Parramatta Eels 36
Manly Sea Eagles 20
Any win against Manly is a good one, but this was a particularly impressive display from the Parramatta Eels. The Sea Eagles came to play and the Eels deflated them immediately, taking the sting out of the early exchanges with two quick tries. Even more impressive was the comeback, wrestling the momentum away, fixing their right edge defence and coming home with a wet sail against a team with everything to play for in a hostile environment.
It was a high quality contest against a determined opponent, and Parramatta overcame adversity to run away with the contest in the big moments. We’ve ended Manly’s season, kept our top four hopes alive and put together back-to-back efforts. It’s a good time to be an Eels fan.
Catch a bloody ball would you? Too many kicks found ground tonight, either from miscommunication at the back, nobody jumping for the ball or because somebody dropped it. For a team that needs to control field position and possession to win, a sure way to break that is letting an oval ball bounce randomly around the field near our goal line.
The right edge defence was again a concern, but luckily halftime adjustments and denying Manly any decent ball from about the 50th minute fixed the issue in the second half. Let’s run with those adjustments from kickoff next week, hey?
We collected a short dropout! It was a risky play but a crucial one for the momentum of the match and a nice trick to have in the back pocket.
The bunker was again a talking point post game, with the discourse an example of everything wrong with rugby league talking heads. Michael Ennis can, without irony, praise the spectacular work of Waqa Blake being awarded a try because of frame-matching dual feeds, then criticise that same technology for detecting microscopic knock-ons from Ryan Matterson. Maybe we need a “it’s just a good rugby league play” button he can push that overrides technically correct decisions when something “looks” like a try.
I have no issue with Will Penisini and Morgan Harper’s contest for the ball, I thought Will did extremely well to avoid grabbing at Harper’s jersey and earning an obvious sin binning, instead wrapping his arm and generally tangling with him. Like Des Hasler said after the game, decisions didn’t cost Manly, missed tackles did.
For the numbers inclined:
Possession: Eels 53%, Sea Eagles 47%
Run metres: Eels 2,121, Sea Eagles 1,807
Completions: Eels 38/44 (86%, Sea Eagles 28/36 (77%)
Tackle breaks: Eels 36, Sea Eagles 18
Offloads: Eels 11, Sea Eagles 7
Tackles made: Eels 290, Sea Eagles 327
Errors: Eels 6, Sea Eagles 12
It’s a tight call, but because I liked his individual try just a little bit more I’m going with Dylan Brown over Clint Gutherson. Both members of the spine stood up without Mitchell Moses, but only one ended the game being compared to Brad Fittler. You da MVP, Dyl.
1 – Fullback
What a performance by the King, who started with a beautiful face ball to put Sivo in early and only got better from there. The solo try was a special, with Reuben Garrick stuck in concrete boots as the last thing he expected was Clint Gutherson to run it himself. He was on hand for every offload and found his groove again in attack, and I’m not even going to be too harsh on his goalkicking, two of those three misses being from the sideline chalk. When we needed a leader, King Gutho took up a sword and slayed the Sea Eagles.
2 – Left Wing
It was a blistering opening ten minutes for Maika Sivo, who showed off his skills that aren’t steamrolling opposition defenders. While he cooled after that start, Sivo did solid work rucking it out but there is improvement to be found in his work under kicks, a lot of balls were left to bounce and while he might have lost sight of the ball behind the posts, that spilled catch was ugly and could have cost us a lot more than it did.
3 – Right Centre
While some of the credit likely belongs to Brad Arthur and his halftime adjustments, good on Will Penisini and the right edge for turning things around after oranges. Manly found gold every time they dug into the right edge defence in the first half but were well contained on that side in the second. His combination with Jake Arthur sealed the result late and capped off what was a solid performance with the ball. That one-on-one steal was a real heartbreaker for Manly too, the kind of cruel but perhaps unnecessary punishment that I love seeing the team deliver to a hated enemy.
4 – Left Centre
Just call the man Tommy Offload, as Tom Opacic dug into the kit bag and pulled out some tricks to show there is more to him than just “being solid”. He worked hard, made some clever runs and of course, didn’t miss a tackle. His kick obstruction game needs some work though.
5 – Right Wing
It’s not always his fault, but where Waqa Blake defends tries seem to follow. His decision to continually show the fastest man in league the sideline was right up there with signing with the Tigers for questionability, and his tackle attempt on Jason Saab in the corner was so bad it stuffed up Clint Gutherson’s cover effort too.
I had him at hundreds to have scored that try, but the video never lies and his effort goes down as an all-timer by the thinnest of margins. It was a night fairly typical of the love/hate relationship Eels fans have with Waqa, but when your freshest memory is one of the great corner putdowns to win a game against Manly, it’s more love than hate right now.
6 – Five Eighth
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. With Mitchell Moses out it was up to Dylan Brown to step up and lead this team, and step up he did. He terrorised Manly with his early darts down the short side, his combination with Shaun Lane was pitch perfect and he threatened with his running game all night long, capping it all off with an incredible solo try. That dummy into fend into epic step was something out of a video game, but his chase to defuse the kick on an early Manly raid is the moment coach Arthur will be replaying to the side through the week. Dylan was the difference tonight.
7 – Halfback
I fell asleep on the lounge waiting for the Brad Arthur press conference, only to wake up at dawn to find Michael Ennis still going on about the Brandon Smith hip drop. When I did finally watch it (and stopped laughing at it being held in the Brookvale toilet blocks), Brad was typically reserved in praise of his son, crediting the team for giving him a platform to work from and Dylan for leading the side. I bet poor old Jake Arthur didn’t get too much praise as a kid, because if you can’t give him a wrap after that win you are a harsh judge.
Jake was eased into the match as the left edge tore Manly to pieces, but his long kicking was solid and when the match was there to be won Jake threw a peach of a pass to put Waqa in then a great kick for Penisini sealed the result. It’s a good blueprint for the next few weeks, with Brown and Gutherson working their magic and allowing Arthur to chime in as needed, rather than his prior matches where too much seemed to be placed on his shoulders.
8 – Front Row
Another week, another 200 metres for the Momentous Moustache who saw the Manly forwards were fired up and decided to show them what true class looks like. He was beating the first man every run and his speed into the line was noticeably faster than any other Eels forward. Where Junior breaks down a wall by leaning into it with such force that it eventually crumbles, Reg charges through it like a cannonball. Both methods are effective, but I love watching RCGs more.
9 – Hooker
It wasn’t a standout game from Reed Mahoney but there was certainly nothing wrong with his efforts. Dylan and Gutho were the hot hands so he just dished it off, and while I still have some questions about the speed of his service I’m glad he didn’t try and do too much here and only once did I notice him get particularly crash-ball happy.
10 – Front Row
Junior Paulo played equal parts distributor and battering ram this week, and was very effective in both roles. Tonight the bench contrast was especially stark, with the Eels scoring one try without both Junior and RCG on the field, one more with just RCG on the field, and five when both were out there. By the eye test, Parramatta were crap without the starters on the field, and the game turned in the second half when they came back on. Unfortunately the signing deadline has come and gone, so even if we could clone Reg and Junior we couldn’t get them into the squad for our finals run.
11 – Second Row
We knew a bloke once we called “Crap Dave”. He asked us one time “So who’s Good Dave then?”, but we didn’t know any other Daves, it was just a good descriptor of him. That’s how I’m feeling about “Good Shaun Lane”, there isn’t a Bad Shaun Lane, we just call him Good Shaun Lane because he’s such a champion.
Anyway, Good Shaun Lane once again crushed the VB Hard Earned Index, but more importantly he crushed the TCT Grades Index. Lane is breaking tackles for fun, offloading at will and creating chances or half chances with almost every touch. He continues to defend well and his motor is running through the full 80. Just about every knock we’ve had on Lane is no more, he’s under the radar as the form second rower of the competition.
12 – Second Row
Workmanlike effort from Isaiah Papali’i, who missed Mitchell Moses putting him into good attacking spaces. His work was still impressive on paper, good metres, a few tackle breaks and offloads, and no missed tackles, but when you set a standard of a try every week then a no-try week caps you at a B+.
13 – Lock
Ryan Matterson is another who put up good numbers but whose attacking form didn’t hit the highs we are accustomed to. Defenders are definitely paying him close attention which is good news for the team as a whole, but bad news for those individual moments of brilliance. Matterson continues to work as a distributor and is starting to combine well with Junior Paulo, and let’s hope there isn’t anything serious with his head knock and he is right to go next week.
14 – Interchange
A short stint for Makahesi Makatoa, who still only managed four touches and four tackles, with most of his running metres coming in broken play at the end of the first half. If you are only going to be out there for 15 minutes that straddle halftime we need to see more impact.
15 – Interchange
Another token ten for Bryce Cartwright, and I haven’t got a lot to say about him.
16 – Interchange
Oregon Kaufusi’s numbers deserve more than a B-, but he is getting pinged here for the drop in intensity that comes with the Eels bench rotation. Kaufusi himself was fine, but I didn’t notice him on the field at all, indicating to me the lack of impact we’ve all identified as the issue with the Parramatta bench.
17 – Interchange
Simba’s numbers are about equal with Kaufusi, but there were at least a few runs from Marata Niukore that I remember as being a return to form. His speed to the line was good but he needs to be on the edge to be truly effective, and with Lane and Papali’i locking down those spots it’s hard to see where that time comes from.
That was the kind of win that just makes your weekend. Two weeks in a row Parramatta has put on a big win over a rival, if you can’t enjoy this then what are you going to enjoy?
Yes there are areas to improve, and the looming threat of South Sydney next Friday night has me dreading writing the preview, but other results are going their way and the Eels remain firmly in control of their top four destiny. The form of key players, the emergence of Dylan Brown and Shaun Lane, ending Manly’s season, there is a lot to be excited about right now. The smell of finals footy is in the air, and Parramatta is coming good at the right time of the year.
Until next time, stay slippery Eels fans.
Stats and images provided by NRL