Date: Saturday 21st August, 2021
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Kick Off: 7:35PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Head-to-head: Played 42, Eels 21, Cowboys 20, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $1.27 Cowboys $3.70
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Eels 42 d Cowboys 4, Bankwest Stadium, R8 2020
Cowboys 17 d Eels 10, Townsville, R10 2019
Cowboys 44 d Eels 6, Townsville, R24 2018
Eels 20 d Cowboys 14, Darwin, R14 2018
I don’t think I’ve ever turned off an Eels performance as quickly as I did last week. When Turbo went over because Maika Sivo showed the fastest man in league the sideline to make it 16-0 the game went onto the small screen, and before halftime I was out completely. Lockdown has made me appreciate the need to focus on positives and remove negatives from my life, and the Parramatta Eels are, right now, a massive negative.
Yet last weekend the Eels officially secured the right to play finals football in 2021, so let’s focus on that. We started the year of previews by stating that absolutely nothing before the second week of the finals matters to Parramatta, and that is just as true for pathetic efforts like the last month as it is for the good wins and early season dominance.
Our conquerors last weekend showed just how quickly you can turn around from easybeats to contenders (though Parramatta doesn’t have a Tom Trbojevic waiting in the wings to spark them) and while I tend to feel most of the Eels problems are chronic, there is nothing to be gained writing this season off before it is all done and dusted. Adjust your expectations, sure, but come September we’ll all be on the couch cheering the Eels on in an elimination final, which is a chance I’d have done very bad things to get back in 2016. If a turnaround is to come, it starts this week against the hapless North Queensland Cowboys.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Imagine losing your last four matches, including a 56 to 10 hiding at your most recent outing, then starting at $1.27 favourite in your next match.
Rugby league has always had its unreliable form lines, and the Cowboys are on a nine game losing streak, but even the most passionate Eels fan would find it impossible to put their coin on an Eels win – especially at such prohibitive odds.
Therefore, I’m suggesting that punters keep their wallets closed this week. Consider it a Blue and Gold betting curfew.
However, if you simply enjoy a fun flutter, then let’s make it real fun.
Look at the “score 1st, 2nd or 3rd try” market, because there are some attractive odds there. My suggestion is Mitch Moses at $9 or Isaiah Papali’i at $12.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
How we look
The problem with using the term “shithouse” to describe us last week is it doesn’t leave much room in the vocabulary to detail another step into the pit. There are a few words I reckon come close though: gutless, stupid, broken to name a few. That it came after a week of big talk and commitments is no surprise, Parramatta is nothing if not unmotivated. How many milestone games have been met with meek performances? Mitch asked on Twitter this week what would be the most “Eels” thing to happen for the remainder of the year, and the result says it all about how fans perceive the Eels ability with backs against the wall:
Parramatta are not a team of surprises or a “brilliant one week, ordinary the next” group. They flow in waves, and right now this wave is a dumper, leaving the fans with salt water up their noses and a boogie board floating a hundred metres out to sea.
But enough venting, lets try and find some positives. When the Eels finally got the ball last week the first few sets were encouraging, making solid metres and running a touch wider than usual. In another dimension where Joey Lussick doesn’t attack the back of a knee on the first tackle of the game and the edge defence is trained to actually mark a winger, maybe the Eels hold strong in the early stages and make last week a contest. While we’re in fantasy land, can I have a set of abs like Dylan Brown too?
That will be the key to any Eels success going forward: complete middle dominance. We still have the players to achieve that, particularly when Reg and Matto come back well rested for the first week of the finals. These next three weeks are a chance to fine tune the middle combinations with Joey Lussick and for players like Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane, Marata Niukore, Nathan Brown, Bryce Cartwright and Oregon Kaufusi to round into form. Yes, I did just name the entire pack (except Ice Papa, who may be down slightly on form but has done enough this year to avoid the list).
If Parramatta is going to win a finals game, it will be from the forwards gaining unstoppable momentum and creating second phase play. “Lots of offloads” has rarely translated to “good ad-lib footy” for Parramatta recently, too often a late offload is followed by ineffective, flat footed spreads or charging into the teeth of a defence for an extra hitup, but a bit of adventure and a “what have we got to lose” attitude could be what is needed to exploit the Eels biggest advantage.
This also doubles as the best chance to find Will Penisini and Waqa Blake the room they need to put effective footwork on. Waqa Blake is Zoolander, he can only step off his left, but if given space he has been the most dangerous Eels player in this dreadful month of football. Penisini is another dangerous runner who can break tackles, he shouldn’t be wasted doing hard work out of our end. Give him some one-on-one chances and let him run.
Simple footy can be effective footy, and right now it is all Parramatta has got. If we want to somehow make some noise in the finals that edge defence needs to be fixed, and I’d be telling the team to just go for it in attack, and spend every training session until the finals changing that defensive approach.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Haze Dunster 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Isaiah Papali’i 9. Joey Lussick 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Will Smith 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Makahesi Makatoa. 18. Ray Stone 19. Keegan Hipgrave 20. Sean Russell 21. Jake Arthur.
Tom Opacic was added to the injury list last weekend, though his place in the team was under threat anyway after a month of average efforts. Will Penisini is a welcome sight in the team after an impressive debut a month ago. Michael Oldfield had a shocker last weekend and paid the price for being a winger in this Eels defensive “system”, replaced by Haze Dunster.
Ryan Matterson has found himself suspended, forcing yet another reshuffle in the pack. Oregon Kaufusi is back from a head knock while Marata Niukore shifts from the bench to the edge. Makahesi Makatoa was good on debut last week and deserves some time out there during a competitive game. Isaiah Papali’i remains in the middle and he needs to find some of that early season form and spark this squad.
1. Valentine Holmes 22. Connelly Lemuelu 3. Daejarn Asi 4. Jake Granville 5. Ben Hampton 6. Scott Drinkwater 7. Tom Dearden 8. Francis Molo 9. Reece Robson 10. Jordan McLean 11. Ben Condon 12. Heilum Luki 13. Coen Hess. 14. Reuben Cotter 15. Jeremiah Nanai 16. Mitchell Dunn 17. Tom Gilbert. 18. Jason Taumalolo 19. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 20. Peter Hola 21. Laitia Moceidreke.
What a terrible squad. The scary part is, the two main injuries are players named on the extended bench, though Murray Taulagi is also in the casualty ward and has been solid on the one edge Val Holmes is capable of playmaking to. Granville and Hampton in the backline is just crazy, Hampton has been given so many chances in first grade and never delivered, while Granville was a “past it” hooker a month ago.
The Cowboys pack has rotated all year, with the failures furthest from mind given the next chance after their replacements inevitably let the team down. This week that means Ben Condon and Francis Molo get a start while Tom Gilbert and Mitchell Dunn ride the bench. I have absolutely no clue who Jeremiah Nanai is. Tom Dearden is chasing the record for least successful first grader ever, just to top things off.
It should be dry on the Gold Coast Saturday night, and it is heating up in the sunshine state with a warm day expected. Nights are still cold, so dew on the surface could be an issue. The Eels clash will be the second game in a double header, so the field may be a bit choppy, but almost every ground has held up well to extended play this year and it hasn’t been a problem. Ashley Klein is the referee.
The biggest intangible is how the Eels pick themselves up off the canvas. The Cowboys might be the worst team in the NRL right now, having lost nine in a row, including losses to the Tigers and Broncos. It is as good a chance as any to rebuild shattered confidence before two brutal games to finish the year. The Cowboys will probably come out strong, seeing a real chance to grab a win for the first time since May, and holding out an early surge will be crucial. Hot starts (or hot middles, or hot finishes) haven’t been the Eels’ strength this last month, but if they can’t show up here, then Sterlo help us all to suffer through the discourse following.
The Cowboys are really bad. They’ve at least given it a go the last month, so they’re one up on Parramatta, but this is not a talented football team. They concede at will down both edges and now they have a hooker playing at centre. Tom Dearden is as low on confidence as you can get, and is worth targeting, but even the stale block play offence the Eels have trotted out for three years should be able to tear this Cowboys team apart.
Valentine Holmes has occasionally been dangerous as a link man on the left edge, but now has Ben Hampton finishing those movements instead of Murray Taulagi. He is the one to watch though, as any fullback joining the line seems to confuse the Parramatta edge into conceding a four on two overlap. He’s also got enough of a pass to float over the top of a rushing centre, a move used to great effect by every halfback and fullback Parramatta has played the last three weeks.
There isn’t much to fear in the middle. Jordan McLean is a shell of a player, while Coen Hess is a low effort player who only looks hungry when he has the ball ten out. Heilum Luki has looked promising in his few top grade games, but he’s surrounded by plodders in Gilbert, Dunn and Condon. There is absolutely no excuse for the Eels in this one, even if Taumalolo comes back off the extended bench, this is a huge mismatch.
When the going gets tough, the Eels get flogged has been the story of the last month, but this week is not tough going. The Cowboys are busted and are there for beating, and Parramatta has them for class if not form. Winning this one will convince exactly nobody that things are turning around, but any turnaround has to start here.
Whatever malaise has infected the Eels, they haven’t been able to play themselves out of it so far. Fixing Parramatta happens in the sheds and in the players’ heads, and who knows, maybe another grovelling apology letter, this time from the CEO, will work where open letters and commitments failed before. Maybe this time front loading our effort will get it done.
The things that don’t work for Parramatta right now are not getting fixed in a week. You don’t just say “mark up on the winger” and magically fix an edge defence, those overlaps come from the inside out and require an entirely new structure to correct. That takes an offseason, not a month, but for how bad things have gotten out wide, I’d be seeing what a month can do.
Similarly, I’d be throwing the attack in the trash. Maybe just put up the bomb as soon as we are in attacking range, and save the fatigue of running ineffective blocks and flat footed spreads for three tackles back and forth across the field. Tell the halves to get in closer to the play-the-ball and take the line on. Do something, anything, differently. This is the week to try it, against an opposition low on confidence with nothing to play for. Throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks is the best plan we’ve got now, because everything the team has been doing will see Penrith and Melbourne setting scoring records against us as tune ups for the finals in the next fortnight.
Parramatta should win, so for the first weekend in a month football might bring me some joy, however fleeting. If they can’t win here, no, I don’t even want to think about it. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta Eels 34 d North Queensland Cowboys 22
Man of the Match: Will Penisini