Date: Friday, April 23, 2021
Venue: TIO Stadium, Darwin
Kick Off: 7:55PM AEST
Referee: Grant Atkins
Head-to-head: Played 60, Parramatta 26, Brisbane 33, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $1.19 Broncos $4.50
Broadcast: Channel Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 24 d Brisbane 16, Suncorp Stadium, R1 2021
Parramatta 26 d Brisbane 12, Bankwest Stadium, R19, 2020
Parramatta 34 d Brisbane 6, Suncorp Stadium, R3, 2020
Parramatta 58 d Brisbane 0, Bankwest Stadium, QF, 2019
How good does it feel to be wrong?
After giving the Eels as much chance against Canberra as Paul Carige has of getting a bronze statue outside Bankwest Stadium, the Blue & Gold marched into the nation’s capital, pulled down the Raiders pants and gave them a 25 point spanking. It was the controlled, dominant performance fans have been looking for from the Eels, at least in the second half, and was a solid draft of the blueprint Parramatta will use to contend with the top sides this year.
Now the Eels pack bags and zip off to the Northern Territory for the annual “Territory Eels” clash in steamy Darwin. This time around they are hosting the Broncos, a team that hasn’t troubled Parramatta in their last four encounters, in a round one rematch. Brisbane did put in their best effort of the season last week in a valiant loss to Penrith, but the class of the table toppers won out in the end, a result you would hope is repeated in the N.T.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
The Speculation delivered again last week when we dived into the the “pick your own total“ market, and selected over 39.5 total match points. This returned odds of $2.15 when 45 points were scored in the match.
This week I’m diving into the miscellaneous section of the odds table called “What are the odds!”
Take Parra to score a try in the first 9:59 minutes for a return of $2.20.
Let’s keep the returns rolling!
Happy, responsible punting.
How we look
Parramatta got back to the footy you would expect from them against the Raiders, winning the middle, embracing the grind and eventually wearing down their opposition. It was the same blueprint that beat the Sharks, except this time instead of outlasting a team with no fresh reserves the Eels ground down one of the better regarded packs in the competition. Looking at the names in the Eels side it is as you’d expect Parramatta to play: hard and fast in the middle, with plenty of metres pre and post contact earning second phase play.
That second phase play has been a lot more selective in 2021, with several teams ahead of the Eels in offload counts, where at this point last season Parramatta had thrown double the offloads of the next best team. To me it shows a renewed focus on winning the middle battle and dominating the ruck, concentrating on putting the head down and running hard, knowing the offloads will come. It also indicates a change of our attacking structure, with Junior and Nathan Brown both throwing more passes at the line to compress the middle defence and work the edges. The eye test shows Junior and co. are just as effective as they always are with offloading, they’re just looking to do so less.
To grind an opponent out you need more than just a dominant pack, and the Eels have done well with both precise game management and strong defence. Parramatta don’t miss many tackles and sit among the league leaders in points allowed while having played a tougher schedule than most of the fellow “big six”. The edge defence has been tested and found lacking occasionally, but it isn’t the trainwreck it was in 2020. We’ll see how that lasts when Waqa Blake returns.
Game management all falls on the shoulders of Mitch Moses, and in the Eels two biggest games of the year he stood tall. The reversion to panic football against the Dragons was an unfortunate reminder that he is not a finished product, but on the biggest stages Mitch has given his team the best chance to win that he can. His kicking game is unmatched, what were once maligned midfield bombs are now precise, towering kicks that pin an opponent inside the ten and give the Eels kick chase every chance to get down and set a line. Watching other teams emulate Moses and failing brings me a certain joy, as teams put up high kicks on the 50 that land in the arms of a winger on the 20 who has ten metres of space ahead of him. It is harder than it looks, and this skill combined with Mitch’s long kicking game that he showcased against Melbourne will give Parramatta every chance against any team provided our ball security is good.
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. Isaiah Papali’i 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Oregon Kaufusi 15. Will Smith 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Bryce Cartwright. 18. Haze Dunster 19. Jordan Rankin 20. Keegan Hipgrave 21. Ryan Matterson.
Dylan Brown returns as the only change to the starting side, sending Will Smith (not Will Penisini) to the bench. Ryan Matterson hasn’t made the trip and will make his return from concussion through NSW Cup. Keegan Hipgrave returns to the reserves.
Wiremu Greig came from nowhere to make his NRL debut last week, a recent signing from the Cowboys (who have never met a promising talent they’re afraid to let walk) whose two big games in NSW Cup were enough for Brad Arthur to find a spot for him on the first grade bench. He’s another unique body shape that fits the mold of an impact bench player: a guy who could cause absolute havoc in short, 15 minute bursts. It’s a better use of bench time than giving Keegan Hipgrave or Ray Stone a quick stint, players who are harder workers but lower impact runners. I would say both are ahead of Greig to replace a starter should there be an injury, but Greig as a bench weapon is promising.
1. Jamayne Isaako 2. Xavier Coates 3. Herbie Farnworth 4. David Mead 5. Corey Oates 6. Brodie Croft 7. Tom Dearden 8. Matthew Lodge 9. Jake Turpin 10. Payne Haas 11. Alex Glenn 12. Tevita Pangai Jr 13. Patrick Carrigan. 14. Danny Levi 15. Thomas Flegler 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Jordan Riki. 18. Rhys Kennedy 19. Tyson Gamble 20. John Asiata 21. Jesse Arthars.
The annual “Corey Oates to the back row” experiment has concluded and the class finisher finds himself on the Broncos flank once more. He’s a good target for some numbers and low kicks, but he is just as dangerous with the ball as he is liable without it. Noted “Eel killer” Danny Levi, who has played four of his five good career games against Parramatta, has been rushed onto the bench after strong form in Queensland Cup saw him earn a Broncos deal. He’ll have a point to prove and be full of confidence, so the ruck defenders need to be aware when he is on the park.
The Broncos pack has played itself into form, finally looking as good on the field as it does on paper. Haas is always good for a high workrate, while Matt Lodge looked good for the first time since 2019 last weekend and Tevita Pangai has been a killer in patches. At their best they present a fierce test, if the Eels of the Dragons game show up this one could get ugly.
While I woke up in Eels heartland this morning with frozen fingers and a frosty car window, up in the Territory it will be a hot and bothered 35 degrees today and 29 degrees at kickoff, a fairly good indicator of why this game is usually played in June or August. I trust the Eels’ conditioning to hold up, especially considering the size of the Broncos pack and Kevin Walters’ inability to manage a bench, but it is one of those games where you will be punished for conceding cheap possession and being forced into energy sapping defence.
Darwin is a happy hunting ground for the Eels, with five wins from six starts since 2014 in our home away from home game. None of those wins have come in the wake of a videotaped toilet tryst and all of the media frothing that comes with the first titillating scandal of the season, but if ever there was an environment to close ranks around the team to avoid distractions, it is Darwin. Brisbane has never played at TIO, but their last win outside of Queensland was all the way back in round 16 2019, a losing streak of 11 matches.
Grant Atkins is the referee. Brisbane are 1-4 under him since 2020, while Eels fans will remember him from the Dragons game where he sent a man to the bin, blew a dozen set restarts and was still criticised for letting the Dragons abuse the rules and slow down the ruck. In the unlikely event that the Broncos attempt to replicate the Dragons gameplan and Atkins lets them get away with it, Parramatta need a plan B that isn’t just “throw panic passes over the sideline”. The gap in class between these two sides is so wide that even if Atkins took a crowbar to Mitchell Moses’ knee at halftime, Parramatta still shouldn’t be able to blame him if they lose this game.
While the Broncos played a lot better last week, there are plenty of soft spots for the Eels to attack. In the middle of the park Pat Carrigan loves a weak arm grab under fatigue while back rowers Alex Glenn and Jordan Riki are among the NRL leaders in missed tackles. There will be chances on the edges for Moses, Brown and Gutherson once fatigue kicks in, even more so under the sweltering conditions of Darwin.
There is a reason Corey Oates is always trying to become a back rower; he’s big and strong but his lateral movement isn’t great and you can get both around and behind him close to the line. He’s almost guaranteed to score in this game when Blake Ferguson gives him space to the corner, but Fergo is equally likely to take one or more back in the same fashion.
Another player to watch is Herbie Farnworth, who caused some troubles in the round one clash and is coming back from injury. He is dangerous in space and will like his chances if he lines up opposite Niukore in mid field.
The Broncos halves will rarely get a wrap, but they looked decent last week when their forwards could lay a decent platform. That has been a rare occasion in the last two years, but don’t discount Croft and Dearden in good ball after a fast ruck. Croft in particular can be a threat if he runs, he may try and target Shaun Lane whose tackling technique drops off under fatigue, or Nathan Brown who was caught out offside last week for a try, something that also happened back in the trials. Note to Eels players: if the ref calls you offside and the dummy half is running, just tackle him and give away the penalty.
The scare that the Broncos gave Parramatta in round one should be all the motivation the Eels need to treat their opponents with respect. In what should be oppressive conditions, if they give away cheap possession like they did in the first half of round one, they will be lucky to only be 16-0 down at half time. I expect a conservative gameplan from Brad Arthur, focused on winning the middle and giving the Broncos a chance to beat themselves.
Outside the arm wrestle, Parramatta should have too much class in this one. I expect Clint Gutherson to have a field day running in support at tired Broncos forwards and would be very surprised if he finishes this one without a line break through the middle. Mitchell Moses runs rings around the Brisbane halves in kicking, game control and organisation, and the Broncos edges do not have an answer for Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore. Shaun Lane is due a big game too, he’s been finding a lot of half gaps and offload chances in recent weeks, eventually those will start sticking.
The path to success for Parramatta looks a lot like the gameplan used against Canberra, and it would be nice to see the Eels execute it against a less regarded opponent and really put them away. The conditions and the matchup look ripe for a late Eels flurry of points, but to get to that point Parramatta must respect possession and their opposition. Do that, and the result will come. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 30 Brisbane Broncos 10
Man of the Match: Clint Gutherson