We have reached the halfway point for all three major grades in season 2022 and it is as good a time as any to reflect on records, results and the overall journeys of the Jersey Flegg, NSW Cup and NRL. Sixties and Forty20 have put their noggins together to assess how each team is travelling, who is starring and where the strengths and weaknesses of each squad lie in a sprawling and all-encompasing midseason review.
Sitting in third last place on the table, it’s difficult to grade the Eels Jersey Flegg team any higher.
However, this group is capable of better results, which must be frustrating for the staff let alone the players themselves.
The Flegg team has probably been more impacted by team changes than any other grade. Injuries in the NRL and NSW Cup teams have resulted in players being called up from Flegg. Their own injury list has been problematic with key personnel missing for significant periods.
Still, this does not excuse periods within matches where critical errors or lapses in concentration have been costly. They’ve been competitive against the highly rated Dragons and Knights teams, suffering narrow and unlucky defeats, yet lost to the cellar dwelling Sea Eagles after letting them jump out to a 24 point lead.
Their worst defeat was probably a round 8, 30 to 6 loss to the Raiders. One month later their best performance was unquestionably a 40 point victory over the same team. Go figure.
If they can find some consistency, they will make the finals.
It has been a tough season to date for the Jersey Flegg. No team has had it playing pool drained more across the three major grades and in that capacity they have battled valiantly. Still, they have also proven to be their own worse enemies with poor completion rates, untimely errors and a general lack of attention to detail handicapping their own pushes for victory.
Despite all of that and entering Round 14 running third last, they can still very easily force their way back into finals contention. It will require a far more disciplined approach to gameday but the talent in this team is very much there in order to challenge the best teams in the Jersey Flegg.
Dantoray Lui has been a very pleasant surprise. Capable of playing in the halves or at fullback, Lui has played equally well in and out of structure. Ethan Sanders has made a massive jump from first year eligibility in the SG Ball to starting halfback in the Flegg and has not been overawed. Elsewhere, a stint in the NSW Cup for Matthew Komolafe looks to have unlocked the best in him with the young flanker not only scoring tries in bundles but proving to be an effective worker around the ruck as well.
They will have to dig in and battle from henceforth if they are turn things around but they have the playing talent to do just so.
|They sit at the polar opposite of the NRL and NSW Cup with a 4-8 record but can quickly make some serious noise if they can apply spit and polish to the right areas. Even with results going against them, player development has still been a feature in 2022 with as many as 7 players (ignoring Arthur, Russell and Loizou) spending time in the NSW Cup.|
Knock On Effect NSW Cup
Just like their NRL counterparts, the NSW Cup team has eight wins, four losses and a bye. This currently places them third on the ladder, one win behind the table topping Panthers. Sitting on identical points to the first grade team, I’ve graded them accordingly.
The return of a swag of outside backs from injury has now benefitted both of the senior sides. It’s resulted in Haze Perham, Jake Arthur, Sean Russell and Maika Sivo returning to the Knock on Effect fields.
At full strength, this team has a wealth of top grade experience in the forwards. Bryce Cartwright, Ky Rodwell and Ofahiki Ogden are a class above this level of footy. They are complemented by future stars in the backline, headed by Arthur, Loizou, Russell and Cini.
Their best result was a 44-12 round 4 victory over the Dragons. It was won comprehensively through the middle and finished off out wide.
By far their worst effort was a 28 – 4 round 8 loss to the Raiders. It was around the peak of the Eels injury woes and a powerful Canberra team absolutely demolished them. They avenged that loss just 4 weeks later down in the Nation’s capital via a 30 – 28 victory.
Watch for Jake Arthur to dominate during the second half of the season, and Rodwell and Ogden to push for first grade selection.
I am still bitterly disappointed that we were robbed of the conclusion of the 2021 NSW Cup season. A year in which the Eels were building magnificently with a young and talented team at the right time of the season. Thankfully it looks like they have not missed a beat in the following year as they sit in 3rd place heading into Round 14 – only a solitary win behind the competition leading Panthers.
Like their NRL cohorts, the NSW Cup have absorbed plenty of injury pressure and through it all Jordan Rankin has led the team exceptionally. Newcomer Zac Cini has proven to be a quality pickup and offers intriguing upside for the Eels if he stays in our system while Samuel Loizou has enjoyed a sustained run of quality footy.
In the halves Jake Arthur continues to impress as he hones his craft. The forward pack is punctuated by a number of quality contributors headed by Ky Rodwell and Elie El-Zakhem. Wiremu Greig has found another gear in recent weeks and Ofahiki Ogden has shown legitimate NRL upside when he has been on the field.
As with the NRL, I am deeply keen to see where the 2022 season takes our NSW Cup squad. They have shown that they possess the tools and quality of talent to make a serious push into the finals and importantly they are healthy at the midpoint of the season.
|The NSW Cup team battled through a tough and prolonged window of injuries, suspensions and promotions to hold the same record as the NRL team at 8-4. They now have a terrific launching pad to not only consolidate their position inside the Top 4 but even challenge for the minor premiership.|
The pack is the key to Parra’s fortunes. The selection of three Eels forwards in the Blues team is evidence of how vital they have been in the Eels best victories this season.
Likewise, when the opposition has won the middle and the edges (see Sharks and Cowboys), the losses have followed.
It seems like the biggest question mark surrounds the starting lock position. The return of Marata Niukore to the edge has shifted Ice to the middle lock spot and Nathan Brown to the bench. After injury issues and postseason surgery in 2021, perhaps Brown’s best footy might be found as an impact player.
My vote for best performing forward to date is Isaiah Papali’i. His game is heating up with every passing round. Ice started the 2022 season with high workload performances and has now added his early 2021 season impact form. It’s a superb mix.
The strength of Parramatta’s forward pack has been one of the cornerstones of the club in recent seasons. That remains true through 2022 thus far with Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard anchoring a dominant unit. Isaiah Papali’i has built solidly on his award winning 2021 campaign while Shaun Lane has been a big play merchant against the best teams in the competition. Marata Niukore was sidelined for a long stretch early on in the year but his eventual return shored up the starting unit and added that extra dash of physicality to an already bruising crew.
They haven’t been flawless and I think it is worth reminding everyone that no positional group for any club is but each of the Eel’s four losses included aspects of our forward getting outplayed. That in and of itself is an important lesson for the team but it is also balanced against wins against the Storm and the Panthers. The Penrith victory in particular featured some legitimately true grit from the forwards as they won a titanic arm wrestle in the second half. That ability to level and even tip the playing field in big games will be crucial for the club moving into the business end of the season.
Injury disruptions to the backline have been the greatest obstacle for the Eels to overcome this year. Sivo’s 2021 ACL injury was compounded by losing Dunster for the season, then Russell and Blake for extended periods. If you played on the Eels left wing, you were cursed.
Currently, all bar Dunster are now available for selection, creating competition for places across the NRL and NSW Cup teams.
On the right side, the combination between Penisini and Simonsson continues to develop. Will shows maturity beyond his years, and Bailey is growing in confidence. After an uncertain start to the season, the former Raider is challenging the kick chase of most opponents.
Penisini is my pick for best back. Even though he only featured in a handful of NRL games in 2021, there might have been some critics predicting a second year syndrome in 2022. There hasn’t been the slightest indication of that eventuating with Will.
Forty20 says: It has been a wild ride in the backline for the Parramatta Eels over the first half of the 2022 season. An unprecedented injury toll meant that if your job title carried the word ‘winger’ in it you were probably burning sage everywhere you went in order to cleanse evil spirits. Haze Dunster, Sean Russell, Waqa Blake and Solomone Naiduki all wore significant injuries while Maika Sivo was unavailable for selection as he continued to rehabilitate a 2021 injury. Players were Tom Opacic and Hayze Perham proved integral in holding the backline together until reinforcements arrived.
The one winger who was able to stay healthy amidst the insanity was Bailey Simonsson and he quickly proven to be an outstanding acquisition for the club. An adept finisher that is also exceedingly difficult to tackle in general play, Bailey has also produced a number of withering tackles on fullbacks and halves that dare to sweep down his side of the field.
Will Penisini quickly assuaged any fears of him falling to the dreaded second year syndrome and has been nothing but class for the Blue & Gold working in partnership with Simonsson. Between the two of them it would seem the Eels have their right edge sorted for a number of years to come.
With Waqa and Maika both back in their customary positions on the left edge Parramatta are finally back at full strength and it is fair to say that I am hugely excited to see what the backs can do given the scorching hot form of their five-eighth and halfback this year.
I’m predicting the spine’s best football will be seen in the run to the finals. Though Moses and Brown have been amongst the best halves across the NRL, Mahoney is yet to hit his peak and Gutherson has found some uncustomary errors.
I could equally opt for either half as my best performer. Moses has become a more mature footballer in the last couple of seasons and his kicking game provides the team with a significant edge. However, Brown’s dynamic form and sheer will to compete puts him slightly ahead in my assessment. I hope I continue to experience difficulty in separating them during the back half of the year.
In 2022 it is Dylan Brown’s world and we are all just living in it. Parramatta’s boom five-eighth is having the kind of breakout year that puts him firmly on the radar for individual awards and representative selection. His form thus far this season is reflective of just how dominant he has been at every level below the NRL and comes as he just begins to tap into what he is capable of.
Dylan couldn’t have asked for a better running mate than Mitchell Moses either. Moses has proven he can easily slide between game manager or field marshal and dominant on-ball playmaker over the first 13 rounds of play. His ability to complement the best of Dylan’s game while also been able to stamp his own impact on a contest is invaluable. Thrown in his unrivalled long-kicking game and you have unquestionably one of the top halfbacks in the NRL.
Outside of a few uncharacteristic errors here and there, Clinton Gutherson has been Clinton Gutherson – a bastion of consistency for the Blue & Gold at the final line. I don’t think it is unfair to suggest that Reed Mahoney has been below his best as we arrive at the midway point of the season but the team will need him in full form as we approach the finals.
I’ll restrict the bench to Kaufusi, Makatoa and Matterson as they have been the mainstays when it comes to the Eels interchange.
Makatoa and Kaufusi have provided consistent workhorse contributions. Errors are rare and defence efficiencies are high. On the other hand, Matterson has been used for big minutes off the bench, and delivered significant impact via team high run metres and plenty of offloads.
No prizes are on offer for selecting the best bench performer. If you earn an Origin jersey from your club’s bench, that says plenty.
I can’t talk about the bench without first mentioning the heroics of Ray Stone who simultaneously won the Eels a crucial away game against the Storm while also ending his season and time at the club due to the knee injury he sustained. Stone is the absolute fiercest of competitors and has been one of my favourite members of the club ever since he joined the Eels way back in 2017. I wish nothing but the best in his time at The Dolphins.
Beyond that it has been almost completely the Ryan Matterson story when it comes to the interchange bench. Matterson has elevated his game this year to the sort of heights we have all known he is capable of and become a field-tilting presence for the Eels from the bench. Indeed, despite not been listed as a starter he inarguably the primary lock forward for the club and a strong argument for the value of having key players on the bench.
Oregon Kaufusi and Makahesi Makatoa have been the other mainstays of the interchange and both bookends have been solid without setting the world on fire. The final spot on the bench has proven tricky to fill with Jake Arthur, Mitch Rein and Bryce Cartwright all getting shots at making it their own. Most recently Brad Arthur has settled on a four forward bench rotation with the return of Marata Niukore allowing him to push Nathan Brown to the interchange.
While the bench has been solid overall, there are several form forwards in the NSW Cup putting plenty of pressure on the coaching staff to pick them and that is far from a bad thing.
I can’t go past the away win over the Panthers.
Not only do the Eels stand alone in the “Vanquished the Riff” roll call, they achieved that feat backing up from a horror loss to the Cowboys in Darwin. Furthermore, the way they withstood the extended pressure applied by Penrith in the second half, spoke volumes about the resilience in the team.
I was even more impressed with the way that the team pushed aside that awful missed knock on in the lead up to the Panthers try just before half time. Reflecting on recent seasons, their mind set that night was the best that I can recall. It proved what is possible for this team.
It is almost impossible to split the twin triumphs over the Storm and Panthers. I will lean towards the Round 3 28-24 upset if only because while BlueBet Stadium has become a fortress in recent seasons, AAMI Park has been a wasteland for visiting teams for practically two decades. Not only did the Eels win in golden point but they did on the back of game saving and defining plays from Shaun Lane and Ray Stone. Even more, it extends Parramatta’s reign of supremacy over the Storm to an almost unheard of 3-game win streak.
My nomination for biggest surprise might be something of a surprise in itself.
Shaun Lane has featured in a number of match defining plays this season. His offload to Reed Mahoney to set up the penalty try kept the Eels in the contest against the Panthers. Likewise, his long break through the Raiders right edge to set up Brown’s try came right when the Eels needed some inspiration.
Lane had a strong first season in the Blue and Gold. His big moments this year are reminiscent of that.
This one is actually pretty hard for me to qualify given that the Eels have largely operated with the parameters I set for my expectations this year. Maybe in a more general sense Bailey Simonsson has surprised a segment of fans that were baying for blood after a modest opening to the season but I had Bailey tipped as a big-time contributor on the right flank.
Perhaps Parramatta’s gumption in battling through a ridiculous string of injuries in the back line was the biggest surprise. Seeing the team fully embrace the ‘next man up’ philosophy and grind out tough wins may have caused more than a few heart palpitations but it also shows the growth of the club as a whole.
In contrast to the against the odds over the Riff, the loss of a couple of winnable contests has provided the greatest disappointment. The team was unmercifully humbled by the Cowboys, but gifting last minute wins to the Sharks and Tigers in the manner that they did really stung.
Despite being far from their best in either match, Parra placed themselves in the box seat for the two points, only to throw both away.
Definitely a consensus decision here with the winnable games that the Eels squandered in the first half of the season. While the Cowboys handed Parramatta a certifiable whooping up in Darwin, the losses to the Sharks, Tigers and Roosters were lost largely on the back of self-inflicted wounds. We know the Eels have an incredibly high ceiling given their wins over Melbourne and Penrith but raising their floor in order to ensure those other games don’t slip away will be imperative moving forwards.
Ken Thornett Medal Frontrunner
This is tough. Does it require consistency in every game or standout performances in just enough clashes to win the gong?
It’s probably a four way battle between Moses, Dylbags, Ice and Matto. As team captain, Gutho might even have secured enough votes despite a couple of “unGutho” games.
Forced to select just one, I’ll suggest that Dylan Brown might be just ahead of the others. Should he continue his current form, he‘ll be hard to hold out and the Eels will go close to a title.
It is one of the more stacked fields in recent memory for the Ken Thornett Medal in 2022. Dylan Brown and Ryan Matterson are commanding plenty of attention for obvious reasons but consistent performers like Isaiah Papali’i and the pairs of props in Paulo and Campbell-Gillard should never be slept on. As it stands I think Matterson might have the slight edge on the back of his incredible run over the last two months.
|The Eels enter the second half of the season sporting an 8-4 record and in possession of 5th place on the ladder. An excellent platform to build off by any metric. Slip ups against the Sharks, Tigers and Roosters cost them an ‘A’ rating but their iconic victories over the Melbourne Storm and Penrith Panthers show that this team has what it takes to slug it out with the competition’s best.|