On Saturday my family ventured to the nation’s capital to support our Eels but if I am absolutely truthful I did not really know what to expect.
I have referred to Parra’s visits down to Canberra in the past as “entering the Bermuda triangle”. They have always managed to get lost even in those games in which they have started well.
After the first five minutes I could tell the boys were going to have a real go and as a supporter that is what I expect. If I see that in my team they will always have our support no matter the scoreboard.
Sitting in the stands we had a wonderful night. I have always found the Raiders a really good fan base and there was much good natured banter back and forth in the stands, just as it should be.
As the game progressed we kept waiting for Parra to get carried away, play pretty football and start crabbing sideways, but to their absolute credit they did not. They stayed pretty much in the middle corridor 20 metres either side of the post and just kept throwing multiple players at the Raiders defenders waiting for them to make the wrong choice.
I would argue that even the second try scored by Maika was set up by the first try and us playing primarily in that middle corridor. The Raiders players had to cover the Parra forwards on the short side and this left Maika open and Gutherson threw a wonderful pass right on his chest.
You could see the effort, the players ran hard, our playmakers took the ball to the line and held the ball when the pass was not on and our long kicking game and chase was simply superb.
There was one chase in the second half that was wonderful. It happened right in front of us as we had tickets at the end the Eels ran to in the second half. Moses put in a long kick and Rapana tried to get out of the corner, Marata and Fergo ran down and inside them Will Smith, Junior and Nathan Brown kept up, creating a straight line to keep them trapped near the sideline.
We compressed our defence and they made very little ground that set. Everyone did their job.
From the stands you could easily single out Moses but I think that would be unfair. He played very well but he did that because our forwards laid the foundation, our outside men retrieved the ball from kicks really well and got our sets started strongly, we held the ball, did not force risky offloads and we rewarded Moses kicks by chasing in a straight line.
I left this game feeling the same as I did after our victory against the Storm.
This is how we play, this is what will win us big games, this is our point of difference.
To win big games, effort is not enough. You have to be slick, you have to be sure and you have to be able to hold your nerve. In any field of work holding your nerve under pressure comes through practice and repetition.
It has been interesting watching the Storm this year as they lost to both the Panthers and the Eels. They lost their nerve and when the pressure was mounted their playmakers made bad choices.
Of course this demonstrates just how crucial Cameron Smith was for them, as although I could not stand watching him play I always recognised his ability to make the right pass and kick in those big pressure moments.
To me this premiership is so wide open as the top 5 teams, excluding the Roosters who I don’t believe can win the title without Keary, all play very different football but all have weaknesses.
The Rabbits have lethal backs, the Panthers play so quick and have high possession rates, the Storm have such big forwards who offload to quick outside backs, the Raiders have a forward pack that can roll down field and we have a pack that can dominate and quick playmakers who can play off the back of that.
From the Stands this competition is there to be taken but the team that will eventually win it will use the regular season to perfect their strengths and will almost go into auto pilot in the big games.
The next two games will be very interesting for our Eels against weaker opposition. How will they play? Will they stay in the middle? In truth they may be able to win and do just enough playing fancy football but it will only limit their opportunities to perfect their strengths and while they will get the points they will miss opportunities.
Melbourne and the Roosters have been the benchmarks over the past decade because they have played the same way against the top and bottom teams. It will be interesting to see if our Eels can be as disciplined in the next two weeks as they were against the Raiders.
My last comment from the stands this week is simple but I think the most important one.
I applaud the Eels for looking after the welfare of Ryan Matterson as our first and only concern. Matterson makes our 17 much better but short and long term health is always more important when compared to a game of footy.
Over the weekend and in previous weeks it has been concerning to watch how some clubs use the HIA by either removing players for a free interchange or keeping them on when they should be taken off to be checked properly.
I believe my club is doing the right thing as they have with Matterson but I will also call them out if they ever do the wrong thing.
Deliberately manipulating rules, such as milking a penalty in a game can be called a tactic and that will always happen by every club in probably every game.
However, if clubs or their staff are deliberately manipulating rules that are put in place to protect the safety of a player, it is a sackable and criminal offence in an ordinary workplace.
Therefore any club official or club who deliberately manipulates HIA should not be allowed in our game and any player who partakes is this should not be welcomed either. Sometimes people need to be protected from themselves and I for one cannot understand how any player would want to make a mockery of a rule that is entirely designed to protect their long term health from what is both known and unknown impacts.
Of course the cynic in me expects the NRL to come out with strong words and put clubs on notice. Over the next couple of weeks they will probably punish a lowly performing club to make a public point and let the big and high flying clubs go unpunished from this round even after we all clearly saw with our own eyes the manipulation of this most important safety rule.
Unfortunately, history is the best indicator of future behaviour and there are clubs in our competition who continually push the line and bend/ manipulate rules with little to no remorse.
I sincerely hope that, should such behaviour continue, actual impactful punishment is dished out to them by the NRL.