Parramatta Eels 36
Wests Tigers 22
The Eels managed to both unearth a brand new losing strategy and find a way to ultimately win in their Round 4 clash with the Wests Tigers. The game seemed to come in waves, with the Eels dominating the opening 25 minutes (16-0), before the Tigers clawed their way back into the contest (16-10). The Eels then seemed to push away again (24-10), only for me almost needing to delete my Twitter account (24-22). Thankfully the Eels realised they had another 10 points in them in the final two and a half minutes (36-22) and we all walked away happy (except of course for Tigers fans and anyone who had the Eels 1-12).
Despite the ups and downs, a 4-0 record is nothing to sneeze at, and the Eels still managed to learn plenty about winning (and losing) football games, thanks to 80 minutes of football this afternoon.
Other pleasing aspects of today’s game include the continued resurgence of Isaiah Papali’i, the fact that I am getting better at writing Papali’i, Mitchell Moses‘ continued development as a game manager, a relatively injury free afternoon, and the fact that Blake Ferguson has already scored more tries in 2021 than he did in all of 2020.
You know what else is good? Family friendly football, see attached photo; as if my boys ever had a choice.
Also, shout out to my youngest son, Austin for tugging on the sleeve of my jersey 6 minutes into the first half: “Dad, I want to go home.”
Finally, a big tip of the cap to both the Tiger and Eel fanbases for putting together the 29,000 strong crowd; the largest for the NRL in Season 2021.
Before you even got here you just knew I was going to talk about two things: dropped bombs and incomplete sets.
Credit to Adam Doueihi in particular, those kicks weren’t just randomly dropped, they were targeted floating and spiralling bombs. Yes, of course Fergo and Gutho should have caught them, but they were nonetheless not your garden variety kicks, either.
Obviously there is plenty to be and already has been said about them, but in my mind we got away with the dropped catches. What I mean is, I don’t think they are something we need to worry about going forward, they’re not something we seem to have struggled with in the past.
Our completion rate, however, is a different story. Reminiscent of our opening half of the season against the Broncos, the Eels were completing at sub 50% at different points of the second half with a myriad of dropped ball and incomplete sets effectively inviting the Wests Tigers back into the contest.
The Eels really should have closed this game out three or four times, and at several stages looked like the floodgates would open and they were going to put a score on. However, credit to the official team of FCTTB Podcast as said rush of points never really eventuated, and the win itself almost slipped away, almost as if it were a spiral bomb to a couple of our guys at the back.
Look away now Tigers fans, but after today’s loss, the Wests Tigers have now conceded 20 points or more in 14 straight games; that is some stat.
In other news, for what it’s worth regarding the second to last try, I did think Gutho was offside on first viewing, but am now certain he was onside once I viewed it with the better camera angle. People can keep arguing, but I think the vast majority now similarly support the Bunker’s decision.
Other than the aforementioned completion rates, the Eels actually had less ball (51 to 49%), less metres (2229 to 2220) and less scrum wins (5 to 4) than their opponents today; but ended up dominating field position (51 minutes in the Tigers’ half to 29) as well as tackle breaks (44 to 30).
I don’t have anything in particular to say about the refs, which is exactly how it should be; as such I guess it’s hats off to the people in the middle.
I really could have given it to him after his incredible Round 1 debut in Brisbane, but Isaiah Papali’i was once again an absolute star in the Blue & Gold today, and is therefore my MVP. It wasn’t just the try (which he looked to do relatively easily), it was the mindblowing 144 running metres from his 13 hit ups (wait, what?), his linebreak, 7 tackle breaks and 33 tackles that sealed the deal.
The NZ native must be giving Brad Arthur plenty to think about, not only regarding his starting side (or whether he needs his punch off the bench), but also whether he deserves either an 8 or 10 year contract extension.
Called into the starting lineup with the late scratching of the Wests Tigers‘ favourite son Ryan Matterson, Ice Papa is a more than deserving recipient of this Round’s MVP. Great stuff.
1 – Fullback
Usually Clint Gutherson only does really great things (19 runs, 168 metres, 2 try assists, 1 try save, 1 line break assist, 3 tackle breaks, 1 offload and of course the game sealing try) but today he also mixed in dropping a ball on an attacking play, conceding a shepherd penalty in our own 20 and of course dropping a ball that gave the Tigers the attacking set for their first try. All I can say is, put that gigantic slippery eel of yours away Gutho and get back to what you do best.
All in all, that sort of game certainly makes for difficult grading, but you can’t deny this team revolves around the positive impact of guys like your mate Clint Gutherson. I’ll forgive him just this once.
2 – Left Wing
When 10 runs for 97 metres (and 3 tackle breaks) is considered a quiet game, you know Maika Sivo is a superstar of the NRL. I would have liked to see him take the opportunity to help out in the latter stages of the game, but there was little else wrong with Sivo’s performance today, both with and without the ball.
3 – Left Centre
Last week I playfully pitied Tom Opacic for running most of the field, thinking he had scored a try against the Sharks. In what I can only see as a childish revenge play, this week Cool Hand Tom went off for 2 tries, one for last week and one to make sure I was paying attention.
You know, I really like this guy.
4 – Right Centre
I guess the only question to ask is this:
Is Marata Niukore the best defensive centre in the world?
Yes. Yes he is.
5 – Right Wing
I don’t even know where to start. Actually, it might be worth starting at the VERY START OF THE GAME when Blake Ferguson somehow fell over from the kick off. I mean, what on earth? Who does that?
As NRL Twitter stalwart Jon Tuxworth asked: “Has Blake Ferguson ever used his arms and legs before today?”
From the looks of things, I don’t know, Jon, I really don’t.
To be fair, other than this, oh and the aforementioned dropped catch that directly lead to the Tigers’ second try, Fergo actually had a really good game. He ran hard (17 runs for 192m, a team high 6 tackle breaks and a line break), defended well and also created opportunities for others (an offload and a try assist). And yes, he also scored two pretty great tries. But games are often won and lost in big moments, and the Eels flirted pretty closely to that line today, Blake Ferguson more than anyone.
6 – Five Eighth
I love the young bloke (and I consider ‘young’ to be the key consideration here), but if we’re fair dinkum, he’s yet to set the world on fire in Season 2021 as some might have expected him to do. It’s worth noting that we continue to win, so what Dylan adds to our team at the moment is evidently just what we need, but I do look forward to his touches and influence joining the level of his halves partner. Make no mistake, you can keep your Walkers and your Deardens, Dylan Brown is still the best young half in the NRL, bar none. And with all that said he made some terrific defensive plays, incredibly making more tackles (36) as our half than anyone on our team not called Lane or Mahoney.
7 – Halfback
Other than being a little skewwhiff with the kicking boot (4/7), Mitchell Moses played a pretty brilliant hand against his former club (remember that?) today. He absolutely mesmerised the Tigers with his try assist for Marata, but then did all the things BA and fans alike could ask of him – ran the ball (8 for 59m, 5 tackle breaks), controlled the team (1 linebreak assist), kicked long (13 for 381m) and made his tackles (11).
For those playing along at home, this is the Moses we want to see each and every week.
8 – Front Row
Today it was 15 runs, 138m, 3 tackle breaks and 32 tackles. No fuss, no nonsense and a big dirty mo.
Side note, if I were asked which forward averaged the most running metres for the Eels last season, I think I would have nominated Junior Paulo or Nathan Brown, with RCG probably my third choice.
As you probably have guessed, I recently discovered Reagan Campbell-Gillard should have been my first, averaging 165 running metres last year; and leading our forwards once again with 150m so far in 2021. How about that?
9 – Hooker
Marata Niukore be damned, I think Reed Mahoney is our most improved player in 2021. Today was the fourth compelling chapter of Reed’s 2021 development as legitimate first class NRL hooker, subsequently hoisting the rest of the team on his back and carrying us towards recognition as a legitimate threat to the title. Reed didn’t just tackle everything in sight (a team high 46 tackles), and run 5 times for 41m, he also had an incredible 2 try assists, 2 linebreak assists, 2 tackle breaks and 2 offloads. You can just imagine the delight Richie Benaud would have felt reading through such a stat line.
I also think that 40/20 is one of the few things in this world worth dying for. So great.
10 – Front Row
It almost goes with saying, but Junior Paulo is a wonderful Rugby League player. This afternoon he demonstrated this with 16 runs, 162 running metres, 4 tackle breaks, 3 offloads and 22 tackles in 63 minutes.
Then again, no tries or try assists this week? Pathetic.
Finally, I’ve said it before, I love Junior as much as anyone, but Gutho can not keep relying on props for the source of his Captain’s Challenge; it’s simply too fraught with danger.
11 – Second Row
I’m not sure if he lost a bet or is trying to avoid a drug test, but Shaun Lane’s new haircut does not look good.
I might be picking on him, but I also spotted Laney’s trademark lazy marker defence on a few occasions today. Due to that same lazy attitude and daylight saving, I figure we now have once again reached the time of year where Shaun Lane’s car clock now once again shows the correct time.
15 – Second Row
I know he played on the edge again this week, but it speaks volumes that last year it would be Kane Evans and Brad Takairangi filling this spot for the Eels. With all due respect to those two men, Ice Papa brings a very different sort of energy in 2021.
13 – Lock
You’d be forgiven for thinking Cyborg had a target on his back this afternoon, with the Tigers limiting his impact to 16 runs for 125 metres. With that said, for a regular human that’s still pretty impressive, as was his 2 offloands and 27 tackles.
A lot of people thought Nathan Brown went down winded mid way through the first half. However, Cyborgs of course do not have respiratory systems and word from the sheds suggests it was actually logged as a ‘system malfunction’.
14 – Interchange
Leading relatively small but efficient impact of the bench unit, the man I lovingly refer to as ‘Big Country’ had a mild 5 runs for 55 metres, with 2 tackle breaks and 14 tackles.
16 – Interchange
Just 4 minutes for Will Smith this afternoon; all signs continue to point to the Fresh Prince only being used by BA in short spells to close the game and injury cover as required.
17 – Interchange
A rough and tumble 5 runs for 44 metres from the Rolling Stone, adding 16 tackles in his 24 minute stint. As an aside, this week’s team sheet indicated he has moved ahead of Keegan Hipgrave in BA’s pecking order.
17 – Interchange
With his 9 minutes of power, Keegan Hipgrave maintains his perfect win record in the Blue & Gold (with exactly 0 runs, 0 metres and 12 tackles). Good for Keegan.
Although it didn’t really make a difference to the result, other than the collective frustration of Tigers fans everywhere, there were two types of responses to Blake Ferguson scoring with seconds left in the game.
Firstly a response by the still undefeated Dane Clarke; going a few seconds too early with his post game wrap up.
And courtesy of some guy called Marcus, the second response; an incredible multi that only got up because Fergo not only scored said try, but also because Mitchell Moses kicked the conversion to take the margin beyond 13.
Next week we face a rejuvenated Dragons side who now somehow have 3 wins from their opening 4 games (hey, good for them). It will once again be a double edged sword; can we both beat a fellow Top 8 side and at the same time show respect for what others might consider a less fancied opponent? Another game, another mixed message to unravel.
Whatever happens, I’ll see you then sports fans.
Go you Eels,
Photos courtesy of the Parramatta Eels. Stats courtesy of Champion Data.