It was Gandalf The White calibre magic from the Parramatta Eels to start Round 10. They practically rode into Suncorp Stadium on great eagles as they raced out to an essentially game-clinching 24-0 lead in the first quarter of play. It was genuinely sparkling stuff from the Eels. I don’t know if the Harry Potter universe has a magical equivalent of ‘champers’ but regardless it could only be called champagne footy from the Western Sydney powerhouse.
Mitchell Moses barely missed a beat without Dylan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard notched his first career double and above all Jakob Arthur made a dream debut with the rookie sealing the game with a late solo try. The 16-point triumph marks the Eels’ first ever win in Magic Round and helps purge the demons of 2019 where the Melbourne Storm handed them a brutal defeat.
Parramatta jabbed the
knife wand in deep repeatedly early on but couldn’t go on to to strike the Warriors down with an Avada Kedavra until the 75th minute. The resilience of the New Zealand franchise tested Parramatta and they were caught slipping defensively on numerous occasions.
Certainly the Warriors deserve credit for fighting back but I dare say that Parramatta will be rueing their inability to put this game away earlier. Ashley Klein absolutely hammered the Eels in the ruck and the same level of ill-discipline against a Top 5 opponent will see a much heavier toll extracted.
It is more of a NRL wide X-Factor this week but congratulations to both the Eels and Warriors for being the only game to not feature a single sin-bin or send off. In a weekend where the NRL has launched an unprecedented (and extraordinary controversial) crackdown on high contact and professional fouls these two clubs deserve a very appreciative golf clap for such a clean contest despite the breakneck pace.
Mitchell Moses probably deserves it but I have been handed the keys to grades this week and I will be damned if a double from a big man is going to be overlooked on my watch. Reagan Campbell-Gillard might just be the biggest magician you have ever seen but he sports a moustache worthy any Vegas magical act. The hyphened Houdini used the ancient forbidden magical art of the hit and spin to crash over for his first before showing a more conventional grounding in rugby league magical theorem and invoking the favoured spell of coaches – backing up – to nab his second.
1 – Fullback
It looked like he picked up a very early ankle niggle (off his first kick return I believe) but Clinton Gutherson persevered through it as he is so often wont to do. He set up yet another try for Maika Sivo with a vintage cut-out pass but did less play-making than perhaps we all expected coming into this game as Brad Arthur entrusted his son and five-eighth with plenty of responsibilities.
The reigning monarch of Parramatta did allow Reece Walsh to cross late in the piece which bumps him down to a mere B- but even if he wasn’t the main protagonist of Magic Round, he continues to preside over a magical run for the Eels.
2 – Left Wing
My commiserations to poor Rocco Berry. The New Zealand centre did everything he could to stop Maika Sivo in the first half but the powerhouse flanker trampled him in to next round enroute to scoring. Surprisingly, neither Sivo nor Blake Ferguson cracked the ton in metreage today but Maika did lead the team in tackle breaks with 4.
He also continues to prove himself adept under the high ball with a very pretty take of a Warriors’ short drop out late in the game. Even more impressive was the forced line drop he netted himself with an incredible escape act performed with almost zero space to move in. His chip ahead in those circumstances was a real wow moment in a pulsating clash.
3 – Left Centre
Make it the third B- on the trot with Tom Opacic lodging another ultra solid showing at left centre. The backline bastion for the Blue & Gold notched up 19 tackles (0 missed, 2 ineffective) and chimed in offensively with a very useful 94m from 11 carries.
Tom’s position in this team might be more akin to a Samwise Gamgee or Neville Longbottom – the side-character or support-role to a galaxy of stars but that it is no knock. Think about how important those two proved to be down the track in their respective stories and know that when his moment does come he will stand down.
4 – Right Centre
No active Eel is going to face more scrutiny in the next week or two than Waqa Blake – not even Jakob Arthur. With Marata Niukore playing like superstar out wide (and most importantly, shoring up that side defensively) during Waqa’s long injury enforced absence, fans have set the bar extremely high for the position for the remainder of 2021.
I gave him a passing grade in his return to first grade on the caveat that he is still easing himself back from a tricky injury. Tearing a calf muscle is no joke as we all saw last year with Mitchell Moses and while Waqa’s production was the most modest amongst the backline today (6 runs for 61m) he did look to get involved. Defensively the right-edge had its struggles but there were also some commendable scrambles.
Ultimately, without Dylan Brown present it is hard to tell exactly how weak or strong that edge is in defence. With that said if the Eels bleed points down that side against the Sea Eagles then the calls to bring Marata back at centre will not only be vocal but they will be compelling.
5 – Right Wing
Blake Ferguson, noted professional try finisher, has left some serious meat on the bones both last week and today. While he probably gets awarded the try if Ashley Klein initially rules it as a try, it really shouldn’t have ever come to such a distinction given how much time and space he was given to work in. We hold all of our Eels to extremely high standards and Ferguson’s prowess at finishing means we fans can’t help but be disappointed when he bombs four-pointers in consecutive games.
Still, it was an otherwise clean game from the Bald Eelgle (Eel-gle? Eelgull?) and for that he earns a C.
6 – Five Eighth
To paraphrase Moneyball, how can you not be romantic about rugby league? In a week where the code has decided to spite itself in a showcase event with an ugly and ultra-reactionary crackdown, the Eels gave the greatest game on Earth supercharged shot on insulin. Jakob Arthur’s debut was the stuff of dreams with the rookie playing an extremely composed hand against a legitimate Top 8 contender. Parramatta didn’t try and hide the young playmaker either as he featured prominently throughout the game as he ran, kicked and passed with great regularity.
Indeed he started the contest the same way he finished it with a decisive carry to the line. He nearly split the Warriors open in the first instance and he would go on to seal the game on the second occasion. His team mates were obviously pumped up for him as they took turns celebrating with the lanky talent but it was the reaction that the play elicited from Brad Arthur that would have warmed the coldest heart.
That is what rugby league is all about and all that is left to say is welcome to the big league kid!
7 – Halfback
8 – Front Row
So rarely do you see a split in rugby league work out so beautifully for both parties but gee the Penrith Panthers and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have both taken themselves to new levels by virtue of not sharing each other’s company. ‘Reg’ bagged his first career double today and you can be certain I was banging the table and stomping my feet for the hat-trick. Alas, we were all left wanting as the right-edge monopolised the rest of the tries on the day.
Reg himself made do with a mountain of work as he knocked out a casual 165m from 18 carries with 3 tackle breaks thrown in for good measure. He did miss 4 tackles during that run in which the Eels were unusually leaky through the midfield but whenever I try to get upset with him I end up losing myself in that moustache.
9 – Hooker
Reed Mahoney wasn’t so much a magician through the first 20 minutes of play as he was a freaking puppetmaster. He had the Warriors dancing to his every overture and orchestrated a masterful opening offensive extravaganza that beautifully mixed up crafty short passes, magic missiles to Moses and a colourful spray of dummy half darts. The only complaint you can level at it is that it left us wanting more later in the game.
The fact that he is making it a genuine contest for the QLD #9 with Harry Grant speaks volumes towards the sustained level of play that Mahoney has produced.
10 – Front Row
The offload has been well and truly put away for the Samoan sorcerer it would seem. The one attempt he made today resulted in an error and it will be fun to see what the Eels can get up when he finally frees his arms again. Thankfully he is as productive a runner as ever as he joined his stablemate Reg in another dual 150m+ performance for the starting frontrowers. Junior himself lodged 157m from 14 carries and a pair of tackle breaks and together he and RCG are truly among the elite bookend pairings in the game.
11 – Second Row
We were robbed of the inaugural and somewhat biblical Evans-Papali’i Cup when Kane Evans was a game day withdrawal but Isaiah Papali’i held up his end of the deal with yet another rock solid effort. The Archmage of Ice chilled out to the tune of 139m from 15 runs and continues to be equally effective on the edge or in the middle. What a stud.
12 – Second Row
It should have been a B+ or even an A- for Ryan Matterson but I am docking points for missed tries today. He missed joined Reagan Campbell-Gillard with a brace of his own tries but the tip of a wand and it should be said that he also owes Jakob Arthur a beer for his selfless decision to pass and put the athletic backrower over prior to that. Beyond any and all of that though, ‘Matto’ continues to be a rock on the right-edge for the Eels. He looks to have shaken off the worst of the damage from the Felise Kaufusi dog shot in Round 2 and for that I am grateful.
13 – Lock
Nathan Brown celebrated his new deal with the Eels in perfect fashion as he cashed in for first try-scorer in Round 10. Brown brings so much energy to Parramatta and his ability to tear in as hard in the dying moments of the game as he does at the start is not just huge for the team but inspirational. His 159m (18 carries) rounds out another quality start from the Parra middles and in a weekend where so many have been penalised, binned or sent-off I would like to salute the ‘Cyborg’ for an extremely disciplined game.
14 – Interchange
He brought the thunder with a booming carry that sent Wade Egan flying and then the chunder when he coughed up the ball later in the game. It was a down game relative to his recent outstanding run of form but he still got the job done.
15 – Interchange
Shaun Lane had another productive showing in the middle for Parramatta and should be considered a utility middle forward for all intents moving forwards. He was trending towards a B grade in Round 10 on the back of his useful 107m from 11 carries but he was dropped a full grade for his sloppy work in the Ben Murdoch-Masila try.
16 – Interchange
Glad to have him back from injury and in first grade.
17 – Interchange
For the first time in a few weeks Bryce Cartwright didn’t steal the show from the interchange bench. It almost felt strange not seeing the impact backrower blowing the game open but to his credit he was still a factor in the game with a number of quality runs and team high rate of 4 offloads – none of which were forced or reckless. That is all we need from him in a game like this and his improved pass/offloading selection is a real boon for the Eels.
In the end I am mostly happy that the Parramatta Eels escaped Magic Round unscathed. The injury toll across the entire NRL was pleasantly low given that there were eight games played on the same turf and given that the Eels were the 6th match to take place I had some serious concerns for those outlooks.
Parramatta’s win, the 9th of their season, means they tread water in outright 2nd on the ladder. They are still chasing the undefeated Penrith Panthers but their focus has rightfully been on taking care of their own business and they have done that extremely well. In a wider sense the narrative coming out of this weekend will correctly be on the overzealous crackdown going on league-wide. Players have already taken to social media to voice their concerns about the unfair and contradictory demands being placed on them between the heightened speed of the game and the unforgiving standards placed on them in the name of player safety.
That is a story to be played out on a national stage and for other parties. For the Eels and TCT though it is on to a homestand against our paternal twin in the Manly Sea Eagles. Tom Trbojevic is coming to town and the rejuvenated Sea Eagles are flying high under his guidance. The Eels have traditionally played Manly well under the stewardship of Brad Arthur and it shapes up as a rip-snorter of a matchup on Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, you can catch myself and Sixties live before the game at Pablos in a live edition of The Tip Sheet! Stay tuned for details if that tickles your fancy, otherwise thanks for stopping by for my relief work for Mitch as he enjoys his trip to Brisbane for Magic Round!