Here we go again. After tumbling down Mount Redfern on every attempt to conquer it over the last three years, the Eels have brushed themselves off and are taking another crack. The attempts haven’t been pretty, rarely has Parramatta even looked like reaching base camp, let alone the top, but maybe things will be different as the Eels step it up in the run to the finals.
There are reasons to be hopeful. Last week against Manly wasn’t a complete performance but the attack was strong, even in the absence of Mitchell Moses. The Eels did well to shut down the early energy from Manly, then recovered well to wrestle the game back after falling behind. They’ll need to do more than just dig deep against Souths, especially in defence, but seeing consistent effort back-to-back weeks is a good start.
Few Eels fans will be confident, but a win on Friday night will have the Parramatta premiership hype train charging full steam ahead towards the finals. South Sydney is the final frontier, and in a year where we’ve beaten Penrith twice, Melbourne away and ended Manly’s season, one more milestone would make for a very nice set.
Date: Friday August 12, 2022
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 7:55 PM AEST
Referee: Grant Atkins
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 132, Eels 55, Rabbitohs 74, Drawn 3
Odds: Eels $2.45, Sea Eagles $1.55
Lines: Eels +4.5, total points 46.5
Fact: Parramatta last beat Souths in round 12, 2019. The only players from that game in the South Sydney squad this week are Tevita Tatola and Mark Nicholls. Six Eels remain: Clint Gutherson, Maika Sivo, Reed Mahoney, Junior Paulo, Shaun Lane and Marata Niukore.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Last week I steered you towards taking Parra at -5.5 points in the pick your own line market. It returned odds of $2.80, and hopefully some of you were bold enough to select an even greater margin.
If the well is full of water, you should keep drinking from it. Therefore, I’m going back to the pick your own line market and taking Parra at -4.5. That’s paying $3.20, and simply requires the Eels to win by a converted try.
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. Ofahiki Ogden 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Marata Niukore.
18. Makahesi Makatoa 19. Bailey Simonsson 20. Ky Rodwell 21. Sean Russell 22. Elie El-Zakhem.
One change to the side that beat Manly, with Makahesi Makatoa replaced by Ofahiki Ogden making his Eels debut on the bench. The writing was on the wall for Makatoa after he backed up first grade on Friday night with NSW Cup on Sunday, and by the eye test Ogden is a closer match to “impact forward”. It isn’t a huge change, but at least Brad Arthur is trying something with the troublesome bench.
A name of note in the reserves is Bailey Simonsson who has also been named at centre in NSW Cup, perhaps indicating that Tom Opacic’s move to the starting side is permanent. This also solidifies Waqa Blake’s shift to the wing, where he showed off spectacular acrobatic ability last week, as well as some trademark shaky defence. We’ll get to all that.
There is some concern over Ryan Matterson, who left the field for a HIA in the closing stages of the Sea Eagles clash though whether he passed it or not is one of the great mysteries. Given his history it would not surprise to see the club remain cautious; expect Ky Rodwell to get a recall to the bench should Matterson be rested.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Jaxson Paulo 4. Isaiah Tass 5. Izaac Thompson 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Hame Sele 11. Keaon Koloamatangi 12. Jai Arrow 13. Cameron Murray. 14. Blake Taaffe 15. Mark Nicholls 16. Siliva Havili 17. Davvy Moale.
18. Taane Milne 19. Dean Hawkins 20. Daniel Suluka-Fifita 21. Shaquai Mitchell 22. Josh Mansour.
A few outs for the Rabbitohs with Tom Burgess not making his expected return from suspension due to a groin strain, while centre Campbell Graham also remains sidelined. Doubt remains over halfback Lachlan Ilias; Blake Taaffe or Dean Hawkins would be the replacement if he can’t go.
While exploiting a weak backline defence is usually what Souths does to us, there are chances there with the fresh combinations on both sides of the field. Tass and Thompson are rookies while Paulo often still plays like one, though they were just fine in executing the trademark Rabbitohs backline shifts last weekend. Get some good ball though and the chances will be there.
I could do a deep statistical breakdown of why South Sydney beat the crap out of Parramatta every time they play, but I’m going to rely on the eye test being genuine in this case and go with gut feel. There are two main factors: losing the middle and defending the edge.
Parramatta shouldn’t lose a forwards battle to South Sydney. Looking at the quality of cattle, it just shouldn’t happen, but time after time the Eels have been made to look second rate by Mark Nicholls, Tom Burgess, Liam Knight, Tevita Tatola and the Rabbitohs middle rotation. Not all of those names are there on Friday, but it isn’t the troops that does the Eels in as much as the strategy and the service.
Damien Cook is an expert at delivering a flat pass to a runner at full speed, and the Parramatta defensive line has struggled to cope with that. There are more pre-contact metres there for the Rabbitohs forwards, and at top speed they are best placed to gain crucial metres after contact and draw a fast play-the-ball for the process to repeat. Cook both provides very flat service and uses his running game to engage defenders. It’s a simple tactic and one that South Sydney executes very effectively against the Eels.
The counter has to be line speed around the ruck, reducing those pre-contact metres. This creates its own problems with fatigue and potentially leaves the outside defenders isolated, which is probably why Parramatta hasn’t come up with a good answer for it in half a dozen attempts. The big Eels bodies need to be up early, perhaps pushing boundaries to do so, and dig especially deep off fast play-the-balls to neutralise the momentum.
This will mean the outside backs and bench need to do a lot of work out of our own end, another area where Parramatta struggles against Souths. The Rabbitohs own defensive line moves up fast on the inside and the Eels forwards and Reed Mahoney don’t have an adequate response beyond “keep charging through”. Parramatta needs to go two passes wide or outside-in, not just straight into the teeth of a fired up, fresh defensive line. It’ll be a game of confidence and momentum; we’ll know early on if we’re seeing the same old story of the last three years or if things have changed.
The edge defence, well, good luck. It was unfair that the Rabbitohs could keep running their elite shapes with rookies last week, plug anybody in on that left edge and they know where to be and when. The Eels need a new approach, as the silky quick hands of Latrell Mitchell are too good for the inside rush and the passing is too fast and accurate to rely on cover defenders beating Alex Johnston to the corner.
Keeping Souths out of good ball is a big way to neutralise the threat, but easier said than done. The Rabbitohs haven’t been a great side when it comes to discipline, last in the NRL for errors and fifth in penalties conceded, but despite having the best penalty discipline and making the third fewest errors, Parramatta is worst in the NRL at forcing errors. Without the kicking game of Mitchell Moses this becomes an even bigger issue, the Eels will miss his boot being able to pin an opposition inside the 20 even after a lacklustre attacking set.
It might be another wet one on Friday night, though nothing like the monsoonal conditions of the last clash with the Rabbitohs. South Sydney took advantage last time around with a huge number of repeat sets, kicking behind the defence in slippery conditions and chasing hard, but the Eels were their own worst enemy bringing the ball out of trouble. They need to retain their composure here, which might not be easy if the Rabbitohs do what they usually do and easily score with the first decent opportunity they get.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for that right edge defence, as it recovered incredibly well from being torn to pieces by Dylan Walker, Kieran Foran and Jason Saab in the first half last week to completely shut them down in the second. The combination of Blake and Penisini might be fresh but Waqa has shown he can be up to the job. The best the Eels have managed against Souths was the preliminary final of 2020, where the edge defenders did a decent job, especially considering injury forced a complete reshuffle of the side. That night it was Damien Cook that killed Parramatta.
If Parramatta can win here I’m ordering my grand final T-shirt, because they’ll be able to handle anything. The Eels have put together back-to-back good efforts in crucial games, and last week overcame adversity and won an arm wrestle to run away with the game late in the second half. It looks like the mental preparation is on and Parramatta has clicked into “finals mode”, but the struggles against Souths are real and just wanting it won’t be enough on Friday night.
Forgive my pessimism but I can’t ignore history. The average margin between these two teams in the last five games is 23 points and the closest the Eels have got is losing by 14. The right edge defence has played one game together, last week, where Jason Saab was allowed to have his best game in Manly colours. Despite improvements in the second half it doesn’t fill me with much confidence that Blake, Penisini and Arthur can handle what Souths will throw at them. Jake is a solid enough defender but his decision making can be a bit tentative, and that will be all Souths need for those saloon passage tries they score down the left side.
I hope I’m wrong here, but hope is what kills you. At least a loss is not terminal for the Eels’ top four chances, though a win would leave us in complete control of our own destiny. If we come out fired up and with a better gameplan then there is every chance of the upset, but I’m not game enough to tip it.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: South Sydney 34 d Parramatta 16
Man of the Match: Latrell Mitchell