Date: Saturday, May 1, 2021
Venue: Stadium Australia, Homebush
Kick Off: 5:30PM AEST
Referee: Peter Gough
Head-to-head: Played 148, Parramatta 66, Canterbury 77, Drawn 5
Odds: Eels $1.09 Bulldogs $7.00
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 18 d Canterbury 16, Stadium Australia, R12, 2020
Parramatta 8 d Canterbury 2, Bankwest Stadium, R1, 2020
Canterbury 12 d Parramatta 6, Bankwest Stadium, R23, 2019
Parramatta 36 d Canterbury 16, Stadium Australia, R2, 2019
Well that was something, wasn’t it? In sweltering conditions (seriously, whoever scheduled that Darwin game for April needs to give themselves an uppercut) the Eels suffocated and dominated a Brisbane Broncos team that couldn’t get out of its own way from about the 20th minute mark. You can only beat what is in front of you, but it was heartening to see Parramatta put substandard opposition to the sword instead of playing down to their level.
When you think of the Eels playing down to their opponent, you probably think of one of the many affronts to quality football played out between Parramatta and Canterbury in the last few years. While the Eels dominate the recent rivalry to the count of eight wins from the last ten, rare has it been that a Parramatta fan feels anything more than relief after getting two points from a struggling Bulldogs outfit.
While it is unlikely that this weekend will write another chapter in the storied rivalry between the two teams to match the decade of grand finals in the 80s, the Tangara trashing fan clashes of the 90s or that classic grand final qualifier in 2009, there is always plenty of feeling when the Blue & Gold meet the blue and white. The Bulldogs will be quietly confident of the upset based on recent history, but all the hard work the Eels have done this year would be washed away if they lost to a team that, until last week, had the TAB offering a “will they win a game” market. No pressure, guys.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
The winning run continued last week for Sixties Speculates when we selected Parra to score a try in the first 9:59 minutes for a return of $2.20.
That Broncos fumble from the kick off was even better than we could have hoped for and the Eels crossed on that first set in possession.
There is very little value around this week with the Eels being such massive favourites, and in looking for value there is risk.
But, I reckon we will be focussed from kick off against our old foe.
So, I’m going to the first half line/over under double market. I’ll even go a bit against history with our recent clashes with the Dogs. Take Parra to cover the 9.5 start to the Dogs with over 20.5 total first half points, and the return is $3.30.
Let’s keep that winning feeling.
Happy, responsible punting.
How we look
You may not have realised, but the Eels are within a converted try of being the highest scoring team in the premiership this season. A lot of that comes down to Reed Mahoney, who is mastering the art of hitting the Eels big men close to the line for crash ball tries, which is also opening up space out wide for an attack that was rightly accused of being too lateral and last season. Turns out it is a lot easier to move forward with the ball when defenders have to crowd the ruck to try and stop Junior Paulo or Isaiah Papali’i. It adds a level of unpredictability to the side that has created more room on the edges, forcing defenders to respect the Parramatta middle close to the line.
The scary part of this team is how much improvement is still there. Dylan Brown has a single try assist and no line break assists this season; he hasn’t been poor by any stretch but he needs to start showing more playmaking ability to go along with his running game that has been contained reasonably well this season. Just about every young half will go through a “run it less” phase of their development, and Dylan’s development is definitely going to be a slow burn rather than a bright splash like Sam Walker has made. Dyl has skills you can’t teach, and once he matches those with footy nous and good decision making, he is going to be one heck of a player.
Parramatta has also been relatively happy to stick with what works in a gameplan. Aside from a ten minute period last week with the game well in hand where the plan shifted to “get Fergo a try”, the Eels were ruthless in their assault on the Broncos right edge defence. In other weeks, Maika Sivo has really had to go looking for the ball as the attack went exclusively the other way. It is a patience the Eels have rarely had in recent years, and a credit to the maturity of Mitchell Moses this year in directing this team around the park.
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. Ryan Matterson 16. Haze Dunster 17. Bryce Cartwright. 18. Joey Lussick 19. Keegan Hipgrave 20. Wiremu Greig 21. Jordan Rankin
Will Smith joins the casualty ward with a broken thumb that will keep him out for a month. Brad Arthur has chosen an interesting approach to replacing the Eels jack-of-all-trades, naming Haze Dunster for his 2021 debut on a bench that otherwise looks a bit light on middle firepower. It is long odds that Dunster gets more than ten minutes game time unless there is injury or a hiding on the cards. If this lineup holds it will show how little faith BA has in the new 18th man rules, preferring to name his utility in the 17 than rely on circumstances aligning to allow him to replace a back.
The bench makeup all but assures a different approach for this game, with Ryan Matterson and Bryce Cartwright likely to see more minutes than an Eels bench forward would usually command. Expect Papali’i and Lane to shift into the middle at some point as BA uses this game as an elimination chamber for the two starting back row positions in a full strength Eels team. Shaun Lane needs a big effort, he’s been better in recent weeks but his handling remains a concern. As the Eye Test pointed out this week, Lane drops the ball every 8.9 times he touches it, the second worst rate in the NRL behind Kyle Feldt. It isn’t a good look for a guy who isn’t a link man to the backs, he just drops it cold on his run or in the tackle.
1. Nick Meaney 2. Nick Cotric 3. Will Hopoate 4. Corey Allan 5. Tui Katoa 6. Jake Averillo 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Dylan Napa 9. Sione Katoa 10. Luke Thompson 11. Adam Elliott 12. Chris Smith 13. Corey Waddell. 14. Bradley Deitz 15. Renouf Atoni 16. Ava Seumanufagai 17. Matt Doorey. 18. Brandon Wakeham 19. Joe Stimson 20. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 21. Ofahiki Ogden.
The Canterbury-Bankstown side screams “late changes” pending the health of Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (knee infection) and Chris Smith (concussion), but it is no surprise that Trent Barrett has stuck with the team that earned the Bulldogs their first win of the season last week.
I really haven’t got much to say about this group. The only thing keeping me watching Bulldogs games this year is the joy it brings me to see a bitter rival in such a hopeless state. They’re the worst attacking side in the NRL and probably one of the worst in modern history, and only the fragile Tigers are stopping them from being the worst defensive team in the NRL too.
One man worth singling out is Luke Thompson, who has been good since his return from suspension. He’s a hothead and could easily be riled, but he adds a bit of fire to the Canterbury middle. If he goes on a one-man mission against the Eels pack, he could lift them into an arm wrestle that we are all too used to seeing against a Bulldogs team.
Barring the team bus crashing on the way to the ground, there are no external factors that should influence the result in this one. It’ll be cool and slippery as Sydney rapidly shifts into winter mode, and the Stadium Australia surface is fairly similar to Bankwest on a cool evening. Having called both grounds home in recent years, the Eels should be well prepared.
Peter Gough is the referee, seemingly the next man up to replace Henry Perenara, the maligned referee retiring from on-field duties this week due to a health condition. As my mother always told me “if you can’t say anything nice, really sink the slipper in”, so it is unfortunate that Perenara will remain on as a bunker official despite his also suffering from a “doesn’t really understand the rules” condition.
The Eels are 2-3 under Gough since 2019, perhaps the only referee we have a losing record under in that time. He refereed two of the last three clashes with the Bulldogs for a win and a loss. Other than his stunning handlebar moustache I really don’t have anything to say about him but like last week, even if he cracks a steel chair over the back of Clint Gutherson’s head at the coin toss he shouldn’t have an influence on the result in this one.
There is no other way to put it, the Bulldogs have been a bit shit this year. They can barely score, put up only token resistance in defence and put up a strong argument for having the worst spine in the NRL. Trent Barrett has seemingly installed no structures or plans to get the most out of this already limited bunch, resulting in a popgun attack where a set inside the opposition 20 will be a success if nobody drops the lame inside balls thrown by Kyle Flanagan doing his best Corey Norman impression.
We are playing the Bulldogs off the back of their first win of the year, earned with some resilient goal line defence and assisted by a Cronulla attack that couldn’t get out of its own way. They have managed 18 points in each of the last three games, but don’t look too closely at those numbers else you’ll see they came against a Melbourne team with the cue in the rack, already ahead by 30 points, and in a rush against the defensively inept Cowboys.
The Bulldogs can’t maintain an even share of possession, sitting second last in the NRL at 46% over seven rounds. This is baffling considering they lead the NRL for fewest errors and are second behind the Warriors in completion percentage. Most of this is explained by their leading the NRL in penalties, a much more damning stat now they are so rare, but also because teams that concede a lot of tries are then kicking off a lot. Do you lose because you don’t get possession or do you not get possession because you are losing? The Bulldogs make a strong argument for the latter.
The numbers also confirm how bad their attack is. Last in offloads, last in tackle breaks, last in line breaks (the Eels are first, second and third in those categories). They’re also last in running metres, and the only bright spots are their reasonable post contact metres performance and mid pack tackling efficiency.
Are there any threats here? There’s some talent in the backline if they can get some space, Jake Averillo has some moments but hasn’t been good this year and Nick Cotric can have some good touches. Adam Elliott is a quality player and Corey Waddell has been a solid ballplayer at lock. They’ll take it to you if given the chance, but across the park the Eels should have them well covered.
It was very encouraging to see Parramatta get into an arm wrestle with Brisbane last week, hold them out then power over the top off the back of Brisbane mistakes. They didn’t panic at the tougher than expected early contest, held their ground and waited for the gap in class to manifest. It will be a good blueprint to follow against the Bulldogs, who have succeeded in dragging the Eels into grinding battles in recent years. If Parramatta can grit their teeth and be patient, they’ll have too much for Canterbury here.
It was also good to see a healthy respect for a struggling opponent they were expected to beat handily. A similar buildup against the Dragons led to an ambush, and too often last year a gulf in class was followed by an unconvincing win, including the two clashes with Canterbury. It was a mark of confidence, and hopefully the mark of a team ready to take the next step into the NRL elite.
That leap won’t be happening this week regardless of the result, but a loss would result in a long, painful slide back down Premiership mountain. It’s a danger game, a trap game, and Parramatta need to navigate to a result that is more than just a relief.
To do that, they just need to play their basic game. Middle dominance, ballplaying from Junior and Nathan Brown, good choices from Reed Mahoney and slick hands to the edges. The chances will be there, the Eels just need to be patient and wait for them. More of the same should be enough from Parramatta, but recent history tells us this is far from guaranteed. A convincing win would go a long way to making Eels fans feel a lot less nervous before the next battle against cellar dwellers. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 36 Canterbury Bulldogs 10
Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses