It’s time for a reset.
There’s no disguising the performance of the Parramatta Eels in their humiliating loss to an injury riddled Roosters.
A blunt assessment would equate it to watching the 2021 Bulldogs at their worst. Honestly, lining up against Parra on Thursday night might have been two points in the bank for any NRL club, not just the Roosters.
It would therefore be easy to write the team off for this year, as many experts and Eels supporters have already done.
How does a team who played like that hope to win another match this season, let alone have any ambition of making an impression on the finals series?
Quite simply they wouldn’t.
They wouldn’t if that is how they approach any upcoming match in this season.
Therein lies the challenge of what needs to change and how big that change needs to be.
I’d argue that it starts in the mind.
I’m no expert on the methodology of positive thinking and how to achieve it, but Thursday night’s performance screamed negativity.
From the opening whistle the Eels were intent on shifting the ball. How many of you were immediately concerned?
With almost every pass I began screaming “no” at the television.
Everything looked stilted and the players’ movements and decision making were coloured a bright shade of hesitance.
Offloads were plentiful but without purpose. The pack forgot what they were called – forwards.
If the game plan was to explore the Roosters edges it looked like the team hadn’t bought into how to do it. The players weren’t on the same page, strike that, they weren’t even in the same library.
My worry intensified when Gutho threw a rushed pass behind Jake Arthur then risked a captain’s challenge on a possible Roosters touch.
What made the match even more frustrating was the Roosters were ripe for a defeat. The tri-colours opened the match with a litany of errors. Nerves were getting the better of them.
Furthermore, despite the presence of quality players, this Roosters team was arguably weaker than the one which the Eels powerfully disposed of in Round 9.
Herein lies the point that needs to be made. The key word above is “powerfully”.
Let’s be very clear. The Eels don’t win matches like the Storm or the Panthers. They don’t dispose of opponents in the same way, nor should they be expected to. Teams don’t need to replicate the methods of another team to secure victories, and every team has a different squad and skill set at their disposal.
Parramatta have developed a brand of football, let’s call it “Parra footy”. It’s based on establishing dominance through the middle, thereby tiring the opposition defence.
The power play of the forwards continually bends the defensive line, clocking up post contact metres. Scoring opportunities come via the territorial advantage gained from big running metres and a strong kicking game. Patience and composure are critical.
The number of try assists from Moses’ kicking is no accident. If you’re in position for an attacking kick, you use it. After all, a try from a kick is worth the exact same points as the most spectacular, length of the field four-pointer.
On the back of the forwards’ dominance, the second phase play starts to destabilise the opposition defence, whilst both halves have the ability to create problems off that with their running game. At their best, Sivo and Ferguson are probably the X factors, creating tries out of half chances.
Another string to the attacking bow was added this season with Reed Mahoney’s variety out of dummy half. The development in his game added strike power to the spine. More on this shortly.
Such a formula for the Eels is simple, but successful. It is the foundation upon which variations can be added to suit each opponent, such as hitting edges, finding space behind the ruck, early kicks, and unstructured play.
However, for some reason this method of winning games has been branded not good enough, with Parramatta’s attack labelled predictable and incapable of matching powerhouses such as the Storm or the Panthers.
Funnily enough, when the Eels stay true to this “Parra footy”, that sentiment is not at all applicable. For most of the season, the Eels have sat in the top four for tries scored. The disasters seem to unfold when the team attempts to play an expansive game without laying any platform.
The poor performances against the Dragons, Souths and the Roosters have all featured a shift the ball mentality. The Eels forwards were overpowered in those matches due to their own lateral play which was belted by the direct and aggressive footy of their opposition. It resulted in completion rates of 72%, 72% and 74% respectively.
I’ve omitted the loss to Manly in that category. An inspired Sea Eagles dismantled the Eels right side defence in that match, resulting in the separation of Blake and Ferguson as a centre/wing pairing.
The adoption of such lateral football is difficult to understand. The players look uncomfortable, hesitant and the body language is devoid of confidence. Furthermore, the Eels history when resorting to this style should be a constant reminder of its failure.
In contrast, the Eels have played that “Parra footy” in their victories and even in their narrow losses to Canberra and Penrith. Both of those losses featured solid completion rates of 80% and 83%, and opportunities to secure the win. Errors in execution and a couple of missed kicks proved the difference.
And that’s just footy, not a reason to steer away from what works.
Disregard opinions about the questions asked by the Eels attack or any comparisons made to other teams. All that matters is winning. Parramatta can quickly get back on the winning path by playing the type of football which suits their players.
By way of exercise, have a look at the highlights against the Roosters in Round 9.
Firstly you’ll see Parra ice scoring opportunities off kicks, something which they failed to convert in Round 20.
Watch the interplay between Mahoney and Paulo close to the line which manufactures a try. Don’t underestimate the importance of a confident Reed Mahoney. When he asks questions, Parramatta bend that defensive line. If he simply distributes, the Eels find the go forward that much tougher.
Finally, as Dylan Brown scores you’ll hear Peter Sterling praise Parramatta’s patience this season, and the opportunities which come against a tired defence. I’d challenge any supporter to find a shred of patience last week.
In reality, turning their form around is as challenging as the Eels are willing to make it.
A positive mindset and belief in their own systems and their “Parra footy” is the easiest path.
Listening to confusing messages about the different ways that the team should be playing is the doorway to more performances like we saw on Thursday night.
Ignore the critics and trust the process.