Round 7 Drink Of Choice – Canadian Club Dry
It feels odd calling a 32-10 victory serviceable rather than spectacular but that is exactly what the Parramatta Eels engineered on Saturday night against the Canterbury Bulldogs. Canterbury entered the game on the back of their maiden victory in 2021 after knocking over the Cronulla Sharks. They had plenty of reasons to be up for the contest but while Parramatta couldn’t quite cast off all of the shackles that have held them back in recent derbies against their western Sydney rival but they were able to keep the Dogs at arm’s length for the first time in a long time. The win, Parramatta’s seventh of this young season, consolidated their position near the top of the ladder and sets up a huge date with the battle-hardened Sydney Roosters – but more that later – for now let’s get through the rundown on this one!
Check out the instant reaction podcast to the Round 8 win!
On The Oregon Of Starters
Forgive me for the luxury of carrying last week’s theme into this blog but we were treated to a shock before a ball was kicked off on Saturday night. Brad Arthur shook up the natural order of things in the frontrow when he dropped Junior Paulo to the bench and handed Oregon Kaufusi his first NRL start. Kaufusi, who has anchored the bench in outstanding fashion throughout 2021, handled the promotion with aplomb. The young buck cranked out 125m from 14 carries and matched that in defence with 19 tackles (0 missed, 1 ineffective) but equally passed the eye-test in a great all-round performance.
Junior didn’t quite have the same impact from the bench and fell short of the incredibly lofty standards we all hold him to. 14 runs for 123m is a reasonable line for any prop but he wasn’t his usual polished self in defence given that he made 18 tackles but missed an additional 4 on top of pushing a rather unfortunate pass that led to a turnover.
That is rather inconsequential to the point I slowly getting to because we know the Junior will bounce back in rapid fashion. Rather we got our first glimpse at how the Eels will adapt when Paulo is inevitably called upon for state duties. Obviously it will be the likes of Shaun Lane and some combination of Marata Niukore, Isaiah Papali’i and/or Wiremu Greig that will provide the relief work from the bench in that case but Oregon gave his coach exactly what he was looking for this week.
The King’s Peach (Of A Game)
Clinton Gutherson is a damn treasure. On top of being a funny character of the game (I thoroughly recommend checking out his post-game interview with Mitchell Moses for those that have Fox or Kayo) he is also passably good at the whole rugby league thing. Okay, maybe I am understating it just a wee bit. Gutherson is damn good at rugby league.
The former crown prince of custodians put on a performance that would have made Geoffrey Rush proud. 261m from just 22 runs to go with a whopping 11 tackle busts, 3 linebreaks, 1 linebreak assist a pair of tries – all of which came with an early mark as the fullback checked out of the game with 8-minutes to spare.
Despite his constant and seemingly escalating heroics for the Eels, Gutherson faces an uphill battle to retain his place in the NSW Blues due to a glut of backline riches. His loss would clearly be the Eels’ gain but either way I am glad that he is solidifying his reputation among the game’s premier fullbacks. He also probably owes Shaun Lane a beer or three after putting him on big hit highlight reels for years to come with something vaguely resembling a hospital pass.
Parra Throw The Dogs A Few Scraps
It was a marked improvement on recent clashes between the two franchises for the Eels but it was still a ways off from a complete victory. After kicking down the doors and taking a 16-0 lead in the first quarter, the Eels let some sloppiness creep into their game. Dylan Brown in particular had a few moments he would probably like back with the young half chalking up 3 errors – the worst of which came on a fast-break down the right sideline. The moment that would have left him the most frustrated though came in defence when Jake Averillo sold him on a cheap dummy enroute to scoring Canterbury’s first try.
I liked Dylan’s decisiveness in taking on the line last week but last night he looked reticent to pull the trigger on the pass several times. Thankfully Moses, Gutherson and Reed Mahoney all had cracking outings to pick up the slack but Parramatta desperately need their #6 to settle back into a groove as soon as possible. I know he wasn’t on his Pat Malone out there in terms of the errors. Senior figures like Nathan Brown and ‘Junez’ also coughed the ball up at inopportune times but Dylan’s responsibilities mean that the spotlight shines that much brighter on his triumphs and failures. I know that he is cognizant of not putting his outside men in position worse than his own but by the same token he also needs to trust that they can bail him out when needed.
In terms of the overall performance the Dogs, the 32-10 victory is a good result. While we can justifiably be critical of moments of sloppy play and squandered opportunities – the fact that this squad barely got out of second gear in order to achieve this result is a testament to the talent and depth of the line-up currently.
What a beast. That is all.
What’s The Matto You?
Nothing as it turns out and how good is that? Ryan Matterson made his return to the NRL on Saturday and while it wasn’t flashy it was everything we wanted to see. ‘Matto’ worked through a full 80-minutes on the left-edge, breaking through the 100m mark and knocking over a Bulldog on 38 occasions in defence. Crucially he avoided any sort of head knock and is set to lace up the boots again in Round 9.
Putting The Cart Before The Horse
Why didn’t I think of this one last week damn it? Alas, I wasted a chance to execute a superb Brisbane Broncos’ specific pun. Instead I will wheel out a week later on the back of another brilliant game from Bryce Cartwright. His lead-up work for his two try-assists could not have been any more different but both were equally entrancing. He kicked off the scoring in the second half with a speccy catch and pass to Shaun Lane and would later range down the right-edge and put Marata Niukore over with a gorgeous flat-ball at the line.
The best part of it all was that on neither occasion did it feel like the backrower was overplaying his hand. He created the Lane try purely on the back of his hustle on the kick-chase, letting his incredible athleticism do the rest in the leap and pass while the Niukore score was set up on the back of earlier work around the ruck.
Consistency is obviously the key for Bryce but he is doing everything right at the moment.
Keeping It Hip
The collective Eels’ nation had their hearts in their mouths for a very long moment when Nathan Brown was hit by a sniper in the second half. The lock forward collapsed in an attempt to chase down an intercepted pass and was left grabbing his left hip in very clear agony. Commentary speculated wildly on a potential ACL or achilles injury but all signs pointed, somewhat bizarrely, to a non-contact hip injury.
An official report is still pending but thanks to the ever insightful work of the NRL Physio we now believe it to be far less serious than initially thought. Brown actually sustained a severe cork to the same hip a smidgen earlier in the game due to a raised knee and the rest of the injury fully manifested in that later play. In layman’s terms, ‘Browny’ suffered a hell of a cork and his recovery could range from as many as 4 weeks off to being available for Round 9.
The Final Word
Taking care of business has been the theme in 2021. That is exactly what this game was when all is said and done. I certainly love to see it and I hope everyone else does and as always – I implore all fans of the blue & gold to appreciate our golden resurgence. There will always be things to nitpick and we will certainly drop another game or two for which we can complain about but the 2021 Parramatta Eels are just fun to watch.
Up next are the Sydney Roosters, who have been legitimately impressive in the face of a horror injury toll. Even so I expect them to give us everything they have and then even more on Friday night. Young Sam Walker is the talk of the NRL and for good reason with the young halfback hitting the ground running in first-grade in a manner so very rarely seen. Couple that with the return of some chump named James Tedesco and you know the Eels will have a cracking battle on their hands.
Before I do sign off I do want to share one more Roosters’ related thought. I was deeply upset to see Brett Morris potentially play his last ever game on the weekend and I sincerely hope that he is able to make it back to the NRL. Brett and his twin brother Josh embody pretty much everything I love about this game. Immensely talented blokes that never coasted on those inherent blessings and instead raised their games to a consistent height that is so rarely seen.
They effortlessly blended fun and hard work together in a manner that you can’t help but smile about. After all, who could forget their goofy ‘brawl’ when they met as Dragon and Bulldog? Above all though, they have been utter professionals on and off the field and perfect ambassadors for our great game. Brett is a living legend and one the best to have ever laced up the boots but his injury is a frankly brutal reminder of how fleetingly fragile these gladiators can be. The impossibly euphoric highs of rugby league come with some soul crushing lows. It is part of why I consistently advocate to enjoy the game rather than get caught up in complaining because sometimes you can blink and a career is over.
Sorry for ending on an sombre note, I will see you all next week.