When the 2022 draw came out, the round 15-16 double is the one I circled as the test of where the Parramatta Eels are at compared to years gone by. You could set your watch to an Eels hiding at the hands of the Rabbitohs or Roosters for the last few years, and the lethal left edge of South Sydney remains one of the few hoodoos the Eels of 2022 are yet to conquer.
This isn’t your dad’s South Sydney Rabbitohs, of course. You may not have heard, but the departure of Adam Reynolds has been felt deeply at the Bunnies, and Jason Demetriou hasn’t been able to get the best out of his star players like Wayne Bennett did before him. Cody Walker is out of touch, Latrell Mitchell is coming back from a long injury layoff and Dane Gagai is up in Newcastle, missing tackles instead of setting up tries. They’re there to be beaten.
I’m very nervous about this one. The stats all point to an Eels win, but history suggests that is a foolish assumption. Will it be the Latrell comeback game, or the Latrell “just get through it” game? How badly does Damien Cook want his starting Origin jersey back? Can Jason Demetriou motivate a no-name middle like Wayne Bennett always could against us? A win here and we can finally, honestly say we can beat anybody on our day. Come on Parramatta, let’s do this.
Date: Saturday July 2, 2022
Venue: Accor Stadium, Homebush
Kick-off: 7:35 PM AEST
Referee: Ben Cummins
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 131, Eels 55, Rabbitohs 73, Drawn 3
Odds: Eels $1.60 Rabbitohs $2.35
Lines: Eels -3.5, total points 41.5
Fact: The Bureau of Meteorology suggests this match will be played underwater on Saturday night
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
I was literally singing my own praises at half time of the Eels vs Roosters clash. Having tipped total match points to be over 47.5 (paying $2.80) things were looking sweet after 38 points were scored in the first half.
Whilst thrilled with the Eels 26-16 win, there was some punting disappointment that only four points could be added in the second half.
This week, I’m looking for the Eels to overcome the Souths hoodoo and register a win.
Therefore, a favourite market of mine, the line/over under double, offers tempting odds. Take Parra at -3.5/over 40.5 total match points which is paying $3.10.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 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. Ryan Matterson. 14. Makahesi Makatoa 15. Marata Niukore 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Ky Rodwell.
18. Tom Opacic 19. Jake Arthur 20. Nathan Brown 21. Bryce Cartwright 22. Hayze Perham.
Only minor changes to the Eels side, with Ryan Matterson named at lock, again, with Marata Niukore moving to the bench. Matterson is in some doubt with a lingering rib injury from the Roosters game, if he can’t go then I would expect Niukore to return to the back row and Papali’i to again play lock, with Nathan Brown likely to take the bench spot.
Brad Arthur didn’t find much time for Ky Rodwell in that Roosters game, hopefully he gets a few more minutes out there this weekend, and even more hopefully he doesn’t drop his second touch (or any touch). Otherwise it is a big bench that is well suited to match the Rabbitohs, something the forwards have really struggled to do in recent contests between the two.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Taane Milne 4. Campbell Graham 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Mark Nicholls 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jai Arrow 13. Cameron Murray. 14. Kodi Nikorima 15. Thomas Burgess 16. Siliva Havili 17. Hame Sele.
18. Blake Taaffe 19. Isaiah Tass 20. Liam Knight 21. Ben Lovett 22. Davvy Moale.
Only one story this week for the Rabbitohs as Latrell Mitchell makes his long awaited return from injury via experimental American treatments and apparently getting into “the best shape of his career”. He’ll either kill us or have a shocker, but Mitch Moses had better be testing out that fitness with his kicking game.
Lachlan Ilias was hooked in an embarrassing last start loss against the Dragons, but retains his spot here mostly because the Rabbitohs don’t have any other options. Tom Burgess was a prop of the year contender last year but now languishes on the bench, while the backline appears to have settled that Taane Milne is a centre and Jaxson Paulo a winger, a combination as potent in attack as it is porous in defence.
One area to fear is the back row, which holds a potent mix of skill, strength and grit. Koloamatangi is a wrecking ball type that has caused the Eels issues (see Luciano Leilua) while Cam Murray loves a quick play-the-ball and he’ll find plenty of opportunities against an Eels defence that doesn’t test the boundaries of the ruck. Jai Arrow is just tough and hard working, but together they form a real threat on later tackles and provide momentum for that lethal left edge to run at retreating defenders.
South Sydney has had two major issues in 2022: they can’t hold on to the ball and their left-side attack isn’t as strong as previous seasons. Fox Sports this week pointed out they throw away more possession than any other side, which aligns with their league leading error count. Their left edge doesn’t pass the eye test this year, with Cody Walker noticeably out of form and often frustrated by opposing sides. Alex Johnston is still getting his on that left wing, but he has padded his numbers in recent weeks against the Titans and Tigers.
While Walker’s form is a concern, the absence of Latrell Mitchell has hurt that left edge, as has the departure of Dane Gagai. Mitchell might just slot back in like he never left, but he will need to build a new combination with his centre, whether Milne is given the role or Campbell Graham is shifted across. Teams are also more adept at crashing in on the playmaker on these shifts in 2022, including Parramatta where Bailey Simonsson has improved dramatically at shutting down edge movements. I don’t think he has a great shot at shutting down Latrell’s silky fast hands if faced with an overlap, but if ever there is a chance that Mitchell can’t get those quick balls away it will be in his first game of footy in three months.
That left side has terrorised Parramatta for years because Parra have been unable to win the middle against South Sydney. The Bunnies get to spread off quick play-the-balls or line breaks, winning field position by suffocating the Parramatta forwards with their defence. On paper, it shouldn’t happen, and too often the Eels have stuck at a strategy that has played into the Rabbitohs hands, refusing to go two wide or test the Bunnies defence in any way. It’s a trademark of the Eels when they lose the middle battle, and they can’t afford to fall into those old habits again should South Sydney lift for this one.
Much of that smart gameplanning I have attributed to Wayne Bennett, though from many accounts the recent tactical success of South Sydney is due to then-assistant and now head coach Jason Demetriou. I’m not buying that so much after watching Souths for half a season, where their once clinical edge attack has been uncharacteristically clunky and their entire side has proven unable to maintain possession or pressure. The Rabbitohs forwards have always played out of their skin against Parramatta and that could come down to motivation, something Demetriou struggles with. Whatever the secret sauce to Souths success, I hope they don’t suddenly find it this weekend.
Another noted Eel-killer is Damien Cook, a player that thrives on ruck dominance and quick play-the-balls. His success is tied to the success of the pack, an icing on the cake kind of player rather than one that will drag the side from defeat to victory. Beat the forwards and you beat Cook.
Parramatta needs to show resolve in defence, something that has been spotty throughout season 2022. They were excellent against the Roosters, especially in the second half, but conceding over 21ppg is not the way to win a premiership. If anything the Eels defensive numbers are flattering due to their possession dominance. Imagine how much opposing sides would score if they earned a 50/50 share of the ball?
The cause of these defensive issues is harder to pinpoint this year. It isn’t just the right side, though that long troublesome edge remains the weakest point of the Eels line (but not to the extent of the Waqa/Fergo days). Instead it is a mix of defensive boners (see Clint Gutherson on kicks), ordinary efforts on high kicks in general, clumsy reads from edge combinations and giving away too many mid-field line breaks that let the opposition attack a retreating, scrambling line. I’d say it is a lot harder to fix many small leaks than one big one, but Brad Arthur never managed to plug that Fergo sized hole down the right edge so he may have better luck tidying up a collection of smaller issues.
While the Parramatta attack is humming thanks to the emergence of Dylan Brown and the career best form of Ryan Matterson and Shaun Lane, “defence wins championships” is as true in the NRL as anywhere else. You need to go back a long way to find NRL premiers that weren’t an elite defensive unit. There is plenty of time to get this right, but improvement must be shown soon.
Maybe it is residual concern from the Bulldogs game, but I’m not feeling good here. You can see the Rabbitohs getting an early attacking set and Latrell putting on a try down that left edge with his first touch. Dan Ginnane will be screaming about how wonderful he is and how the Bunnies are back, and by the end of the first half he’ll be in the NSW team for Origin 3.
I’m hoping that isn’t the case, and we get a rusty performance from a man with three and a bit games of football under his belt this year, none of them particularly impressive. Cody Walker makes an early error, gets a head rub from Reed Mahoney and wants to start a fight for the rest of the game. Jaxson Paulo continues to be a defensive liability and the Eels front row has another one of “those” games after getting a taste for it against the Roosters.
If these two teams play to type, Parramatta should do it comfortably. They’ll dominate field position and possession and overwhelm the Rabbitohs defence. This is the team with the best discipline and highest rate of possession in the competition against the worst. I’ll be very happy if it plays out like that, but the wildcards of Mitchell’s return and Souths’ recent dominance of the Eels make me the opposite of comfortable.
Let’s stick to positivity and expect that win. The Eels were clinical against the Roosters, they were out to prove a point and they dominated the game with their defence and some flashes of attacking brilliance. May that be the start of a spectacular run to the finals. After years of struggles with consistency and complacency, that this time the message from Brad Arthur has stuck and we see a ruthless, dominant Parramatta side. It’s time.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 30 d South Sydney 16
Man of the Match: Dylan Brown