Just five rounds remain in the run to the 2022 finals series.
Time has passed quickly since the season kicked off, and that’s easy to understand when you have the type of controversies experienced by the NRL in recent weeks.
The Tigers loss to the Cowboys, the Manly jersey debacle and some significant suspensions all filled media headlines whilst prompting opinions from anyone with the slightest interest in rugby league.
Closer to home, another victory over the Panthers, the injury to Mitch Moses and the potential addition of Marty Taupau is currently fuelling Eels social media.
It all adds up to a good time for another issue of Bumpers Up!
Roll On You Roller Coaster Eels
It’s more a frustration transitway than an amusement park attraction, but there appears to be no sign of the crazy ride of 2022 changing any time soon.
After believing that the loss to the Broncos was likely to send the Eels hurtling off the tracks, I tipped with my head and not my heart in predicting a significant defeat at the hands on Penrith. This was despite Forty’s regular reminders about the likelihood of a bounce back.
I should have known better. The thrashing of the Panthers was logically improbable and yet typical of this roller coaster season.
Likewise, my warranted criticism of both Gutherson and Mahoney was followed by season best performances from both.
Good Parra had fronted on Friday night and were on track to victory regardless of the Cleary dismissal.
The key to unlocking a sequence of victories still lies between the players’ ears. Supporters can determine what most matches will deliver by observing the intensity levels on display in the first ten minutes.
I wonder what this week will deliver?
Hard To Please
Whilst I fully understand the frustration of Eels fans when it comes to the fluctuating performances of our team, I find it difficult to accept that there’d be any supporter who wouldn’t be impressed with the demolition of the Panthers.
Make no mistake, a 34 to 10 score line was a result to be applauded in every respect. Don’t be derailed by any narrative that spins the second half into a 6-4 win to Penrith. The Panthers are the premiers for a reason. They regrouped and made adjustments to their play to compensate for the loss of Cleary. Their cause was helped by a run of possession and Parra having their starting middles off the park.
The Eels have now faced Penrith three times during 2022, including the trial, and emerged with three victories. They would be the team Penrith least want to face in a finals match.
Every win should be celebrated. A victory like this even more so.
Bringing Some Kapow?
The addition of Martin Taupau to the Eels roster for the remainder of 2022 is yet to be officially confirmed, but when it is Brad Arthur will face an interesting selection decision.
As it currently stands, Arthur uses a couple of middles off the bench in a workhorse role. Both Makatoa and Kaufusi are given a no-nonsense brief of hitting the ball up hard and straight and making their tackles.
Outside of the middles, Marata provides some utility value and the potential for impact from the interchange, but it’s fair to say he’s had a quiet year by his standards. The fourth spot has seen a rotation of players throughout the season used as additional cover for certain positions but this has caused some controversy as BA often gives minimal minutes here or even none at all.
I’ll add more on this bench structure later.
Taupau potentially changes this. Perhaps he pushes out one of the middles in either Makatoa or Kaufusi, in which case BA signals that he’s looking for greater punch from the middles on the bench. The type of game played by Taupau is akin to Junior with a not too dissimilar body type capable of bringing the power when he runs the ball, and a kitbag of ball skills.
Maybe Arthur simply stops selecting a rotational fourth bench player and locks in big Marty in this spot. Niukore then exclusively becomes the player capable of covering the loss of a forward or a back and we start to see a change in how the interchange minutes are utilised.
If the final details of Taupau’s move are finalised today, I doubt that he will be playing this week. With Manly being the Eels next opponent, the Sea Eagles would be undoubtedly pushing for his exclusion this week. Regardless, getting an extra week for him to learn calls and plays won’t hurt.
During the past week, I thought that Forty did an excellent job of breaking down Arthur’s use of the bench in 2022.
Like most other coaches, BA uses the interchange to cover his three middles. This means that Junior, Reg and Matto are the players replaced. Mahoney is an 80 minute player as are both back rowers. Injury is the only reason for backs to be taken from the field, though many NRL coaches like to have a safety net on the bench (see Penrith selecting Staines on Friday night).
Both Junior and Reg play around 50 minutes per game and Matterson as much as 60 minutes. This leaves 80 minutes to be covered by four bench players. In Parra’s case that might just be three players as the fourth bench player might get no time at all.
Is this the best structure?
From a salary cap perspective, the Eels have invested heavily in the three starting middles. It’s reported that both Reg and Junior are on around $800K whilst Matterson is on somewhere between $650K to $700K.
All three are quality players, so from a purely football perspective would you want less minutes? From a salary perspective, reducing the minutes of either RCG or Paulo wouldn’t make sense either. Personally, I couldn’t justify paying $800K to 40 minute players.
As I see it, the only way to change the interchange minutes when you have an 80 minute dummy half is to include the back rowers in the rotation. As suggested earlier, Arthur might go this way with the potential arrival of Marty Taupau.
The next few weeks could prove to be very interesting.
The finger injury to Mitch Moses has cast a new light on what is now a potentially Pyrrhic victory over the Panthers.
Here’s a thought. Would supporters have taken a loss to the Panthers if it meant not losing Moses for up to four weeks?
Regardless, what a brave effort from Moses to have played on with the injury. There was nothing about his play to indicate the severity of the injury he suffered.
With Moses out of action, Jake Arthur will be selected in the halfback role. It’s a straight forward selection as JA is the next cab off the rank in the halves.
I have the confidence in Jake to get the job done. He does not play a similar game to Moses, as few halfbacks possess Mitch’s pace or acceleration. However, Jake’s strength is his game management and composure, something that his team mates appreciate.
That said, the most important player during the absence of Moses won’t be Jake Arthur. Now in his fourth season of NRL, the responsibility falls on Dylan Brown to step up to a senior role in the spine.
How successfully he does so could determine the Eels fate over the next month of football.
Opacic or Simonsson?
The hamstring strain to Bailey Simonsson might have created another selection headache for Brad Arthur.
Tom Opacic has always been the epitome of reliable whenever selected in the top grade. Though he doesn’t possess the flashy attacking skills of some outside backs in the NRL, he makes good decisions with how he positions himself and those around him in both attack and defence.
His selection at centre pushed Waqa Blake to the wing, a position that many supporters feel brings out Blake’s best. He carries the ball strongly from the back field and his frame is well suited to contesting kicks to the wing.
The positional switches seemed to work a treat on Friday night, and both Opacic and Blake did everything asked of them.
Simonsson is only expected to be out for a week or two. There’s a big call to be made when he’s fit to return.
Cup Fellas Deserved Better
I wanted to give a quick shout out to the Eels NSW Cup team.
On Friday night Wiremu Greig was sent from the field in the first tackle of the second half, and he was soon followed by Nathan Brown who spent ten minutes in the sin bin. This meant that the Eels played with only 11 players against 13 during this period.
Despite this, Parra pulled the score back from 24-12 down to level the scores at 24 all just before full time. Unfortunately for them, the Panthers kicked a field goal with around 90 seconds left on the clock.
There was a blatant forward pass from Penrith missed by the touch judge just before the field goal, making the loss even tougher to accept.
Some pundits are strangely choosing to criticise the Eels NRL team because a 12 man Panthers team refused to capitulate in the second half. I hope any Eels supporter can find some praise for the Parra NSW Cup team because they did better than refusing to capitulate. They were straight out unlucky to not win or at least draw their match.
I had my say on Twitter about the bunker call which robbed the Wests Tigers of a well deserved victory over the Cowboys. It was one of the most atrocious calls I’ve witnessed, mostly because it wasn’t made in the heat of battle, but rather with the benefit of time and different camera angles.
They won’t get the points for that match. As wrong as the call was, the game is done and part of a history book that down the track will reflect none of the controversy.
Therefore, the best way forward was to find a win.
That they did, and their form against the Broncos was arguably stronger than what they produced against the Cowboys.
More power to them.
Last week, the Eels staged their launch to the 2022 NRLW season.
After failing to play finals footy in their first campaign earlier this year, the club has taken the decision to focus on both younger players and local products.
Simaima Taufa and Tiana Penitani will assume the role of co-captains this campaign, with Kennedy Cherrington the other “senior” voice in the squad. Kennedy will be joined by her younger sister, the promising dummy half Reuben Cherrington. Filomina Hanisi, Ellie Johnston, Abbi Church, Rikeya Horne, Christian Pio, Seli Mailangi and Tess Staines will all be backing up for another season.
The exciting group of new arrivals brings a sense of the unknown to the season. Gayle Broughton, Brooke Walker, Brooke Anderson, Vanessa Foliaki, Ash Quinlan, Tayla Preston, Rima Butler, Ruby-Jean Kennard, Losana Lutu, Cassey Tohi-Hiku, Najvada George, Zali Fay, and Luisa Yaranamua make up a youthful roster further complemented by Tarsha Gale Cup players enjoying some involvement in a development capacity.
Ruby-Jean Kennard would be a name familiar to followers of TCT. Kennard has been a standout in the Eels Tarsha Gale sides and hails from the All Saints Toongabbie club, making her the first Eels pathways player to transition to the NRLW squad.
Another to watch is former New Zealand Rugby Sevens star, Gayle Broughton. The injury to Botille Vette-Welsh had left a hole at fullback which is likely to be filled by the talented Broughton.
The Eels are currently in the middle of their preseason, with the season proper kicking off at CommBank Stadium on August 20.
Incidentally, I was at Eels NRL training last week, and three Kellyville Bushrangers teams were going through their paces on the adjoining fields. Each of them was a girls team!
The Tip Sheet
If you haven’t had the opportunity to do so, please check out our recent episodes of The Tip Sheet podcasts.
Bill Richards from the Blue and Gold Alliance was a most interesting guest. Bill is Eels player 259, after debuting in 1968. His career was cut short that same season after being drafted into service for the Vietnam War.
These days, Bill is a highly educated individual who leads the Blue and Gold Alliance, the association of former Eels players and staff.
Next up on their calendar in the Ted Sulkowicz Memorial Golf Day scheduled for August 12. It will honour the memory of the former Eels five-eighth who recently and unexpectedly passed away.
I’d also recommend our chat with current Eels Flegg Captain, Corey Fenning. It’s a fascinating insight into the journey and commitment required of a young player coming through rugby league’s pathways.
Forty and I have just emerged from three straight weeks of live appearances in Jacks Bar & Grill at Parra Leagues. Our post match gigs have featured the legends Neville Glover, Steve Ella and Peter Wynn. We can’t thank them enough for their time and those in attendance have taken advantage of the opportunity to grab a photo and a chat with them.
The most recent live podcast was terrific fun as we were joined by other members of the TCT family along with great friends such as our loyal sponsor Greg Okladnikov of Starr Partners and Mary K from Ladies Who League.
We’ll next see you all there after the Souths match.