Date: Saturday 28st August, 2021
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick Off: 7:35PM AEST
Referee: Gerard Sutton
Head-to-head: Played 39, Parramatta 15, Melbourne 24
Odds: Eels $9.00 Storm $1.07
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Parramatta 16 d Melbourne 12, Bankwest Stadium, R2 2021
Melbourne 36 d Parramatta 24, Suncorp Stadium, QF 2020
Parramatta 14 d Melbourne 0, Bankwest Stadium, R15 2020
Melbourne 32 d Parramatta 0, AAMI Park, QF 2019
We’ll always have round two.
It feels like a lifetime ago that the Eels matched the Storm blow for blow on a wild, wet night back in March and came away with their first win against a full strength Melbourne side in a decade. The joy I felt when Maika Sivo snatched the ball out of the sky in front of a leadfooted George Jennings was right up there for my favourite Eels moments, nearly matched by my joy at having an undercover seat at Bankwest that night. A lifetime ago, indeed.
Now Parramatta are at Bulldogs odds to beat the defending premiers, a testament to how both sides are going right now. The Storm are aiming to break the Australian record for consecutive wins and secure the minor premiership. The Eels are playing to maybe finish fifth instead of sixth and have one win in the last month. Craig Bellamy is taking this one so seriously he won’t even give George Jennings a run. The odds might be generous.
Yes, it’s going to be that kind of preview. Hopefully in three or four weeks I’m writing a much more upbeat, optimistic evaluation of the Eels chances against the Storm, but this weekend I’ll be watching the game with a Netflix movie queued up waiting for the deficit to hit three scores.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
I can’t recall the last time that the Eels were at such long odds to win a match. The $9 on offer is probably accurate, but at the same time it feels disrespectful.
Even so, the 22.5 points start doesn’t tempt me to take our boys in head to head betting.
I’m looking at the total points markets, as that means I don’t have to back against Parra.
The last encounter was tight and low scoring in torrential conditions. I don’t see this clash going the same way, and plenty of tries are likely.
Therefore, the first half pick your own total points market appeals. Take over 25.5 total points in the first half, which is returning $1.95. If you select higher points, the odds increase.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
How we look
Injury luck is an underappreciated factor in rugby league success. Making the finals is the easy part, after all half the teams in the competition get there and this year you won’t even need to win half your games to play in September. Being healthy and in good form, that is the challenge. Melbourne and Penrith are clearing out their casualty wards at the right time, while Parramatta just keeps adding to theirs. While players missing isn’t the only reason for the three game streak of pathetic performances, it has exacerbated the problems.
Maika Sivo’s ACL/MCL double whammy is the latest setback, though in 2021 Sivo has rarely played with the beastly power and disregard for his opposition that made fans chant his name after every try. If this was peak Sivo that got struck down, it would be a disaster. As it stands we may not even notice his absence with the timely return of Blake Ferguson, who is capable of beating a man one-on-one with power and runs harder on kick returns than Sivo ever has.
The loss of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and especially Reed Mahoney has been the most devastating blow, with the two of them alongside Isaiah Papali’i taking the podium positions for 2021 Eels player of the year. Joey Lussick has done a reasonable Reed impression in defence, but it was the touch Mahoney had found close to the line that provided a lot of Parramatta points this year. RCG will at least return for the finals but it is no coincidence that the Parramatta middle has gone from fearful to dreadful in the month he has missed.
While we can’t put the team in cotton wool for two weeks and limp to the finals, there are definitely some players who could use a break. Nathan Brown hasn’t been himself for a long time, usually by this point of the season he’s had a couple weeks’ break due to suspension or injury and maybe he needs that rest with the high effort style he plays with. Clint Gutherson similarly could use some time to get right, and Isaiah Papali’i has looked a bit tired in the last fortnight as well. Brad Arthur has already suggested he will rest players for a likely meaningless round 25 clash with Penrith, a good move to both get the team right and keep whatever reserves of powder he has left in the barrel nice and dry for the finals.
Footy-wise, it’d be nice to see the Eels try and set a few things up and lay some platforms and trends to riff off of in future weeks should they meet Melbourne in the finals, but frankly I’ll just be happy if we can keep this one competitive to the 60th minute and our block plays don’t look sluggish.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Haze Dunster 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 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. Ray Stone 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Makahesi Makatoa 17. Keegan Hipgrave. 18. Will Smith 19. Oregon Kaufusi 20. Sean Russell 21. Jake Arthur.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, as Will Penisini and Makahesi Makatoa have carried their strong NSW Cup form through lockdown and into their extended first grade debuts. Makatoa was the catalyst for the Shaun Lane try last week, the first Eels middle in a month to convincingly draw the ruck defenders and give Mitchell Moses and his outside runners some space, which Lane gladly took with sharp line running. Penisini runs hard and has good footwork, but most importantly he has looked at home immediately in the top grade. Tom Opacic will struggle to get that spot back this season.
The bench also gets a revamp, with Keegan Hipgrave putting his 2021 undefeated streak up against the Storm’s 19 wins in a row in a “no holds barred” cage match for the undisputed championship. No holds barred is exactly how Melbourne has wrestled for the last twenty years, so good luck taking home that gold, Keegs. He comes in for Oregon Kaufusi, while Will Smith makes way for the less versatile but far more likely to cut a man in half Ray Stone.
1. Ryan Papenhuyzen 2. Dean Ieremia 3. Reimis Smith 4. Justin Olam 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Brandon Smith 10. Christian Welch 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenneath Bromwich 13. Chris Lewis. 14. Harry Grant 15. Aaron Pene 16. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Nicho Hynes. 18. Tui Kamikamica 19. Isaac Lumelume 20. Tepai Moeroa 21. Marion Seve.
The Storm are down a touch of forward firepower, with defensive powerhouse Dale Finucane out along with noted trashbag Nelson Asofa-Solomona, while Tui Kamikamica remains on the extended bench recovering from a calf injury. Regular Eel-killer Ryan Papenhuyzen hasn’t been in great touch since returning from a concussion scare, but has done enough to secure his starting role back from Nicho Hynes. Dean Ieremia takes the spot of George Jennings, and also takes George’s place as the most likely target for a Mitch Moses bomb.
Melbourne is still figuring out the best combination of Harry Grant and Brandon Smith, with Smith stubbornly continuing to play so well he can’t be moved from rake, even with the lock jersey of his likely future available this week. I’m quite happy to see Grant remain on the bench, though Smith has become the master of the nugget try from close range and the Eels middle defence needs to be alert. Nicho Hynes also taking a spot on the bench leaves them a touch undersized, but the Eels only have one true middle on their pine so it won’t present a big chance for either team.
It should be fine and sunny up in Brisbane, with fans back in the stands for this one. Melbourne is well supported up north but frankly, will that matter? Gerard Sutton is the referee, and while he maintains a reputation as the best in the game, last weekend was certainly “petty penalty” weekend and Sutton has a bit of Bill Harrigan “make it about me” in him. If this one is close enough that I’m complaining about Sutton afterwards, it would be a good thing.
I’m not going to say much about Melbourne. Best case scenario, in a few weeks I’ll have another chance to break them down in a game that matters, one that I’m not expecting to have to watch through the cracks of my fingers. They’ve won 19 games in a row, which even with the massive asterisk of V’Landys-ball is an impressive feat. They’re so good they are boring, and this season has given me a taste for what it must have been like to be a fan of anybody but St George back in the 50s and 60s. It has also made me angry about the 2001 Eels team for not going on with the job, as their attacking records tumble. Here’s hoping the same fate befalls the Storm this year.
Parramatta has made a habit of facing the Storm in their big milestone games, and rarely have we made them a contest. It would be nice to make them work for this winning streak record, but in a game where they have a lot to play for and we don’t, I’m fearful of the result.
This is going to be ugly. Even if it isn’t ugly, it feels like beating the Storm here is just a waste of the Eels very limited supply of luck, like finding an empty spot on Grose Street when you are just dropping your kids off at the game. This is a game to be parking outside the Old Saleyards and saving our fortune for a later date.
The common element to Parramatta thrashings in recent weeks has been a poor start, and Melbourne have been masters at getting off the line fast. I’d be happy for the Eels to match efforts with the Storm for the opening exchanges, and to show a bit of defensive resilience, but I don’t have much faith in their ability to shut down the Melbourne backline. Basic shape has left the Eels edge defence in disarray, and Melbourne are second only to South Sydney for their edge attack.
I’d also like to see Parramatta contain the Storm outside the attacking zone. One worrying part of both the Roosters and Sea Eagles games was how easily the Eels were beaten out wide in general play, both by shape and simply conceding through the ruck. That is the kind of low effort defence that has to be wiped from the Parramatta game to have any hope of making finals noise.
This game is about survival. Get some experience defending the Melbourne shapes and hope that comes in handy in the finals if we face them again. Go blow for blow in the middle of the park and make them work for their points. Force the class players in the Storm team to stand up and win this one for them, don’t just give away the game from the opening bell. Don’t drop the ball on the opening set.
My prediction is that this doesn’t really happen, but if Parramatta are going to get beat, this is about how they get beat. A few glimmers of hope that the result could be different in the future, a real dig that provides a platform for the finals, that’s what I’m after here. Pessimism has overtaken my prediction, but that doesn’t mean come Saturday night I’ll be hopeful of a contest. I’ll just be prepared to tune out if it is 18-0 after 15 minutes. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Melbourne Storm 38 d Parramatta Eels 12
Man of the Match: Cameron Munster