It feels like I’m wasting my time previewing Parramatta games at this point. Tactics and matchups don’t matter, the only question pertinent to the result is whether the Eels play well or not. Not once this year has Parramatta lost when playing well, unfortunately you can count those good performances on one hand.
So even against a dominant Penrith Panthers side, the challenge is not their opponents but themselves. The best Parramatta has to offer can beat Penrith, it has been proven several times over the last couple of seasons, most definitively when dealing the Panthers their only loss of the season back in round 9. We just haven’t seen that “best” since the round 15 win over the Roosters and too few times before that.
The Eels are as full strength as they will get, and the matches are as important as they will face until the finals. I probably said it last week, but if they can’t get up for this one, what hope do they have? Penrith will be primed for revenge, even missing a couple of key players, and anything but a good Eels effort will likely result in a walloping. I dread to think how the TCT meetup will go if we have 40 put on us, so let’s hope we see “Good Parramatta” come Friday night.
Date: Friday July 29, 2022
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 7:55 PM AEST
Referee: Todd Smith
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 104, Eels 59, Panthers 44, Drawn 1
Odds: Eels $3.50 Panthers $1.30
Lines: Eels +9.5, total points 41.5
Fact: Since 2020, the only team besides the Eels to beat the Panthers twice is the Melbourne Storm
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Over the last three weeks the Eels have been odds on favourites.
That will not be the case against the Panthers, so if you’re game to put some coin on an Eels win, you’ll be offered a generous return.
However, not even this rusted on supporter would dare suggest putting your money down on an unpredictable Parra team.
Instead, I’m tipping Waqa Blake to score a try at anytime at the odds of $3.30.
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. Bryce Cartwright 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Marata Niukore.
18. Jake Arthur 19. Ofahiki Ogden 20. Ky Rodwell 21. Tom Opacic 22. Sean Russell.
Only one change from the team that phoned it in against Brisbane last week, with Bryce Cartwright returning to the bench utility role in place of Jake Arthur. The merry-go-round continues in that utility position, and while Cartwright doesn’t leave us with great outside backs or hooker coverage for injury, he is the most useful player in that role if everybody stays healthy. It’s also a revenge game for Cartwright, so hopefully he gets his shoulder into tackles and creates some second phase play with his offloads.
Ryan Matterson is rumoured to be playing hurt, and judging by his tentative entry into contact last week that rumour passes the eye test. Rib injuries are painful and don’t heal quickly, but we can’t afford anything but the best from Matto in big contests like this. Sadly with Nathan Brown persona non-grata in the first grade squad there aren’t many other options right now.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Taylan May 3. Izack Tago 4. Robert Jennings 5. Brian To’o 6. Sean O’Sullivan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Matthew Eisenhuth 9. Apisai Korisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo. 14. Jaeman Salmon 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Charlie Staines.
18. Sunia Turuva 19. Lindsay Smith 20. Chris Smith 21. Thomas Jenkins 22. Moses Leota.
Stephen Crichton and Jarome Luai are two big outs, the high effort play of Luai has caused us some trouble in recent times so he will be a welcome absence. He’s also infuriating to watch as an opposition fan (and as a NSW fan it turns out). The drop from Crichton to his replacement Robert Jennings is about as big a gap as you’ll see in NRL football, though Jennings could be a smokescreen for Sunia Turuva to make another first grade appearance. For those lost, Robert is the one Jennings to not play for the Eels, but he is much closer in talent to George than Michael.
Moses Leota has also snuck into the reserves, and looking at how lightweight the Panthers bench is, a return would not be a surprise. Bench rake Mitch Kenny is also out injured, Staines tentatively taking his spot but it is hard to see a world where he gets extended game time other than through injury. Staines’ speed should worry the Eels, but Penrith haven’t proven adept at exploiting it too often in his first grade career.
I’m a bit sick of delving into opposition weaknesses and potential gameplans in the preview, only to see the Eels serve up absolute trash on the weekend. Instead let’s take a look at the areas where the Eels need to improve that aren’t just “put some bloody effort in”.
Sixties took a deep dive into Clint Gutherson and Reed Mahoney this week, and I agree with his thoughts. Mahoney is looking a lot like the biggest beneficiary of V’Looney Tunes football, the outlier year of crazy six again play also being the only year he could be considered an elite NRL hooker (and get paid like one). This year his attacking involvements aren’t as strong, his service is average and defensively he makes a lot of tackles, but bounces off too many. Is it the game? Is it his shoulder? Is his mind already at Belmore? I don’t care, he’s just not the same player as last year.
Gutherson is a strange case, where his high effort style of play is not making up for the deficiencies in his game. Teams are exploiting him by kicking early in the red zone, and his efforts under the high ball (and the bouncing ball) haven’t filled fans with confidence. Both he and Mahoney are well below their 2021 form, and that accounts for a lot of the difference between last year’s squad and this one.
I touched on Gutherson’s try concede numbers in the grades, but they’re worth considering again here. He has gone from likely the best defensive fullback in the NRL to the worst, and while fullbacks can cop a bad rap in try concede totals for being the last man to miss a tackle on a break, all fullbacks are treated equally and thus being at the bottom of the pile is still a major concern for a man usually near the top. I don’t seriously think he is the worst defender at the back in the NRL, but his defence was once an asset and is now a liability.
Gutherson isn’t the only defensive issue in the Eels side. The Simonsson/Penisini edge has kept up the fine tradition of letting in tries on the right side started by Ferguson and Blake. Again, a lot of this isn’t their fault, the overlaps start inside because Parramatta over-commits to the ruck or gives away fast play-the-balls, and even with the numbers balanced it only takes one bad read inside to leave a winger hanging. Teams are kicking in behind our rushing defence all the more now too, and after three seasons running the same defensive structure, opposition coaches have found ways to exploit it.
Fixing the edge and the tries from kicks would lift the Eels up to a respectable defensive team, and at times they’ve shown the resolve of a top defensive unit. Defensive cohesion is unfortunately not just something you can dig for and hope it is there in big games. The reason the top ranked defenders in the NRL are always winning the competition is because they are well drilled units, in sync with each other and making decisions as one, able to rely on reflex and trust in the biggest moments. When you get to finals football every weakness you have shown will be exploited, and right now opposition coaches are spoiled for choice when it comes to exploiting Parramatta.
It’s not just effort, it is systems and execution. It is too late to change the system, and to be fair at its best it has worked, but execution and communication have to improve. They needed to start improving a month ago, but we’ve reached last chance saloon here. Whatever it is, our systems have worked against Penrith in recent years, and if defensive improvement doesn’t start on Friday night, it never will.
Penrith will be fired up for this one. Revenge will be on their minds and they very rarely have a bad day. Anything but “Good Parramatta” is probably losing by 30+. Viliame Kikau is playing up to his inflated reputation, Api Koroisau is in electric touch and while Nathan Cleary was a real flop in State of Origin, again, he is the ultimate club footballer who lives for games like this.
One great hope is that Parramatta are yet to lose this year while playing well. It is a shame that we’ve only played well in perhaps six contests: Melbourne, Penrith, the second Roosters game, Canberra, Newcastle and the Dragons. Every other performance has been spotty; a good half followed by an ordinary one, some lapses early or late, or just an absolute soiling of the bed like the Bulldogs game. Penrith is going to test that theory and they’re more than capable of beating the Eels even if Parramatta are playing well, but I’m confident a good performance from the Blue and Gold will get them a win.
What I’m not confident in is that a good performance is coming. Last week was a huge game, critical to top four chances, coming off a bonding/refreshment week and Parramatta produced yet another stinker. What has changed this week? Yes we seem to lift for Penrith games, but that is a thin hope to be balancing on. I’m done with being optimistic this year, the last couple of months of footy have knocked that out of me. I’m predicting the worst, and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Penrith 34 d Parramatta 12
Man of the Match: Api Koroisau