They say it isn’t that you get knocked down, but how you get up. That’s bad news for the Parramatta Eels, because recent history suggests once they’re on a skid, they stay there for a while. A tough, dominant effort against a Knights team there to be beaten might just allow some positives to come from the embarrassment the side and its fans endured on Monday night. I’m still not over it yet, I caught covid this week and that game is still the worst thing to happen to me in the last seven days.
All eyes will be on the effort areas here after Parramatta took their opposition too lightly and got away from a gameplan that, when executed, the Tigers had no answer for. Newcastle haven’t been great in recent weeks but they’ve got strike players across the park and a solid pack of forwards, like the Tigers they’ll beat us if given a sniff. It’s not panic stations yet, despite the disappointment of Monday night, but another poor effort here and I’ll be disabling comments for the grades on Sunday night.
Date: Sunday April 24, 2022
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Kick-off: 2:00 PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 56, Eels 25, Knights 30, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $1.37 Knights $3.10
Lines: Eels -7.5, total points 39.5
Fact: The Eels have won four in a row against Newcastle, including the last two at Newcastle. Their record at the former International Sports Centre is 10 wins, 19 losses.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
I wasn’t happy about the Easter Monday embarrassment, but I was pleased with my punting suggestion.
The short odds about the Eels were so prohibitive that I almost suggested taking the Tigers. However, my advice to keep your money in your pocket turned out to be well advised.
This week, the Eels are again at short odds to get the win, but I can’t agree with the $1.36 on offer. That said, I can find value in the line/over under market.
Take the Eels at -7.5 with over 40.5 total match points which is paying $3.40.
I see this as a high scoring game. The Eels are conceding over 20 points per game but averaging over 28 points in attack. We should get the win but with a couple of players under an injury cloud, I’m not sure that our defence is going to tighten up in less than a week.
Happy, responsible punting.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Hayze Perham 3. Will Penisini 4. Tom Opacic 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Isaiah Papali’i 13. Nathan Brown. 14. Makahesi Makatoa 15. Ryan Matterson 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Jake Arthur.
18. Bryce Cartwright 19. Mitch Rein 20. Wiremu Greig 21. Ky Rodwell 22. Samuel Loizou 23. Elie El-Zakhem 24. Zac Cini
Another forced change as Marata Niukore pulled up sore from his first run of the year, seeing Hayze Perham graduate to the starting wing position. Junior Paulo walks back into the starting side forcing Oregon Kaufusi to the bench. It’s how most of us expected the team to line up last week, but Marata going down is a tough blow considering the venom in some of his runs last week.
Brad Arthur copped a fair bit for his bench selections last week, and while it ultimately ended up handy having Hayze Perham on the bench as Tom Opacic went off injured, he deserves the criticism for his bench management in general this year. This week he’s invited the storm by selecting Jake Arthur on his return from appendicitis, replacing Mitch Rein who has been sent back to mod ball to learn how to run and hold the ball at the same time.
Outside of his choice of utility, BA has fixed my major issue with his bench selections: middle depth. Reagan Campbell-Gillard has been working at an unsustainable pace, while Isaiah Papali’i is earning a lifetime of VB slabs for his dominance of the hard work index (whatever that actually measures). Makatoa and Matterson can both play big minutes at a solid clip, and while I’d rather somebody who is not Oregon Kaufusi take that spot, he’s at least good for 25-30 minutes with potential for more if required. RCG should need to be run to the point of exhaustion and eventually injury. It’s a long season, and Brad Arthur needs to get his rotations going.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Dane Gagai 4. Bradman Best 5. Enari Tuala 6. Jake Clifford 7. Adam Clune 8. David Klemmer 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Brodie Jones 13. Kurt Mann. 14. Phoenix Crossland 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Leo Thompson 17. Sauaso Sue.
18. Simi Sasagi 19. Pasami Saulo 20. Tex Hoy 21. Hymel Hunt 22. Jack Johns 23. Dylan Lucas 24. Jaron Purcell.
The Knights have been going through a bit of an injury crisis of their own, with Dom Young, Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Jayden Brailey missing from their top squad while Mitchell Barnett is out suspended. Their bigger issue has been figuring out how to integrate Kalyn Ponga into an attack that was clicking in the opening rounds when led by Clifford and Clune, but has stalled out since the million dollar fullback returned. They’ll figure it out, but hopefully not this week.
The pack should be performing better than it has. Klemmer, Daniel Saifiti and Frizell are representative quality players, while Jacob Saifiti is a handy guy to bring from the bench and Kurt Mann provides dangerous playmaking at lock. They’ll certainly take advantage if the Eels show up off their game once again.
If Parramatta is serious this year, Sunday afternoon should be a long one for the Newcastle Knights. I would expect the Eels forwards to stampede here and set up a platform, with Moses and Brown directed to keep the team moving straight and stick to a simple game plan. The years-long trend of Parramatta getting away from their basic strategy when facing inferior opposition has to stop, and Newcastle need to be the team to feel the brunt of that lesson.
I’ve mentioned it earlier, but Newcastle just haven’t been able to figure out how to make Kalyn Ponga work in this side. In the opening rounds against the Tigers and Roosters it was the Clune and Clifford show, but now that Ponga is getting his hands on the ball more than any other fullback in the game the Knights are struggling for points. Yes, they’ve faced three top sides in their four game losing streak in Penrith, Cronulla and Manly, but they were limp against the Dragons in a very winnable game, and that indicates deeper issues.
Newcastle’s attack is surprisingly right-side heavy, which is not traditionally where Ponga operates. Dane Gagai has been a bright spot for the Knights, and he will be licking his chops at a matchup against Tom Opacic and Hayze Perham. They also concede most on the right, which bodes poorly looking at the Eels dominant left-edge attack.
We do need to talk about the Parramatta defence. Initial contact is poor and while I could forgive the Eels falling off tackles against the giant Cronulla and Melbourne packs, losing a contact battle with Alex Twal, Joe Ofahengaue and Thomas Mikaele shows that the Parramatta tackling problem may be chronic. The Eels lead the NRL in missed tackles, their opponents this week are the most efficient tacklers in the competition. It won’t turn around overnight, technique and strength aren’t fixed in a week, but we need to see improvement.
Another issue is Reed Mahoney. The future Bulldog hasn’t hit his best form in 2022, and last weekend was particularly ordinary. His decision making early in the second half zapped a lot of momentum from the team, then he proved it wasn’t just an off moment by messing up the setup for Moses’ field goal attempt, the second time he has done so this year. Field goals are one of the few straight set pieces in rugby league, every team should have a preferred play down like clockwork. Either the Eels are poorly trained or Mahoney panicked. You can’t just have Moses go back a few yards on the last to kick it, you need to build field position, get blockers in line and ideally come off a quick play-the-ball. Parramatta needs to be smarter in these situations.
Mitch Rein has had a shocker in his two bench runs, and even with a rest Mahoney made poor choices in the closing stages so it may not be fatigue causing his issues. Now we’re back to Jake Arthur as the bench utility, which makes as little sense now as it did at the start of the year. Arthur needs game time to develop as a half, he doesn’t get that as a reserve in first grade. He also doesn’t cover hooker, so who knows what the plan is should Reed go down.
These unforced tactical errors; the bench selections, Reed Mahoney going for unnecessary 40/20s, bad field goal setups, they raise serious concerns about the squad. Add to the problem the issues in technique and strength in tackling, and the Eels 2022 preparation needs to come into focus. The attack has improved dramatically, with plenty of new shape and the emergence of Dylan Brown, but with the drop in our defensive performance and the rough tactical edges, was the balance right? We’ll see if the defence improves as the season progresses, but racing your opposition to 30 points is no way to win a premiership.
One upset is a bad day. They’re unpleasant, but they can happen. They’re why we love sport, and watching the media and fans get behind the Tigers and talk up how great that win was after sinking the slipper into them without mercy for the last six weeks, that’s what footy is all about. I remember how sweet those occasional wins were in the dark days of 2012, and while those are some great memories I think I prefer to be on the “upset at my good team losing a game they should have won” side of the equation.
Back-to-back losses to teams that won’t figure into finals football: that’s a problem. It’s too early for Parramatta to be having problems in season 2022. Yes I have my worries about the defence, but this defence beat Melbourne just fine. It shouldn’t have any dramas with Newcastle, and the attack should be able to break through a Knights side that has been weak where the Eels are strong.
I didn’t think Parramatta would fall against the Tigers even if they were ambushed, but evidently I overrated the Eels resolve. It can’t happen again. It’s not old boys day (finally), and while I’m sure plenty in Newcastle are celebrating the Andre Ponga saga concluding, I don’t know how many fans will be truly happy they’re on the hook for millions to a fullback that frankly isn’t winning them games right now. Even if the Knights are up for this clash, Parramatta need to be up for it too. If they are, that’ll be enough.
I expect a strong recovery here. It might not be pretty, but Parramatta will play to their strengths and grind this game out. Junior Paulo, Nathan Brown and Isaiah Papali’i will be critical, especially if Reagan Campbell-Gillard can’t go after suffering an ankle injury last weekend. From there it is about playing mistake free football, something the Eels had been very good at before last week. It is easy to resist the temptation to score off every play when you get so many of them in good position, and Parramatta needs to dominate where the game is played this weekend.
The path to victory is simple, it is just a matter of execution. The Knights should give a fair account of themselves, but I expect the Eels to be too good here.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 28 d Newcastle 12
Man of the Match: Junior Paulo