposition with his skill and size or Reed discovering his running game despite the targeted early onslaught he faced with 2-3 big Melbourne forwards running straight at him each set.
However, my focus for this week is going to be different. Let me explain.
Each year we ask our team to improve, to take another step forward, and apart from the nightmare that was 2018 they have.
In 2016, despite all the scandal and turmoil, the Eels became a team that could score points and occasionally match it with the big guns.
In 2017 Parra became a team who started to develop some grit and demonstrated the ability to play brilliant attacking football, though they often crumbled when the pressure became intense.
In 2019 the difference between Parra’s best and worst was excruciating. The highs were glorious to watch and the lows so very painful. We did not know which Parra team was going to turn up each week.
In 2020 Parra developed greater consistency and finally had a starting pack that could match evenly with the best teams, but of course in big games they often beat themselves.
So to 2021, and the Eels have one glaring area to improve. Their next step is what I call footy smarts.
What does this entail?
Parra needs to be able to stay calm across the field when faced with difficult or challenging circumstances. They need to be able to absorb pressure and then get themselves out of their own territory. They need to be able to recognise what the opposition is doing and shut it down quickly.
From the stands, it’s early days, but in the first two weeks the Eels have certainly demonstrated all of these attributes.
I also want to focus on Parra’s defensive reads.
My vantage point is ideal for this as we sit behind the posts at the Leagues Club end at BankWest.
When you watch Melbourne play live you see how brilliantly they are coached and drilled. They adhere to their system. It starts in and around the ruck. They keep going there to catch the lazy marker and eventually they find one. If you try to counter that by condensing the defensive line they get you on the outside with their speed.
Last Thursday, Parra’s middle defenders in and around the ruck deserved a lot of praise. Every team will have opportunities in every game as there will be times when players get left on the ground. The best teams utilise these moments in attack and recognise and shut them down quickly in defense.
Last Thursday Parra made the most of those opportunities in attack and covered brilliantly in defense. The Eels continually recognised when Melbourne was going to run from marker or turn the pass back on the inside. Players like Nathan Brown, Junior, RCG, Matto and Papali’i consistently read this and shut it down.
From behind the posts you could really see the footy smarts being used by Parra’s middles as they recognised the danger and covered it before Melbourne could take advantage of it. The one time the Storm got through because markers were on the ground, Dylan Brown was there to cover. He quickly ran down Papenhuyzen.
Now I know that Dylan is quick but so is Mr Papenhuyzen. Again from behind the posts you could see that Dylan recognised the danger and started moving towards the gap before Papenhuyen was through it. In other words, you could see that he used his footy smarts.
Much was made about the Eels lost opportunities last year and some of that is valid. But if you look at it logically, was it really a lost and pointless year?
I think not!
Parra’s young players, especially their spine, added 15-20 games to their experience. That included finals footy. At the end of the season, the team leaders got a taste of high intensity representative football, from the build up to the actual games themselves. It is with experience that players have the opportunity to learn.
Again, it’s early days but the Eels are demonstrating a calmness in 2021 that shows me they have taken the disappointment from 2020 as an opportunity to learn and I for one cannot wait to watch our team continue to develop as the year progresses.
Parra plays another of the teams that they traditionally struggle with this week. It’s no secret as to how the Sharks will play and how they will try to find the win. They like to score from kicks, and against the Eels they will seek opportunities out wide.
Let’s see if the Eels can take away the Sharks’ strengths and make them try to find a different way, just as the Eels did against Melbourne.
I will back our boys and will cheer loudly from the stands for them.
I hope to see the Blue and Gold Army out in big numbers helping our Eels get home.