Friday night, the hill, Penrith Park.
What a night to be an Eels supporter!
My family’s evening on the Riff hill was certainly “interesting”.
Being there to witness the encounter first hand, the overriding feeling was one of immense pride. But no matter where you watched the game, every Eels supporter would have felt the same way.
As we all know there are so many things that a sports person cannot control; the weather, the referees and their application of basic rules, the bounce of the ball and to some degree the brilliance of the opposition.
But you can control your attitude and desire. Parra’s power, resilience and composure was something to behold.
I sent Sixties a message at half time telling him how good it was at the ground. Watching the resilience shown by our boys, and hearing the Penrith crowd around us complaining about the referee at half time, made it a memorable, though very chilly night.
Parra’s performance was headlined by the strength of the forwards and the composure of the experienced playmakers. But I actually want to talk about something that really pleased me and gives me enormous faith for the continued development of our team.
While it’s impossible to predict how someone will play come the finals, I have no doubt that experienced players like Junior, Guth, Moses, Matterson, Nathan Brown and Campbell-Gillard will not become overawed by the occasion.
But for our team to really compete come September and October there are two other pairs of players that will need to be able to hold their nerve and both these groups of players did so last Friday.
From the hill I can tell you that it was a hostile environment for anyone in blue and gold. There was immense pressure and to see our two most inexperienced spine players in Reed and Dylan hold their nerve, stay involved in the game and at times cause real headaches for the opposition was outstanding.
Reed did not have those little lapses in concentration leading to crucial errors that all young playmakers have in them. Dylan did not drift in and out of the game. He kept getting himself involved. It is only in playing these types of games that players can learn how to manage their emotions and both Dylan and Reed did that so well.
But there was another pair of young, less experienced players that I want to highlight. Will Penisini and Bailey Simonsen are a brand new centre/wing combination. Bailey has only recently moved past 50 NRL games, whilst Will has only just moved into double digits in the top grade.
As fans, me included, we can sometimes be critical when a player makes the wrong read and this leads to a try or break. Watching from behind the posts it is amazing to see how young players, in important positions, can make split second decisions about holding, jamming or sliding in defence with what appears to be ease.
We can easily detect when the wrong decision is made, but making the right call can often go unheralded. On Friday, from my vantage point, both Bailey and Will had many quick, crucial decisions to make and they passed this test with flying colours.
The Panthers kept testing them and they kept fronting up and making the right choices. I can only imagine the confidence and belief they will gain from playing in such a hostile, high intensity game.
Just on the teenaged Penisini, he is something special. The ability to almost slow the pace of play is uncanny for some players. Those few have the ability to play the game on their terms and at their pace. Even early in his career, Will seems to have that in spades. He’s young and will therefore make mistakes. But the talent, potential and willingness to compete makes his future very bright.
Back to the team as a whole, there’s something that supporters hopefully bear in mind. There is no way that any team could play with that intensity each week. Therefore, the trick for the Eels is to narrow the gap between their best and their worst.
This is very much within their control because the Eels can more than match the very best in Penrith and the Storm. The big task will be to get to September in a healthy state both physically and mentally.
Finally, after such a monumental evening at Penrith, I’d like to send a message of thanks to the players. It was a wonderful game of league, played in the right spirit by two fierce competitors.