Date: Monday, April 5, 2021
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney Olympic Park
Kick Off: 4:00PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Head-to-head: Played 41, Parramatta 25, Wests 15, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $1.31 Tigers $3.50
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 28 d Wests 24, Bankwest Stadium, R20 2020
Parramatta 26 d Wests 16, Bankwest Stadium, R11 2020
Parramatta 30 d Wests 18, Bankwest Stadium, R17 2019
Parramatta 51 d Wests 6, Bankwest Stadium, R6 2019
Well that was an interesting one. You might have been left unimpressed by the Eels taking so long to put away a Sharks team down to no fresh reserves, but Parramatta’s plan to put Cronulla in a vice and squeeze was executed to perfection and the rewards came in the final ten minutes. It was a controlled, patient performance, one all the more impressive because it was done without halfback Mitchell Moses for most of the match. It was a safe if unexciting way to ensure Parramatta’s unbeaten start to the season remained intact.
The Eels will look to keep that unbeaten streak alive in the traditional Easter Monday clash with the Wests Tigers. The Tigers are fresh off their first win of the season, overcoming a hostile Newcastle crowd and a Knights team intent on handing over possession in a back and forth contest. Traditionally Parramatta hasn’t been a happy matchup for Wests, it has been three years since the Tigers last beat the Eels and they have won only two of the last eleven against the Blue & Gold.
That isn’t to say this will be a walkover for Parramatta, the Tigers have played the Eels tough in the last few contests, breaking out to early leads before being run down. There will be plenty of feeling out there, Ryan Matterson doesn’t have many friends in Tiger town after leaving the club in 2019 and Mitchell Moses still lives rent free in Wests fan’s heads despite leaving in 2017. Losing Moses but keeping Luke Brooks will do that to a fanbase. I could put the boot into the Tigers all day, but how about we preview this upcoming matchup instead?
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
We fell just short on total match points last week when the Sharks held firm despite running out of troops. The Eels had a late rush of points and easily covered the start, but credit to Cronulla for not rolling over.
This week, history points to the total match points being massive. Six of the last eight clashes between the Tigers and the Eels have exceeded the 42.5 line. I’ll take the $1.95 on offer for the over line there.
If you want some value and an early return, venture into the first half line over/under double. There’s $3.40 available for the Eels covering the 5.5 start (just one converted try difference) coupled with total first half points over 20.5.
Happy, responsible punting.
How we look
It was tough to watch at times, as plainly exhausted Sharks forwards succumbed to the power and strength of the fresher and fitter Eels middles, but Parramatta showed the ruthlessness of a top side in wearing down then running over a Cronulla side they knew had no fresh reserves available. That they did this without halfback Mitchell Moses is even more impressive, as Clint Gutherson, Reed Mahoney and Will Smith took over game management and ensured the game was played in the Sharks own third for most of the second half.
Brad Arthur made winning the middle a priority for the Sharks game, and in those early competitive stages it was good to see the forwards answer the challenge of a fired up Cronulla team that really took it to them from the start. RCG and Junior Paulo demonstrated their unique skills in the late stages (that cutout Junior threw to Marata should get him booted out of prop club), but you need to win the middle convincingly to be able to play like that. The Eels forwards should be able to put themselves in a position to play similar footy against the Tigers who, despite replacing half of their front row, have carried their metre making struggles from 2020 into the new season.
There haven’t been a lot of chances for the Eels to throw attacking shape at the opposition this year, with back-to-back unique matches played in torrid conditions then with no halfback against an opponent with no bench. In a more traditional game it will be good to see how the Parramatta timing is, particularly with Moses and Brown digging into the line and linking up out wide. The attacking shape needs to step up for the Eels to be a contender this year, and a clash against the Tigers that should see Parramatta with plenty of good ball is a great opportunity to demonstrate these improvements.
One area the Eels need to watch is their scrum defence, having already conceded a couple of tries to scrum set plays near the line. The Tigers crossed for a nice try off a scrum last week, and it highlights a general weakness Parramatta has to fullbacks creating numbers in the line. Daine Laurie has shown the skill in his brief career to exploit such an opportunity.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 4. Marata Niukore 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Isaiah Papali’i 16. Will Smith 17. Ray Stone. 18. Jordan Rankin 19. Haze Dunster 20. Keegan Hipgrave 21. Bryce Cartwright
Ryan Matterson and Mitchell Moses are back on deck, recovering from concussions to line up against their former club. This pushes early season revelation Isaiah Papali’i back to the bench and Keegan Hipgrave out of the 17. Bryce Cartwright makes his first appearance in the squad, and with late mail suggesting Will Smith might be in some trouble for COVID protocol breaches, the Carty Party might make a surprise debut in a utility role.
Marata Niukore has been very impressive in his centre cameo, but calls for him to play there long term are unlikely to be heeded by Brad Arthur. Will Kennedy caught Marata out with speed and I imagine the gameplan for Wests will include finding Tommy Talau and Daine Laurie with space to get Niukore one-on-one. Simba is big and strong and has the skills to play out wide, but this is a man who has trained and built his body to play middle defence, and that just doesn’t translate to the lateral movement needed to shut down the fastest and most elusive men in the NRL. Be grateful we have survived with paper thin centre depth, but don’t expect to see Waqa Blake in NSW Cup when he returns.
1. Daine Laurie 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Tommy Talau 4. James Roberts 5. Asu Kepaoa 6. Adam Douehi 7. Luke Brooks 8. Zane Musgrove 9. Jacob Liddle 10. James Tamou 11. Luke Garner 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Alex Twal. 14. Moses Mbye 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Stefano Utoikamanu 17. Joe Ofahengaue. 18. Russell Packer 19. Joseph Leilua 20. Michael Chee Kam 21. Alex Seyfarth.
It has been a disruptive week for Wests, with James Roberts under a cloud at time of writing due to not following NRL COVID protocols during the week, while Moses Mbye timed his release request for the week of the Tigers first win of the year. At least we haven’t seen any Mitchell Moses or Ryan Matterson articles this week, yet. Maybe Buzz is saving them for the Sunday edition.
Some big names sit in the Tigers reserves, with Joseph Leilua again excluded from the team after a few weeks of low effort defence, and Russell Packer unable to break into the middle rotation. Tommy Talau replaces Leilua and looked solid with ball in hand, but replaced low effort defence with low IQ defence in several situations last week. He’ll see some running early in this one.
The Tigers bench is big, with three recognised props alongside utility Moses Mbye. Ofahengaue has lived down to the expectations everybody but Wests fans had of him, already demoted from the starting side, while Utoikamanu continues a slow build into first grade, scoring a long range (but very soft) try last week. He hasn’t been the next Payne Haas, but the former Eel hasn’t looked out of place early in his Tigers career.
After four unsuccessful attempts the Tigers have abandoned their quest to tame the Bankwest jungle, taking this home match to Stadium Australia under the guise of allowing more fans into the ground. I’m sure the Tigers fans being outnumbered by Eels fans at Bankwest for their home games and a record of four wins from 13 attempts at the ground had nothing to do with the decision.
It is a long way out, but early forecasts are for some rain on Monday. The Eels will be planning a battle through the middle regardless, but wet weather football plays into their hands. We shouldn’t see anything like round 2 again, but it could be a slippery afternoon.
Ashley Klein is the referee, which will undoubtedly rankle some fans who were unimpressed with his effort officiating the Storm game. Henry Perenara’s interpretation of the forward pass rule last weekend made Klein seem strict by comparison, but Klein really “let the boys play” last time around and judging by how all games have been refereed this year, I wouldn’t expect a strict interpretation of the ruck rules after the opening stages. The Eels should be good enough to overcome even “French referee on a Kangaroo tour” level of officiating, if they lose this game there will be plenty of other places to look than Klein’s performance.
The Tigers haven’t had a great start to the year, but last week proved if you let them in the game there is enough attacking talent in the side to beat you. Daine Laurie has been a revelation, an excellent support player and a good runner of the football who will need to be watched closely and could create one-on-one opportunities for the outside men or Luciano Leilua, who loves to prowl out wide in the red zone.
Leilua has found some success on short range bargeovers against Parramatta, and his hard running style makes him one of the few Tigers with good post-contact metres numbers. He needs to be watched and contained. The rest of the pack are fairly workmanlike, Luke Garner runs a decent line but is exploitable in defence and doesn’t offer much else, while Twal is a typical workhorse. Jacob Liddle is second in the NRL in missed tackles, so expect Reed and Junior Paulo to find him when defending the line.
Wests have played a solid possession game this year, completing well and sitting near the best in the league for error rate. Unfortunately their small appetite for metres means this doesn’t translate into attacking opportunity as much as it could, and when they have had good ball their playmaking has been found lacking. Luke Brooks was better last week, including a pinpoint “Cleary” kick (a half bomb landing just to the side of the uprights, aimed at where back rowers would be running through) for Adam Doueihi and David Nofoaluma, but he hasn’t taken control of the team to the satisfaction of fans or critics.
Doueihi has been a dangerous runner himself, but is still growing as a playmaker. If he can be crowded and his running game stifled, he won’t be a difference maker. Given some room, the halves and Laurie will be looking for those long balls to exploit Ferguson and Sivo, a vanilla blueprint to attack the Eels but one that teams will continue to employ until they are stopped, especially teams with a finisher like David Nofoaluma out wide.
This game is Parramatta’s to lose. The Tigers have played the Eels tough since the Bankwest debut, but even when they have taken decent leads it has felt like Parramatta just needed to get it together for a few sets in a row to claw the game back, and that is how it played out last year. It would be nice to control the game from the start and not give up a cheap lead, and early defensive steel will surely be a focus area for Brad Arthur in preparation.
The battle of the middle should be no contest. The Eels ooze class from 8-13 and have some true weapons on the bench in Papali’i and Kaufusi, who was quietly huge last week. Even a sizable Tigers bench shouldn’t make a difference here, and I expect the metre making disparity between these two clubs over the last two seasons to once again play out.
From there, the Tigers have wilted against sustained pressure when their opponent gets good ball. Kepaoa hasn’t been a good defender in his brief first grade career, and Tommy Talau didn’t give many reasons for confidence in defending at centre last week. That’s before considering the career long defensive issues of Nofoaluma and James Roberts. Clint Gutherson should find joy in joining the attacking line and picking his runner, he’s had some big games against the Tigers in recent times.
Expect the big boys to line up like they did in the last ten minutes against the Sharks, looking to get on the score sheet. Reed Mahoney should find some joy in getting bigger runners one-on-one against Liddle and Garner, or trying to catch Luciano Leilua flat footed in the line. If he gets bored of that, isolating Luke Brooks would also be a fruitful strategy.
There are a lot of ways for Parramatta to win this one, and I expect the Eels to take several of them to put on a convincing display. Go the Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 36 Wests Tigers 12
Man of the Match: Clint Gutherson