The Cumberland Throw

From The Stands – Round 2, 2021: Has Parra Taken The Next Step?

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.

The King

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.

Dylan Brown

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.

Shelley

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Longfin Eel

I agree we shouldn’t look back on the past few years as merely lost opportunities. You can see the team and coaching staff is growing together and that is great to see. As a coach in a different sport, I see myself continually learning new things and techniques to get athletes to rise to the next level. It needs to be small steps as you simply cannot focus on the changes required in different areas at the same time. For Parra, it seems that the learnings from the past few seasons are coming together and they are closer to the… Read more »

Shelley

They have set the bar for themselves with that performance last week. They have showed they can both stay calm when they are challenged by a very good team and turn momentum. They need to continue to build upon that and make that the expectation each week. If they do it often enough it will become their mentality. You know the Storm and Roosters stay calm in part because they have done it so often that it becomes natural. The best teams do this. Look at last years grand final Penrith got anxious and chased points and that simply resulted… Read more »

Oscar Rebolledo

Thank you Shelley. Just love your insight and level headed opinions. In line with your thoughts, I heard an interview with BA earlier this year, and I’ve heard him (and the players) talk about it since, and that is the concept of correcting errors. He understands that in games, players will make mistakes or make poor choices, but to try stop that happening is futile because it’s gonna happen. Rather, the ability to correct those mistakes/poor choices promptly is the greater good. It requires calmness and as you say, footy smarts. You’re seeing it from our boys, and so am… Read more »

Clive

Nice article Shelley. I think last year was a great season and a bit much has been made of our “failure” in the finals. We basically were without our starting backline against Souths and still got into a position to win. Our kicking game was much improved on Thursday night but I’d still like to see the boys kick early more often to find open space. Reed’s kicking was top shelf cause he found space where Mitch still found the Storm back 3 on the full quite often. It’s just the little things that will really take us to the… Read more »

Jimbob

The answer is no we haven’t taken the next step and if anyone thinks that is possible on one game think again.
There’s definitely improvement in a few areas and dummy half is one of them.
To be regarded as one of the premiership favorites you need to consistently beat or match the top clubs, so be patient because one game doesn’t mean you’ve taken the next step & that step should mean becoming a premiership heavyweight

Last edited 1 day ago by Jimbob
Shelley

I agree with your response if last weeks game becomes the one off and we can not repeat it. I choose to have faith in the team and think they will step up and prove people wrong. I simply point out that we have addressed each of our major flaws from one season to the next and playing with calm and footy smarts is what we must do to take the next step. None of us know if they will do it consistently but at least we all know they can, you have to start somewhere. Last Thursday showed that… Read more »

Jimbob

one of our major flaws is either coming in off the wing in defense or being caught short by not sliding enough. A wet weather game will prove nothing as it negates the attacking ability to get the ball quickly to the wings, thus not providing anything

BDon

Yes Shelley, I look for the same things. It’s early days, but even in the Penrith trial, I saw signs of improvement, our first half was a neat package of effort and composure. Penrith were red hot and only Klein’s sudden late 6 again splurge unlocked our fatigue.
Just little things, Sivo and Nathan Brown are running much better, I swear Nathan Brown will step right through the ruck shortly (like Neil Hunt?), that step will also add 3 years to his football life.

jack

As much as I would love to say we have turned the corner…I will hold my tongue until I watch our match with the sharkies. Time and time again we have risen to challenges before showing up against weakened oppositions with a lack of effort/desire. I have definitely seen areas of improvements, moments of calmness with the team that has previously not been there before.The team seem at peace to know that they will get chances across the 80 minutes..we just need to capitalise on them moments. Even against the brisbane game – as poor as that first half was,… Read more »

Shelley

I agree. They have showed the can do it but now they must do regularly.

Paul

I hope you are right Shelley, good article. This competition is a long one. Agree Eels have definitely worked on the 1%s over the last years and put themselves into the top tier. But contention also depends on improving, adapting and peaking at the right time during the season.

Eels and Storm last year demonstrate this last point. Storm werent considered in the top 4 until about the last 3rd of the comp. Eels were great for the first half of the comp. Sadly we all know how it ended. Lets hope we can sustain form this year.

Shelley

Long way to go I agree and we have many areas to improve but to me they showed they can turn momentum against a very good team. We have rarely demonstrated that quality against the top teams.
Time will tell.

Ken 70,

One big difference i think is the bensh players bring energy and confidence for the team

Shelley

Our bench is good and will hopefully continue to improve.

John Eel

Ken you make a good point with regards the bench.

While we were not in the market for big name signings during the off-season what we did do is firm up one of our biggest weaknesses in our lack of quality depth.

The signing of Papali’i was a master stroke. He has done his job brilliantly so far. Tightens the middle with great defence, runs good lines and his PTB is probably as quick as any player in the team.

John Eel

What people are not talking about is the improvement in Lane. He put his head down and corrected his mistakes.

What this will mean long term will probably be answered when Cartwright returns.

Milo

Lane was good John, and its a shame he at times has such a big drop between the good and not so good. I like him tbh, and hope he can be the consistent player we saw when he first signed.

Milo

Good discussion points Shelley and well written.
You are right about our defence in the ruck, it was v good and needed to be. In the past we got up for these games and then dropped against the other teams…hope we are mentally and physically ok for this week.
No centre in the dry (if it is) will be different, so I am not sure if we bring in a traditional centre for Niukore (as Matterson may be no good).

sixties

Agree Milo. I reckon how we perform this week will probably say just as much about Parra’s progress this year.

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