Parramatta Eels 28
Cronulla Sharks 4
With their third win from as many starts the Parramatta Eels join their Western Sydney rivals Penrith at the top of the NRL ladder, continuing their undefeated run to begin the 2021 season.
Although I admittedly thought everything had gone belly up in the first 40 minutes of the season, Brad Arthur also deserves a stack of credit for continuing to tweak Parramatta’s approach, emphasising a patient attack and resolute defensive structures. It would have been easy for the Eels to blow everything up after two pretty disappointing Finals exits in 2019 and 2020, but thankfully cooler heads prevailed. So hats off to you, BA; although it is obviously early days, at this stage the Eels once again look to be a legitimate Top 5 team in Season 2021.
With an NRL injury toll as long as Joe Biden’s To-Do List , thankfully the Eels were left relatively unscathed, with Mitch Moses expected to recover in time for our Easter Monday clash with the Tigers.
The injury toll from not only tonight’s game, but also from the Raiders Warriors game too, was nothing short of horrific. I don’t know whether it is the new rules, the water logged surfaces or just coincidence, but to send multiple teams down to one/no players on the bench on the same day is not a good look.
Courtesy of Pam Whaley, here’s the list of injuries suffered in the 6 games so far this weekend:
The Sharks should nonetheless be applauded for a pretty courageous effort in holding Parra out as long as they did. With zero players on the bench, Fox Sports’ Jake Duke reported that the Sharks did not actually make an actual interchange for the whole game, you’d think they are probably the first team to ever do that (although did Sione Katoa’s interchange not count?). Whether one or zero it nonetheless underscores the incredible injury toll suffered by the boys from the Shire.
Changing tack, although the Eels were a little shaky with their completion rate, and harsh judges might have expected Parra to put a 13 man opposition to the sword a little earlier than they did, overall the game plan and game management (hold the ball, build pressure and wear down the opposition) was on point and should be appreciated by all and sundry. To be honest, other than the possible injury to our number 7, there should be very little complaints from the Blue & Gold Army tonight.
Scott Morrison was in attendance tonight, and Reed Mahoney even convinced him to
scull sip a beer post game. Bob Hawke’s record remains safe, it seems.
In other news, place me firmly on team ‘Bring Back The Scrum’, as limiting it does not serve to make the game more exciting, it simply serves to limit legitimate attacking opportunities.
Tonight the Eels unsurprisingly ran for a lot more metres than their exhausted counterparts (2601 to 1873), as well as enjoying more ball (55 to 45), better field position (47 mins to 43 in opposition half) more penalties (6 to 2), more offloads (13 to 6) and the missed tackle count was not even close (46 to 17). The Sharks did, however have greater ball security when they were with ball (82% to the Eels‘ 73%).
I would happily give up a week of pay for Clint Gutherson to simply know my name.
Tonight the captain ran a monstrous 20 times for 272 metres, had 2 offloads, 2 linebreaks, 5 tackle breaks and kicked 4 from 5 for the Blue & Gold. That’s an MVP performance.
1 – Fullback
Despite the MVP performance, in the somewhat negative/borderline comical column, the man once dubbed ‘Lemon’ put in a similarly named bludger of a kick up once Mitch Moses went down, and then almost outdid it with a shank penalty goal that somehow found its own way between the uprights. If anything, each added to the spectacle.
2 – Left Wing
Thanks to an unorthodox long ball from Will Smith in the 36th minute, the Fijian Scud Missile now has an incredible 27 tries in his 25 appearances at Bankwest Stadium. That is some record.
In other news, Maika did well to take a couple of high balls peppered his way in the early goings, and returned from his HIA to finish with 11 runs for 128 metres, a linebreak and 3 tackle breaks. Bula!
3 – Left Centre
Poor bugger thought he scored.
4 – Right Centre
Is the injury to Waqa Blake a blessing in disguise? Maybe. Have we uncovered the best centre since Greg Inglis? Definitely not, you’re insane.
What cannot be denied is that the footballing game of Marata Niukore has certainly flourished under the tutelage of Brad Arthur, and in the fertile football soil of Kellyville Park.
Playing his second week in a row in the unusual yet somehow somewhat familiar centre position, Crash not only cleared 162 running metres from his 16 runs, he also had a ridiculous 6 tackle breaks, 17 tackles and one of the prettiest try assists you ever did see. He also somehow got away an incredible offload to Junior Paulo in RCG’s try; the man is a walking Rugby League miracle, and it feels like everything he touches at the moment is turning Blue & Gold.
5 – Right Wing
Thanks to the aforementioned Matt Gidley-esque lead up work from Marata Niukore, Blake Ferguson scored a terrific first half try, and then went very close to scoring number two early in the second half. Not satisfied with 19 runs for 199 metres, a linebreak and a team high 7 tackle breaks, Flipping Ferguson broke the backs of the Cronulla Sharks with a nice little rebound try in the 69th minute, celebrating for the Bankwest faithful like only he can.
6 – Five Eighth
In a game where the responsibility I thought he would have relished was thrust upon him, Dylan Brown had a mixed game, including yet another stone cold dropped ball in attacking position. If it wasn’t the game Mitch went down, you’d be a pretty tough marker to be disappointed with any game where your tackle happy Number 6 runs 16 times for 124 metres, and makes 28 tackles. However, it was that game, and although we won, I wouldn’t desribe it as the game where Dylan came to the fore. If Mitch is somehow out for Round 4 or is out in any future clashes, I think many smarter football minds than me will also be hoping Dylan takes greater control of proceedings.
7 – Halfback
If anything, tonight’s proceeding underlined just how reliant we have become on the directional guidance provided by one Mitchell Moses. Not unlike his namesake leading the Israelites around the Sinai Desert, the 2021 Eels have evidently grown accustomed to looking towards their attacking leader for direction. Being 36 years since the Blue & Gold last tasted premiership glory, let’s hope this parched wandering doesn’t go on to last for the full 40 years.
8 – Front Row
You get the feeling that RCG will not shut up about his 72nd minute effort all week at training, running over multiple defenders on his way to another cracking front rower try.
Nor should he, either. If it were me, I’d also bring up the 15 runs for 154 metres, 1 linebreak, 1 linebreak assist (thank you very much says Mr Stone), 3 tackle breaks and 34 tackles. But the cherry on top was that four pointer, mercilessly crushing Chad Townsend’s feeble attempted tackle before letting the biggest smile you ever did see out loose from under his moustache.
9 – Hooker
It was hard to think that Reed Mahoney would live up with the lofty expectations he set himself in Rounds 1 and 2, and although he didn’t quite reach that same altitude tonight, he is nonetheless on track to stake his claim as the most improved player in the NRL in the early rounds of 2021. Tonight’s edition featured crisp service, clever kicks, 3 tackle breaks, a crazy catch and 38 tackles. Another fine game from ole’ Swampy Reed.
10 – Front Row
If you haven’t watched Junior Paulo’s involvement in RCG’s try, go back and watch it again. It would be terrific play if it was from someone in a regular size body, but from someone in a body the size of a mythical giant, it’s absolutely unbelievable. The world’s biggest man ran 13 times for 121 metres, 2 tackle breaks and 17 tackles. He also did other, regular prop things like adding a line break assist and a try assist. You know, like all props.
In a comment more about Clint Gutherson than it is Junior Paulo, but last week our captain burned his challenge on Blake Ferguson, this week it was a prop. Sure Junior is not your run of the mill prop, sure, but he is a prop nonetheless.
That’s our captain breaking two cardinal rules of the Captain’s Challenge, and I’m not sure if I can emotionally trust him any more (yes, it was pretty close).
11 – Second Row
Happy 50th game in the Blue and Gold you big lump of a man. I really should applaud Shaun Lane for not only avoiding making me unreasonable angry, but more so for his impressive 15 runs for 146 metres, his linebreak assist, 2 tackle breaks and 32 tackles.
I’ve gotten past a lot of the anger I was feeling for Lane these last 6 months or so. Maybe we’re healing, maybe I’m growing up, maybe Shaun Lane is no longer running around out there like a lazy, one legged giraffe; I mean who really knows?
12 – Second Row
You know I love you, I always will. My mind’s made up by the way that I feel. There’s no beginning, there’ll be no end. Because on Papa, you can depend.
13 – Lock
As can be expected, there were his characteristic tough charges, as well as a couple of incredible hit in defence, but I also thought there were flashes of some pretty loose footy in Nathan Brown’s first half tonight. Thankfully my question marks seem to disappear midway through the second, as Cyborg ended up with a forward pack leading 17 runs and 154 metres, 2 tackle breaks, 1 offload and 30 tackles. Sign that contract already, you big angry clown.
14 – Interchange
After thinking he was a relatively mild mannered middle man, I must say I was pleased to see a little bit of niggle from Big Country out there tonight. Oregon threw down an outstanding 14 runs for 150 metres in the middle, adding 2 tackle breaks and 22 tackles to his impressive 2021 curriculum vitae. This guy, he is my sorta guy.
15 – Interchange
Let the record show that the Eels remain undefeated in games with Keegan Hipgrave in the side; stay woke people.
There must be a glitch in the Matrix, because tonight Hipster Mo played his third respectable game in Blue & Gold in three attempts, and I haven’t yet screamed his name in anger. For those unaware, I wasn’t exactly Keegan’s biggest fan when he was at the Titans, and needless to say wasn’t exactly thrilled with his signing for the Blue & Golds. I’m still not sure he’ll ever win us a game or single handedly change the direction of a contest, but he was once again solid in defence, made his runs in attack and didn’t actually do anything stupid. I also hear he’s a pretty great bloke to be around. I’ll take it.
16 – Interchange
Given a much bigger slice of the game and more minutes than he would have expected, Will Smith did more than his fair share in contributing to the win tonight, keenly and patiently steering the Eels around the park in the second half. His running metres won’t send you reaching for the record books (6 runs for 28m, no tackle breaks) but he did manage a sneaky good 2 try assists and a line break assist in a no fuss performance in the halfback position. In a fast paced game where injuries and utility players are carving a bigger role, I’m not sure Will’s value to Parramatta has ever been higher.
17 – Interchange
Oh the run, the step, and only the second four pointer of his career. Tonight’s try and stat line (11 runs, 144 metres, 2 tackle breaks) is just desserts for a man who has bided his time returning from injury and has worked hard to carve out his own role for this Parramatta side. You can see why he is the sort of player that others want on their team, and you can tell BA loves his no nonsense game. Also, I don’t know if this is true, but I hear he sleeps upside down like a bat.
Anyways, great game, Stoney.
Well as I said at the top of the post, three wins from three games is a pretty sweet way to start a season. With that said, the takeaway from this game will not be the Eels’ undefeated start, but rather the ghastly injury toll suffered by our opponents (fair enough, too).
If things got any worse for the Sharks out there tonight, at least they know their coach would have been pretty handy in a utility role. I’d hate to think what would happen if Wayne Bennett’s frail old man body ever had to take the field for the Bunnies, though; the man’s older than Jesus.
Looking ahead for the Eels, next week is the return of our annual Easter Monday clash with the Wests Tigers.
At least until then, enjoy that sweet, sweet undefeated feeling for yet another week.
Go you Eels,
Photos courtesy of the Parramatta Eels. Stats courtesy of Champion Data.