It’s been a pretty good week to be an Eels fan.
Finally getting over Penrith after a few close shaves, to complete the “contender double” on their own turf. Breaking another record streak, just for the fun of it. Triggering “Jarome Luai dog mode”. Now Parramatta leaves a soggy Sydney behind to hit a similarly drenched Brisbane for Magic Round, where we take on the Sydney Roosters.
The Roosters have had our number in recent years, even when we finally got over them last year it was in a strange game where Sydney suffered plenty of injuries. While this isn’t the Roosters of a couple of years ago, they still represent a massive threat and they’ll be a team full of confidence backing up from their most impressive win of the season last weekend.
Sunday afternoon can’t come soon enough for me, let’s hope it is worth the wait. On to the preview!
Date: Sunday 15 May, 2022
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 4:05 PM AEST
Referee: Adam Gee
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 135, Eels 63, Roosters 67, Drawn 5
Odds: Eels $1.67, Roosters $2.20
Lines: Eels -2.5, total points 39.5
Fact: The Roosters have never beaten the Eels in a finals game, in four attempts. The combined score in those games is 90-21 Parramatta.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Last week’s outstanding victory by the Eels delivered another win for the punting tip.
The $4.30 on offer for the win was too good to resist. (The odds blew out even further closer to kick off). If you’ve been investing $20 on every tip this year, you’d now be $47 in front.
After opting for the simple head to head market last week, I’m dipping the toe back into the exotics this week.
The line/over under double is a favourite of mine. The total match points of 38.5 is very achievable so we’ll take overs. Parra only have to cover -1.5 points, which they can do with one extra goal.
Therefore, take Parra -1.5/over 38.5 which is paying $3.40.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
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. Bryce Cartwright.
18. Wiremu Greig 19. Jake Arthur 20. Mitch Rein 21. Sean Russell 22. Samuel Loizou 23. Elie El-Zakhem 24. Brendan Hands.
The only changes are to the reserves for Parramatta, who aren’t messing with the winning formula of last week despite the successful return of Sean Russell in NSW Cup. With a lower grade bye for Magic Round we won’t be getting a look at any early injury returns, but Maika Sivo and Solomone Naiduki have been upgraded from “indefinite” to returns in the next month. Marata Niukore and Waqa Blake also got upgraded, from “indefinite” to “TBA”. Brad Arthur stated both are due back soon, giving him some very pleasant selection headaches.
The bench remains a point of some concern, with Bryce Cartwright again rested for the full 80 last week. Makahesi Makatoa has played back-to-back games of less than 20 minutes, Oregon Kaufusi gets about 30-35 minutes most weeks and Ryan Matterson is getting a well deserved 50-55 minutes. Brad Arthur has shown a trend to “rest” RCG and Junior Paulo when the game is in hand, giving them only 40 minutes instead of 50 to 60, but a lot of crucial forwards to the Eels long term chances are being run hard in these early rounds.
There is a reason for this: Parramatta notably fall off when RCG and Junior are off the pitch. Ryan Matterson is doing well to reverse that trend, and the return of Niukore will also help, but considering both starting props should be seeing representative duty there will need to be some minutes management at some point. If Makatoa and Kaufusi aren’t up to holding the line at first changes, Wiremu Greig has been putting up sensational numbers in big minutes in NSW Cup and deserves a better chance at first grade footy than he has got.
1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Paul Momirovski 4. Joseph Manu 5. Joseph Suaalii 6. Sam Walker 7. Luke Keary 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Connor Watson 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Victor Radley. 14. Drew Hutchinson 15. Fletcher Baker 16. Nat Butcher 17. Daniel Suluka-Fifita.
18. Lachlan Lam 19. Naufahu Whyte 20. Ben Marschke 21. Ben Thomas 22. Kevin Naiqama 23. Adam Keighran 24. Tuku Hau Tapuha.
A few outs for the Roosters, who lost hooker Sam Verrills and prop Lindsay Collins to injury last weekend, though you’d barely know it by their replacements. Form has been the major issue for this squad, though the Titans may have played them back into good touch last weekend.
There is still danger all over the park. Joseph Manu has been in incredible touch, playing a more roving role than we’re used to seeing from a centre. James Tedesco hasn’t had his finest year but was heavily involved last week and was this week confirmed as the NSW fullback despite a host of contenders breathing down his neck. Many had this squad as premiership favourites coming in to 2022 and while that hasn’t played out, once it clicks for the Roosters they will match up well against anybody. Let’s hope those fingers don’t snap on Magic Round.
Rugby League Writers did a lot of my work for me this week, reviewing the changes to the Roosters attacking structure that saw them dismantle the Titans. It’s well worth a read, though as an Eels fan it makes me somewhat nervous that they’ve found their groove attacking off the edge after a slow start to 2022.
The good news for Parramatta is those breakthroughs came off the back of Sam Verrills’ decision-making out of dummy half, and Verrills has been replaced by Connor Watson. Watson makes a fair fist of whatever position he plays on the field, but the subtleties of manipulating the ruck and decision making will be lost somewhat as a part timer steps in.
The bad news for Parramatta is that the edge is exactly where you should attack them. While contact was good and missed tackles few against Penrith, that isn’t the trend for the Eels defence in 2022. Angus Crichton and Sitili Tupouniua are incredibly dangerous edge runners, and if that isn’t enough Joseph Manu and James Tedesco present massive threats when running in shape or support and Daniel Tupou is as good a finisher as you get. While traditionally the way to beat the Eels on the edge has been a quick spread, unfortunately one-on-one efforts have also found success this year. The Sydney spread remains somewhat clunky as Sam Walker and Luke Keary learn to work together, but Manu and Tedesco don’t need much shape to be dangerous and Tupouniua in particular runs an elite line.
Even when clunky, the Roosters are a team that finds ways to break the line. The traditional Sydney attack has been to disregard completions and be unafraid of making errors in an effort to crack the opposing defence, knowing they can lean on their own elite defensive structure to hold. While not as elite as it once was, the Roosters defence is still among the better sides in the competition, but that “devil may care” attacking style hasn’t produced points commensurate with the chances created.
While not a perfect measure, the line-break to try ratio is a decent indicator of how well a team is converting opportunities into points. Kick tries can throw the number out somewhat (the Cowboys have more tries than line breaks this year, for example), but the Eels sit at 39 tries and 41 line breaks, or 95% (3rd in the NRL). The Roosters are down in 11th, at 79.5%. To compound this issue, the Roosters goalkicking sits at a lowly 66% conversion rate, which would be last or near last in the NRL in most years but is currently 11th.
Those numbers will be cold comfort if Sam Walker and Luke Keary have an “on night” and James Tedesco is running wild, but if the Eels can keep up the strong defensive contact and scramble from last week and win the possession and field position battles they will force the Roosters to execute well, something they have struggled with in 2022. The Parramatta edges do tackle well against back-rowers, Dylan Brown is a defensive machine capable of stopping any player one-on-one and Mitchell Moses has mastered his limitations and creates the chance for scramble defence by rushing up and making decent first contact, even if he doesn’t always stick the tackle. Will Penisini is another that is showing great one-on-one tackling ability, and even Bailey Simonsson has been great in recent weeks rushing in and drilling centres when he sees the backline shift coming. Drilling Tedesco or Manu may prove tough, but he’s creating the opportunity to shut down plays that were guaranteed tries early in the year.
There are definitely a few weak points in the Roosters line that the Eels can exploit. Sitili Tupouniua is an arm grabber when forced to move laterally, isolating him will be high on the dot point gameplan for this one. Sam Walker and Joey Manu are both in the NRL leaders for missed tackles and won’t much appreciate Shaun Lane, Ryan Matterson and Isaiah Papali’i targeting them in the line. Brown and Moses will be looking to run in this one and create good chances for their big edge runners.
Is this a new Parramatta? Once again the talk following a big win has been around “doing this every week” and rising to all occasions, not just the biggest games. I’d argue the Roosters is a big occasion, but we’ve heard this all before and the gap between the best and the worst for Parramatta remains far too wide.
The Roosters have been a tough matchup for the Eels in recent years. While Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Siua Taukeiaho haven’t been in great form, both are known for big games against the Blue and Gold. Their pack remains a huge threat, they shut down offloads and have proven adept at shutting down the Parramatta attack. This year there are plenty of new wrinkles to that attack, but confidence is a powerful thing and this Roosters squad has a lot of big wins over Parramatta throughout the years.
The same effort as last week will get the job done here. That’s easy to say, last week’s effort would beat any club football team on the planet right now. A loss here isn’t the end of the world, but we have to force the Roosters to play well to do it. A letdown game just can’t happen. Good wins are nice, but the rugby league season is 24 games long and a loss here puts the Eels dangerously close to the rabble at the bottom end of the eight, a place a team that can (and has) beaten the competition leaders shouldn’t be.
I’m cautiously optimistic about this one. Brad Arthur is doing a good job of keeping this squad grounded and everything we’ve heard publicly suggests the Eels are ready to be that consistent, elite team. Talk is cheap and performances are all that matter, so hopefully we see another classy effort and a good win against a Roosters side there to be beaten. I’ll be nervous come Sunday afternoon, but I’m picking us to step it up.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 26 d Sydney 16
Man of the Match: Ryan Matterson