Isn’t it terrific to be an Eels supporter!
Just when we think that everything is smooth sailing, and we’re one big happy family, a couple of losses soon has us all pointing fingers at coaches, players, administrators and even fellow supporters.
I guess that comes with the territory of being passionate about your team and your sport.
Just on that, who didn’t see that there’d be problems emanating from the NRL’s knee jerk crackdown on head contact tackles? Those of us raising concerns are now being labelled dinosaurs. I reckon that unlike the powers that be, critics of the NRL see the bigger picture. More on that later.
On the Eels front, outside of the losses, we’ve had debuts, re-signings, Origin selections and junior pathways news.
With so much going on, there’s only one thing left to do.
Hit it up – bumpers up!
The Good Stuff
I’m in the Mitch Moses bunker.
News of him committing to the Eels until the end of 2024 is a huge bonus for the club. Very few halfbacks are in the Thurston or Cronk category, but Moses is one of the best in the NRL and I continue to see growth in him as a person and a player.
Speaking of halves, Jake Arthur had his contract upgraded and extended. Though an upgrade was initially required so that he could be selected for his debut, the contract is a sound investment for the future.
There’s a shortage of quality halves in the NRL and I can assure readers that Jake’s form in NSW Cup had attracted the attention of rival clubs. His appearances in the NRL would have only increased that attention. Undoubtedly, the preference for Jake was to remain at Parra with BA, but if the club had taken that for granted it would not have been respecting either Jake or Brad.
The other recent signing news was Ryan Matterson taking up his player option for 2022. Given Matto’s issues with concussion, this is probably a wise move from both parties. I reckon he won’t put himself at risk if he has further head knocks, and the club has taken a strong player well-being stance with him this year.
Now that Nathan Brown, Mitch Moses, Ryan Matterson and Jake Arthur are sorted, there are more players looking to have their contracts finalised for next year. This includes a host of individuals who’ve played NRL this season, such as Ferguson, Smith, Stone, Cartwright, Opacic, Lussick and Hipgrave.
I’m expecting some news on that front over the next few weeks.
More Good Stuff
Jake Arthur’s debut was like a rugby league fairytale. Coming into the team in Magic Round, then scoring the game-clinching try in front of family and friends, the script was perfect.
The two Eels losses since then were not stories from the same book, but the lessons learned would have been just as critical.
All players need the reality of matches that don’t go to plan. The elation of winning might be what everyone strives for, but you don’t discover how to be better without receiving a bit of schooling.
I thought Jake acquitted himself quite well in his three match stint. He came away with tries and try assists to his name, proving that he plays heads up football and isn’t overawed by the pressure of top grade footy.
For an 18 year old who’s come from schoolboy football in 2020, with only one game of Flegg and seven games of NSW Cup to his name, it’s been an impressive start.
Even More Good Stuff
The Cumberland Throw thoroughly enjoyed our coverage of the Junior Rep season, and our investment in junior football in the district will be continuing with our Parra Stories feature series. Please check out our recent post which provides an overview of the entire district.
Last Wednesday we were honoured to attend the Parramatta Junior Rep Presentation Night. We were both surprised and appreciative of the acknowledgement given to us in the speech by SG Ball coach, Craig Brennan.
I’ve already dedicated a post to the evening, but the overwhelming vibe of Parra being a unified club was what grabbed my attention.
The evening was attended by senior Eels management, Leagues Club and Football Club directors and current full time squad members. Terrific applause greeted the award winners, and players and staff across the three teams mingled and took photos to celebrate their seasons and the event.
And long after the formalities ended, the majority of those in attendance were still mixing and taking photos.
The Not So Good
Last week, Dean Ritchie wrote a thought provoking column about the mental load carried by NRL coaches. Earlier in the year, we witnessed players standing up to on line abuse and threats.
This is the ugly side of professional sport.
As supporters we have the right to express disappointment or to criticise performances. But when it becomes personal, a line is crossed.
We cannot begin to understand what high profile athletes and coaches are subjected to. The majority of supporters realise that those in the spotlight have a life and families away from their sport, but there is no shortage of those who attack without hesitation.
For some there are no boundaries. They attack the partners, and even the children. It’s totally abhorrent, and regardless of the high salaries earned by the identity, it shouldn’t come with the territory.
Unfortunately, the reality is that there will always be those who will cross lines. Those who cannot see beyond their own anger or frustration, or those that get some sort of demented enjoyment out of hurting others.
But if we all reflect on what we say, or call out those that cross the line, maybe things can improve just a bit.
More Not So Good
The Eels have unquestionably hit a bump on their 2021 season road. It would be unrealistic to not expect losses in any season (Penrith might disagree) but some defeats are uglier than others.
Losing to Manly and Souths in consecutive weeks isn’t the end of the world, let alone the end of the hopes for the season. But we’d be sticking our heads in the sand to not recognise the considerable problems with the Eels right side defence.
The Eels operate a compressed defence. If it’s working, the ball doesn’t get out wide as often as it has over the past two weeks. There is a capacity to slide within that method, and to be fair, the system was working through the early rounds.
However, something has gone very, very wrong over the past two rounds.
Last week I wrote that it was folly to look for a single scapegoat in Waqa. The loss to Manly started in the middle, and the entire defence line – not just the edges – didn’t get the job done. The loss to Souths featured even more right side problems, this time without Waqa there.
I’m still of the opinion that our defensive line was too static against the Rabbitohs. However, the ease of the overlaps on the right was astonishing and it was acknowledged by BA in the post match presser.
There is no shortage of work dedicated to defence at training. Maybe a rethink about the system used should be on the agenda.
Even More Not So Good
I won’t be the first or the last to write about where the NRL is getting it wrong.
You cannot justify decisions based on the best of intentions and little else. And surely this is the point that critics are trying to make.
The supporters of Mr V’landys’ crack down on head shots point to the necessity in his decisive action to eliminate a big negative in the game.
His opponents don’t disagree with the intent, but rather the method. And that seems to be missed by his supporters who want change at any cost.
Reducing the incidence of high, deliberate or reckless contact to the head can definitely be achieved by decisive on field action and meaningful suspensions.
However, we seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water in penalising defenders for actions that are completely unavoidable. The very fabric of defence in our game is now under threat.
Rugby league is a tough contact sport. There will be accidental contact to the head. It is unavoidable because whether they are attacking or defending, players inevitably put their heads into positions that result in such contact.
Ball carriers fall into tackles in a split second – they stumble, they lower their body to beat a defender or to hit the ground on their stomach in order to have a fast play the ball.
These are accidents which cannot be significantly reduced without putting the onus on the ball carrier.
Unfortunately, the rushed introduction of the crackdown ensured that consultation wasn’t sought about the method of the implementation. Just like the six again rule, it’s all about intent and little about practicalities.
Consequently, players are being penalised for contact that is both accidental and insignificant. Worse still, the bunker is directing referees to go back to earlier plays to award penalties.
The number of players placed on report is absurd, and games are being impacted by such calls. In this round alone, Reed Mahoney and Nathan Brown escaped suspension as they were eventually found to have no case to answer.
Given that the majority of these reports are made after a bunker review, it’s obvious that there is a disconnect between the intent of the crackdown and the delivery via the officials.
Is that really a surprise?
A huge congratulations to Junior Paulo and Reed Mahoney for their respective selections in the Blues and Maroons squads. There a couple of other Eels, especially RCG, who could consider themselves unlucky to miss out on a spot.
Junior will be looking to go one better this year by being the member of the winning squad, whilst Reed is no doubt overjoyed to earn his first call up for Queensland.
It will be an interesting moment when they face each other for the first time, but that mate against mate has always been a major attraction of Origin footy.