My full weekend of footy viewing culminated in taking up my usual spot in the Bankwest Stadium stands, watching our beloved Eels notch up another win.
I loved our victory against the Bulldogs because of the leadership on display prior to, during and after the game.
Unfortunately, there are currently too many aspects of the NRL that lack honest, common sense leadership. Every week I see coaches, players and NRL officials make excuses for poor performances, defend the indefensible and in turn simply double down on poor decision making.
I now switch off whenever a game is ruined by the ridiculous rule interpretations that have been forced upon the referees, players and fans alike. I was really enjoying the Roosters and Panthers game and then Nathan Cleary slipped over and insanity prevailed. At that point the TV in my house was switched off. How sad and how worrying that a devoted Rugby League family like mine is switching off.
While I can lament the lack of leadership at the NRL and watch in amazement as a few coaches across the NRL find excuses for defeat (only serving to give their players places to hide), I watched my Eels on Sunday and saw the opposite.
That first half was ugly. We let the excessive holding down in the ruck and the short ten metres dictate our style of play. As the Eels grouped together in the ingoal on the stroke of half time watching as the Bulldogs attempted the conversion I saw our players in the leadership group step up and speak. While I could not hear a word they said, the animated body language and facial expressions told me that Nathan Brown, Clint Gutherson and Ryan Matterson could see what was wrong and they were going to try and do something about it.
In the second half they did just that. They played more direct, they stopped forcing passes and played with patience. If I go back to our defeat against the Dragons in which we panicked and wanted the quick second half turnaround, we showed last Sunday that we have taken things from that defeat.
I dare say that this is largely due to our ability to be honest – starting with our coach. Although he often gets called on by supporters to speak out about refereeing decisions, he does not. He does not give our players a place to hide. He tells them and supporters the truth and only worries about things that he and the players can control.
Worrying about refereeing decisions in the NRL at the moment is a death spiral. I am glad Brad Arthur never goes there. Instead of complaining other coaches should spend time trying to work out the holes in their roster and find the players in the competition to make them stronger.
BA has turned our forward pack around from being one dimensional to a skillful, hardworking and physical pack with the smart recruitment of players such as Papali’i, Nathan Brown, Shaun Lane and RCG. I am not sure we would have won against the Dogs without some of these players.
I also saw leadership on the field. You could see our senior players get Sean Russell into the game early. They got the balance right between trusting him to do his job and also supporting him.
As a long time Eels supporter the best part of the victory was not the two points nor the joy on Sean Russell’s face as he scored. Rather, it was watching his team mates on the field, and those on the bench, jump with joy as he crossed twice. It was heartwarming stuff.
Champion teams have a bond that is obvious to all. You can see that there is a genuine bond between our players – you only have to listen to them speak about their coach to know they trust, respect and support BA and the fact that very little leaks from our club speaks volumes about the level of respect and integrity that is currently in our club.
My final comment from the stands picks up on some desperate narratives written by journalists to try to create a Blake Ferguson story. The big winger is in Reserve Grade because he has repeatedly made mistakes in first grade that at times have made it impossible or very difficult to achieve victory.
The discussion about some dropped ball from our wingers on Sunday, meaning that BA must return Blake to first grade, can only have be pen made by someone who did not watch the Reserve Grade game. We did, and we saw our wingers, fullback and the opposition drop kicks. The conditions on Sunday were tough, and just like in the first grade game, wingers in Reserve Grade, including Fergo, dropped some contested bombs.
As I have repeatedly said, the only good to come from the lazy click bait journalism that at times permeates Rugby League is the fact that most Parra supporters that I speak to simply ignore it.
If Blake Ferguson fixes the issues that BA has raised with him, he has a chance to get back into First Grade. If he does not, or if those in First Grade keep doing their job, then he won’t get the call back up. It really is that simple and it does not matter how many articles the journalists or staff writers at Fox and the like write to the contrary.
Parramatta supporters know the truth, not because we are told so, but because we witness it live for ourselves from the stands at Bankwest.