Round 13, unlucky for some, hump round for everyone.
There are some talking points from the victory over the Knights. However, given that this last weekend was the marker point for the second half of the draw, I thought I would stop and reflect on what I have liked about the season so far.
Parra fans know all too well the teams that the Eels normally struggle to beat. History has a very funny habit of repeating itself in sporting contests, and sometimes creating a new history can take many failed attempts.
At the halfway mark of 2021, the Eels have created some new histories. Though critics might find ways to downplay Parra’s victories, as fans we should acknowledge the positive strides taken by our team and club.
The Round 2 victory over a near full strength Storm team came at a time in the season when they are historically near-impossible to beat.
It was game which required the Eels to hold their nerve, back their kicking game to gain the territorial advantage and then rely on their defence to win. Ultimately Parra beat Melbourne at what was essentially their own game.
The much discussed victory against the Roosters was another example of the Eels’ capacity to hold their nerve. In doing so they withstood a Tri-Colours fight back, something that they’ve struggled to achieve in the past.
As for overcoming challenging road trips, the team can now add the Nation’s capital and the Hunter, two places that haven’t been happy hunting grounds. You can find reasons to dismiss both wins, but given the shock losses at both venues in the past, these victories should not be easily dismissed by any knowledgeable Eels fan.
It is right for critics to suggest that Parra still has to overcome some mental demons come finals time, especially if involves defending against a strong attacking side like the Rabbitohs. Nonetheless, in winning at previous bogey venues and in beating teams that they normally struggle to defeat, the Eels have given me genuine hope.
Even allowing for a weakened opposition, there were further positives to be taken from the victory over the Knights.
Having Dylan back against the Knights was wonderful and it was pleasing to see him play with what appeared to be more energy and joy from the kick off.
For a young man, football should be fun. There were times watching Dylan play this year when he looked like he had the heaviness of Parra supporters and probably his own expectations weighing him down. He made simple mistakes that he normally does not make.
Maybe his forced lay off reminded him of how much he loves playing the game. Maybe it provided a reality check for all of us about what he brings to our team, even if it’s not always be noticeable on a stats sheet.
Everything he did on Sunday was with conviction and pace. He took the line on, he was almost always first in moving downfield to follow the kick, he read defensively what he needed to do and did it with confidence and executed brilliantly.
Dylan’s combination with Mitch Moses created genuine attacking opportunities against the Knights. From the stands we attacked as a team, with genuine options as the ball shifted across the field and this opened up space on the wings.
I also want to acknowledge how happy I was for Waqa Blake. It is easy to say it is only one game, but watching Waqa look so invested and involved in the game was eye opening for me as a supporter.
I can forgive almost any mistake if a player is showing me that they genuinely care about the team and are willing to put the team’s needs first. On Sunday Waqa ran hard, ran with purpose, backed up and when he made defensive choices he made them with conviction which allowed those around him to also make sound defensive choices.
I am not going to pretend that I know the reasons why the change appears to have worked but everything about his body language and involvement on Sunday was what I expected to see.
Well done Waqa, let’s hope this is the start of a new level of performance we can expect to see each week. The prospect of a firing Waqa, Sivo, and Papali’i being being fed the ball by Moses and Gutherson is very exciting and has the potential to elevate our attack to a higher level.
It’s now back to Bankwest this week against the Tigers. I do note that the Eels have passed the 31 000 membership mark, the highest number in the NRL. The club is also quietly going about extending the contracts of players. It has been wonderful to see our players and fans not fall for any typical media spin about contracts.
Just three short seasons ago, the Eels entered Round 14 with supporters wishing that the season was over so that we could look forward to a new stadium and hopefully a revitalised playing roster.
This Sunday I look forward to turning up to the wonderful Bankwest Stadium, the place we have made ours, filling it with loud and passionate blue and gold supporters and watching our team play with conviction.
I expect the Eels to erase our memories of the last home game against Manly by disposing of the Tigers.
See you all there Parra fans.