Date: Saturday, April 17, 2021
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick Off: 7:35PM AEST
Referee: Ben Cummins
Head-to-head: Played 59, Parramatta 28, Canberra 31
Odds: Eels $2.35 Raiders $1.58
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 25 d Canberra 24, Bankwest Stadium, R7 2020
Parramatta 22 d Canberra 16, Darwin, R15 2019
Canberra 19 d Parramatta 0, Canberra Stadium, R5 2019
Canberra 18 d Parramatta 2, Canberra Stadium, R6 2018
Alright Blue & Gold army, it is time to reset expectations. Despite the hope of a new season, it is clear 2021 is yet another frustrating iteration of the Parramatta Eels, another “sort of got it together” team that is just as capable of playing down to its opposition and losing to cellar dwellers as it is of giving the contenders a red hot run. Personally I’m finding this story a little stale, but the hope delivered by that inspiring Melbourne win back in round two has unfortunately been sandwiched by lacklustre efforts and a frankly embarrassing home capitulation to a team that did little more than show up and put a solid effort in.
If 2021 is going to be different, it starts this week against Canberra. I doubt there is a bigger hoodoo for Parramatta than the old Bruce Stadium, where generations of Parramatta teams have fallen well short against the Raiders. The Eels are on a nine game losing streak in the capital, stretching back to July 2006. Tim Smith masterminded the last Eels victory in the capital, while “he who shall not be named” scored a double in his sixth first grade game. That was one of only four Eels wins in Canberra from 22 attempts, at an average margin of 28 to 12. The closest they’ve got since 2006 was a ridiculous 40-34 loss in 2012 in the death throes of the Stephen Kearney era.
That’s all before you consider the Raiders themselves, a tough side that always gives a full effort and makes you work for every point. Off the back of the Panthers roughing them up a bit, they will be licking their lips at the prospect of Parramatta coming to town to play them into form. The Eels will need to be at their best to take the points in this one.
If this all sounds very bleak, my apologies. This isn’t going to be a kind preview for Parramatta, but they weren’t very kind to us fans with their effort last week, so let’s hope they can get back in our good books come Saturday night.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Last week we fell one try short in both the total match points and first half betting tips. The Disappointment was palpable as the Eels failed to take advantage of their field position, then totally lost their way when the Dragons lost a player to the sin bin.
This week, the Raiders and the Eels line up as last start losers and with a key player missing. I’m not certain who will bounce back the best, so I’m steering away from a tip featuring a winner.
Consequently, I’m taking on the “pick your own total market”, and selecting over 39.5 total match points. You’ll get $2.15 for that. If you’re confident of more points being scored, you can pick a higher line for a better return.
Happy, responsible punting.
How we look
Last week wasn’t good, with the Eels failing to adjust to the frustrating gameplan implemented by the Dragons and reverting back to panic football when plan A wasn’t working. This meant playing sideways and forcing passes, leading to mistakes and further pressure. It also led to the quietest game of the year for the Eels’ middles, with Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard unable to stamp their authority on a contest they were expected to dominate.
The composure of the side falls on the spine players, who needed to keep the team aligned to the gameplan and to direct the forwards around the park, to adjust to the Dragons style of slowing down the ruck. Mitchell Moses had a few very unhappy plays, while Dylan Brown had a strong running performance but again failed to take a game by the scruff of the neck. Reed Mahoney also needs to shoulder some blame, as the player closest to the ruck he needs to be the man to judge the tempo and start directing the forwards wider and changing up a strategy that the opposition are countering.
Defensively it was only a matter of time before Marata Niukore got caught out at centre, I would expect the Raiders to target him in a similar fashion. The points conceded to the Dragons were disappointing but nothing seemed to indicate chronic defensive issues, just a team that didn’t meet the intensity of their opposition, particularly in the early stages.
Those lapses of energy and commitment are in themselves alarming for a team that has premiership aspirations, and have become a sad trademark of the Eels over many years. It is likely that the Raiders play a similarly frustrating style against them this week (the last few meetings down in Canberra it feels like the Eels barely touched the ball) and Parramatta need to be both committed in defence and patient in attack, as trying to do too much when finally getting their opportunities is another sad trademark of the team.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Tom Opacic 4. Marata Niukore 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Will Smith 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. Keegan Hipgrave 17. Bryce Cartwright. 18. Joey Lussick 19. Haze Dunster 20. Wiremu Greig 21. Jordan Rankin.
Dylan Brown is the notable absentee on the team sheet, taking a one week suspension for what can be very loosely described as a crusher tackle. That’s the problem with crackdowns, you are stuck with the overzealous grading and suspensions even after players stop putting each other in those dangerous positions. Will Smith will take his place and has been solid as a replacement in recent times. His performance in place of Mitch Moses against Canberra was top drawer. Ray Stone is also out injured once more, solidifying his claim to the “unluckiest player at Parramatta” title.
Ryan Matterson is named once again and he has hopefully recovered from the concussion injury which has already cost him three appearances.
Bryce Cartwright did not have a happy debut last weekend, but he did get a lot of minutes compared to the men who usually fill that bench role. Brad Arthur clearly likes the guy, but those crabbing runs, forced offloads and poor kicks looked an awful lot like the five-eighth in a forward’s body that flamed out at the Titans. It did feel like he tried to take the team on his back and play some hero-ball last week, if he can rein it in and do the tough stuff first there is hope yet for the great Carty Party experiment.
1. Caleb Aekins 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Curtis Scott 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. George Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Iosia Soliola 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Joseph Tapine. 14. Tom Starling 15. Ryan Sutton 16. Siliva Havili 17. Emre Guler. 18. Sebastian Kris 19. Matt Frawley 20. Corey Harawira-Naera 21. Dunamis Lui.
Fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad is the big out for the Raiders, he copped a neck injury last weekend. Caleb Aekins makes his club debut as the replacement. Josh Hodgson is also in some doubt after coming from the field with a hip injury, but the Raiders usually run with two bench hookers anyway so they’ll be well covered.
The Canberra pack runs about 12 deep in terms of first grade talent and Ricky Stuart has done some tinkering for this week, with new recruit Ryan James rested giving promising talent Emre Guler his first run of 2021. Stuart has made a few late changes in recent weeks with Josh Papalii, but I’d expect he starts against the strong Eels pack.
There isn’t much more to say about how Parramatta handles the trip down the Hume Highway, so let’s just file it in the “records are made to be broken” category. It will be cold, dry and very unpleasant down in the capital, as the first winds of winter arrived across New South Wales this week.
Ben Cummins is the referee, his first appointment to an Eels game in season 2021. The Eels were 5-1 under Cummins in 2020, while Canberra won their only game under Cummins in 2020 and also have not seen him this year. Cummins sits on the high end of set restart and penalty counts this year, but is generally regarded as one of the better referees in the game.
As is standard after any loss, even one as convincing as last Sunday, Eels fans have gone on a stream of referee blaming after the Dragons used and abused the new six again rules to frustrate Parramatta. The Eels were awarded a heap of set restarts, got a sin bin go their way for repeat infringements, and still couldn’t take advantage. That is on them, not the quality of officiating. It is up to the Eels to overcome frustration tactics, and also to use them against their opponents when a referee is showing leeway in the ruck. In a competition where there is a massive gap in quality between the best and the rest, the best should never be in a position to have a referee decide the result. Blame the players, not the officials.
This will be the most hostile away crowd the Eels have faced in a while, with Raiders fans likely to feel a bit frisky after Penrith fans mocked their viking clap in last week’s win. It will be interesting to see how they handle it, it will be the first time the Eels face a sellout opposition crowd since 2019.
The Raiders have had their own issues in attack this year, playing a vanilla middle game of low offloads and crash ball near the line. Josh Hodgson’s first, second and third preference close to the line is hitting that crash ball, usually to the benefit of Josh Papaplii, but his jaunts out of dummy half are still dangerous and can hold a defender up, even when they know it is coming.
The middle approach certainly isn’t a bad one for Canberra to take considering the form of their pack. Papalii is usually the answer to the question “who is the best prop in the NRL” and is tough to stop near the line, but his work in the middle of the park is also top notch in his metre making and offloading. Hudson Young has come into his own as a starter this year, Joseph Tapine is very dangerous with ball in hand and Elliott Whitehead remains an underappreciated attacking weapon with good line running.
Then you have Jack Wighton. He’s a unique problem for any opponent, a strong, hard runner with a knack for finding gaps and running good lines. He pops up at the right time and he will be targeting arm tackles from outside backs he can isolate, and slower moving middle men. The best way to stop him and Hodgson is to avoid conceding good ball to the Raiders, easier said than done and something the Eels have not done very well down in Canberra in recent years.
George Williams has quietly become a very dangerous NRL player, the talented Englishman has a running game that must be respected but has proven adept with pass and kick, plus he plays with an impressive confidence. He hasn’t got the most to work with outside him, Jarrod Croker is on the long end of his career, Curtis Scott still hasn’t found his feet in Raiders colours while Bailey Simonsson is still more potential than performance. Jordan Rapana has looked better this year and is an elite finisher, but he has an error in him.
The Raiders will miss Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who is a Gutherson-esque high effort support player with strong kick returns. Caleb Aekins is a bit of an unknown, but it is unlikely he will match what CNK provides to Canberra. Hopefully it means their set starts are interrupted and it knocks the team out of rhythm.
On paper this feels like a winnable game for the Eels if they can match the Raiders in the middle. Unfortunately, games in Canberra have rarely gone to plan for the Eels, particularly in recent years where the Raiders have choked Parramatta out of the game with repeat sets and forced errors. The Eels never had a chance in those contests, largely due to the Raiders playing near perfect football and Parramatta reverting to panic mode once they finally got the ball.
Just not seeing that panic footy would count as a win for me, but after last week the Eels really need to stand up and smack the Raiders in the mouth. Canberra will be smarting after last week and will have a point to prove in front of their home fans. They will be full of confidence from recent results against Parramatta, and it shapes as a game the Eels must really show up for to have any chance.
I expect a better effort from the Blue & Gold, but I’ve made that long, cold drive back up the Hume with the taste of disappointment in my mouth too many times over the last two decades to confidently tip the Eels down there. If we don’t win I expect it will be another one of those dominant, choking efforts from Canberra that doesn’t look great on the scoreboard. Here’s hoping I am wrong. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Canberra Raiders 22 Parramatta Eels 6
Man of the Match: Some Canberra player