It hasn’t been the traditional lead-up to a clash of Manly and Parra, but this shapes as the most important clash between the heroes in Blue and Gold and their dastardly northern beaches nemesis in some time. A win just about buries Manly’s finals chances, and if that prospect can’t motivate a Parramatta Eel then they don’t deserve to wear the jersey.
There are so many conflicting factors and trends here that their predictive power is akin to a Mole “boom” tweet. Manly will either be at their best or their worst, there is no in-between after the week they’ve had. Parramatta will either be great or shocking, and the law of “follow a good win with a bad loss” suggests we’ll see bad Parramatta tonight. What do the Eels look like without Mitchell Moses? Good luck in your tipping comp with this one, people.
So crack out those Tooheys ads from the YouTube favourites and get ready for Parramatta to thump em, bump em, pick em up and dump em out of the finals race for 2022. It’s the biggest game since last week, Manly and Parra under lights at Brookvale. This is footy right here.
Date: Friday August 5, 2022
Venue: Brookvale Oval, Brookvale
Kick-off: 7:55 PM AEST
Referee: Gerard Sutton
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 146, Eels 55, Sea Eagles 87, Drawn 4
Odds: Eels $2.05, Sea Eagles $1.77
Lines: Eels +1.5, total points 45.5
Fact: Brookvale Oval should be redeveloped into apartments and Manly sent to Perth
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
I hope some of you got on the generous odds on offer for the Eels last week. I had no confidence about taking the punt in any win market and so I couldn’t suggest betting on an Eels victory. In retrospect, it was the perfect time to get on!
This week, the Eels are again the outsiders, albeit not far from even money at $2.05 in the head to head market.
That seems like a straightforward bet, but you can increase your return in the “pick your own line” market. Consider taking Parra at -5.5 points. That basically means the Eels will win by at least a converted try. You can currently get odds of $2.80, which looks very decent to me.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Tom Opacic 5. Waqa Blake 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jake Arthur 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. Ofahiki Ogden 19. Hayze Perham 20. Brendan Hands 21. Sean Russell 22. Elie El-Zakhem.
We’ll be talking plenty about Mitchell Moses, who is out for at least a couple of weeks with a broken finger. Early reports are that it may be as short as a two week rest, but avoid disappointment by expecting four weeks out. Jake Arthur comes in at halfback, despite some injury concerns of his own. Rumblings of Clint Gutherson in the halves have been heard, but I expect the team to go out 1-17 on Friday night.
Tom Opacic came in for an injured Bailey Simonsson last weekend, shifting Waqa Blake out to the wing. This week is the first real defensive test of these new combinations, as a 12-man Panthers side didn’t throw a lot of shape at either edge. If they can hold out the Sea Eagles then there is a real question of whether Bailey should come back into the team, but we won’t need to answer that for another week yet.
We’ll talk about the bench later as well, but the reserves are an interesting bunch this week. The presence of Hands and Perham suggest there is some doubt about Jake and potentially Mahoney, while Ogden and El-Zakhem have overtaken Rodwell and Greig as the reserve forwards of choice.
Manly Sea Eagles
1. Reuben Garrick 2. Jason Saab 3. Morgan Harper 4. Tolutau Koula 5. Christian Tuipulotu 6. Kieran Foran 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Toafofoa Sipley 11. Haumole Olakau’atu 12. Andrew Davey 13. Jake Trbojevic. 14. Dylan Walker 15. Ben Trbojevic 16. Martin Taupau 17. Morgan Boyle.
18. Josh Schuster 19. Ethan Bullemor 20. Kurt de Luis 21. Kaeo Weekes 22. Brad Parker.
The “Manly 7” return this week, sort of. Josh Aloiai is injured and probably could have avoided all the drama last week with that excuse but chose to dive in and lead the charge instead, while Josh Schuster has been dropped to the reserves. Noted Eel-killer Brad Parker lurks in the reserves as well, hopefully Mr. Scorpio stays there.
Where Brad Arthur cops it for his use of the bench, Des Hasler’s starting props have had some strange minutes this year. Sipley has had starts with less than 20 minutes game time, while Paseka is an impact prop being used as a minute-man in recent weeks. Martin Taupau could have been an Eel and his pending exit from the club could either see him phone in the remaining weeks or absolutely kill it, making him a perfect analogy for the Sea Eagles as a whole this week.
Manly is the NRL’s gold standard when it comes to siege mentality, turning “us against them” into an artform that has delivered success in the face of adversity time and time again. Yet siege mentality may not be the answer when it is “us against us” instead, as is the case with the current Sea Eagles dramas. Leaked text messages suggest all is not well at Brookvale, both the content of them and the fact that they are getting out of the club at all. Hopefully the rift in the playing group is deep and comes to a head on Friday night.
Thus this game is all about Manly. They’ll either play their best game of the year, fired up and rabid after a couple of weeks of turmoil, or they’ll be a disaster. Can Parramatta beat a fired up Manly, at Brookvale and without their halfback? Nobody could tell you if the team will show up ready to go, but we can at least look at what Parramatta football looks like without Mitchell Moses.
Most compliments given to Jake Arthur will be directed to his game management and poise, factors we’ve rarely seen tested in his first grade career as most times he has played off the bench or in replacement of Dylan Brown. His four games at halfback last season included a dominant win against the Titans, a close loss to the Raiders who got by on a career day from Jordan Rapana, a capitulation to the Roosters and the reserve grade Eels loss to Penrith. Not a lot to take from all of those, and games I’m certainly not going back to watch again.
I would expect Jake is entrusted to direct the structured attack, with Dylan Brown playing a similar role to his usual game but with more last tackle kicking. Clint Gutherson will also come in and relieve playmaking pressure at times, including down the left edge where his cutout passing is lethal. This should allow Jake to direct traffic down the right side where he will have plenty of weapons available.
Jake needs confidence in his red zone attack, he has been guilty of laying up inside instead of spreading the ball in his first grade appearances. His outside men need to run appealing lines, Isaiah Papali’i in particular, while getting early ball to Will Penisini and Waqa Blake isn’t a terrible strategy either. Gutherson would do well to offer that alternate inside line, so at least it isn’t a flat-footed forward getting the ball.
Kicking is going to be interesting, with Jake not having a stellar record with short attacking kicks and Gutherson hardly excelling in that area this year either. Dylan Brown has found recent success with his placement of chip-bombs near the posts, and despite my reservations I would expect Reed Mahoney to try a few grubbers out of dummy half as well. If we get a decent amount of good ball I expect a few sets will fizzle out with kicks into legs and bad ricochets, but there are certainly plenty of options available to the Eels, even if none match the skill of Moses.
A lot is going to fall on the shoulders of the Eels forwards, who may lose as much as 15-20 metres per set without the kicking game of Mitch Moses. The kick chase will need to be faster, exerting more effort as the clearing kicks won’t be as towering or accurate. It could even result in a shift to kicking early and finding space when you can’t rely on Moses to put up a high kick landing inside the 20.
That will add fatigue to the forwards, meaning Brad Arthur’s bench use will come under more scrutiny. More on that in a moment, but the outside backs are going to need to do a lot of dirty work here. In this case Bailey Simonsson’s absence may be a help, as Waqa Blake is a superior yardage man, and Maika Sivo has looked good at times in his own rucking efforts.
It will also require some adjustment should Manly compress and start pounding on the Eels in defence. Too often Parramatta tries to get out of a hole through digging, the team needs to adjust and go two wide or back inside if they are finding the Sea Eagles line speed is too effective. I don’t have great hopes for that to happen, it would be a first in a long time, but it is a risk against a team that might come out fired up.
Brad Arthur’s use of his interchange bench has been a talking point among Eels fans all season, and the general league media started to pick at it this week. Unfortunately for Brad, it was all a classic case of pointing at a problem without offering a solution, so let’s take a look at what could actually be done here, if anything, to fix the Parramatta bench.
First up, what has gone wrong with the bench? Losing Ray Stone has hurt, as has the drop in form of Marata Niukore and Nathan Brown. What started the year as a bench of Stone, Matterson, Niukore and the form front rower of a group of five (Kaufusi, Makatoa, Hollis, Ogden and Greig) is now down a utility and the middles have no upward pressure coming from NSW Cup.
Those middles are the main issue, as Kaufusi and Makatoa struggle to maintain the rage when Junior Paulo and RCG leave the field. Niukore hasn’t done well in a middle role either, he’s much more effective as an edge runner. Neither Kaufusi nor Makatoa are impact players, both are capable of decent minutes and hard work but they don’t have match turning charges and offloads in them. Sadly, the Eels don’t need bench minute-eaters, but the impact players in the squad (Greig, Ogden) haven’t impressed in reserve grade or have spent significant time injured.
Maybe the middles would leave more out on the field if they knew they were getting consistent minutes. Makatoa will play 10 minutes one week, 30 the next, Kaufusi gets anywhere between 25 and 50. Without being privy to Brad Arthur’s bench plans, I would hope that these players would know if they were having a short stint and could go harder in a limited window.
Is there a solution, or is it simply a matter of not having the cattle? It sounds like this week Brad Arthur was prepared to give Nathan Brown a reprieve before injury struck the Cyborg. With the form of Isaiah Papali’i and Shaun Lane I don’t see a way to get worthwhile edge minutes for Marata Niukore, so perhaps Brown for Niukore is a better use of that spot?
I don’t see a good four-forward rotation for Parramatta right now. Matto, Junior and Reg deserve 50+ each week, and their 50th minute is going to be better than the first minute of any bench option we have. Playing a three-man bench with an injury reserve isn’t itself an indicator of failed bench strategy, but getting that three-man rotation right is crucial. Sadly we don’t have a great utility option either, meaning Jake Arthur, Tom Opacic and Bryce Cartwright have shared the role of token minute reserve.
My solution would be to limit the time Junior and Reg spend off the field together. This might mean a shorter initial stint for one, or the risk of playing the final 15 minutes without one of the key middles. If the forwards have done their job then those should be the easiest minutes on the field, against a worn down, deflated opponent. While the drop when the bench comes on is clear, I don’t see many times this season where it has cost the Eels victory, usually things were already going bad before changes when we’ve lost.
Maybe it was a failure of recruitment to not have a spare utility player to fill the bench spot, but Ray Stone really was perfect for the Parramatta team as it is currently structured. He fills any role in the pack, including hooker, and is worth a good 20-30 minutes on the field as an impact player when he isn’t required as a utility. Will Smith was another excellent utility, a rare player who can fill any role in the spine, but it’s not like he helped the Titans much this year. The 2023 roster is already full up, so utility will remain a question going forward, but hopefully the bench impact will come from new recruit J’maine Hopgood and development from the lower grades.
There is no doubt the next few weeks will be tough for the Parramatta Eels. No halfback, a nightmare draw and a top eight fight where every win is going to count, but maybe a bit of adversity is what the Eels need to shake off the rust and tear down the final straight. Even without Moses this side is certainly good enough to win the next few matches, but it will take a level of commitment we have seldom seen from the men in Blue and Gold in 2022.
There are good signs that the change is coming for Parramatta. Reed Mahoney is coming off his best game of the year, Clint Gutherson hit form as well and Dylan Brown will have to come off autopilot now Moses is missing. Shaun Lane and Ryan Matterson are in career best form, Tom Opacic could be the solution to some shaky edge defence and Maika Sivo is having a fairly good return from an ACL injury. We’ve got the best starting props in the league to top it all off.
Those are some fine ingredients for a deep finals run, but can they overpower the taste of continued flat efforts following victories and the rollercoaster ride of form that is Parramatta 2022? This week, I’m convinced they can. Let’s hope I feel the same way come Saturday morning.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 28 d Manly 22
Man of the Match: Clint Gutherson