It isn’t the psychological profile I prefer in my football teams, but if it’s true that the Parramatta Eels need to lose one to win one then the Canterbury Bulldogs are in for it this weekend. The Eels have occasionally managed to string two wins together, sometimes even with two good performances, but they are yet to go back-to-back on the wrong end of the scoreboard in 2022.
It shouldn’t be hard for the Eels to get up for this one, but I’ve said that a half dozen times this year and maybe twice have they delivered a worthy performance. Occasion, rivalry and importance don’t seem to matter to Parramatta, which is what makes them such an infuriating side to support this year despite some strong results. While I’ve been able to walk around town with pride after wins over the Panthers (twice), Storm and Roosters, I’ve had to endure the taunts of scumbag Bulldogs and Tigers fans who were gifted victories they and their fans did not deserve.
Parramatta hopefully rights one of those wrongs this weekend and towels up the Bulldogs who really do have nothing to play for. They’re clear of the wooden spoon battle, no hope of finals football and the sheen of sending Trent Barrett packing has long worn off. They were meek and predictable last weekend against a similarly terrible Warriors side, and I’m hoping for more of the same this week. Even a good Bulldogs effort shouldn’t be enough to beat the Eels if they are on, but as we know all too well they are also more than capable of beating “Bad Parramatta”.
Date: Saturday August 20, 2022
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 3:00 PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 151, Eels 68, Bulldogs 78, Drawn 5
Odds: Eels $1.35 Bulldogs $3.25
Lines: Eels +9.5, total points 48.5
Fact: A club Phil Gould has been associated with has not won a competition in over 20 years.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
The Eels are at short odds after suffering a 26 to 0 loss last weekend, and they’re playing the team that beat them 34 to 4 in Round 14.
If you want to invest on Parra, you’re welcome.
I shan’t be offering a tip this week.
Happy, responsible punting everyone.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Tom Opacic 5. Waqa Blake 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. 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.
The big in here is Mitchell Moses, who has to pass a fitness test but looks ready to be rushed back for the most winnable game of a run home that requires one win to secure a finals position. What does it say about the Eels that they can’t give their star halfback one more week of rest before a finals campaign despite playing a cellar dweller? Good things, undoubtedly.
Despite Brad Arthur’s reluctance to break his “you debut, you don’t get on until the 70th minute” policy with Ofahiki Ogden last week, the big prop maintains his place on the bench ahead of Makahesi Makatoa, who had the kind of game in reggies last week that you expect of a guy angry about being demoted. Ogden needs more time this week, preferably while the game is still a contest, as last week left Brad Arthur’s defenders with no further ammunition to defend his bench usage. It was woeful.
1. Jake Averillo 2. Jacob Kiraz 3. Aaron Schoupp 4. Braidon Burns 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Matt Burton 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Max King 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Paul Vauhgan 11. Harrison Edwards 12. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 13. Josh Jackson. 14. Zach Dockar-Clay 15. Joe Stimson 16. Jackson Topine 17. Chris Patolo.
19. Declan Casey 20. Bailey Biondi-Odo 21. Brandon Wakeham 22. Luke Thompson 23. Tevita Pangai Junior.
The Bulldogs have finally settled on a backline that has some decent talent about it. Schoupp and Kiraz are good prospects while Averillo is finally looking like a half decent fullback and the speed of Addo-Carr is always a threat to a pedestrian Eels back three. I swear, if the Bulldogs kick early to Addo-Carr and he finds space untouched yet again, I’ll be leading the pitchfork and flaming torch mob on the coaching staff myself.
The pack is missing some big names, hence a guy I have never heard of is starting in the back row, Harrison Edwards. That may not last, as Luke Thompson is expected to come back, likely via the bench, and in very unfortunate news Tevita Pangai Junior should return after missing last week with a grade one childbirth. Pangai Junior always gives us fits, something about Blue and Gold draws out the best from a guy who otherwise loves to phone in every second performance.
I used a lot of words last week to describe the fairly simple phenomenon of ownership, which South Sydney retained over Parramatta in emphatic fashion. I’m not going to throw so many words into the ether this week because if there is one constant in this Parramatta Eels season, it is that their opponent does not matter.
The Eels haven’t been beaten while playing well this year. There are no “we just got beat by the better team on the day” losses, which is encouraging for a finals campaign where you would expect a team to deliver their best every week, though the Eels have left no evidence in their efforts this year that we should expect their best, even on the biggest occasions. Fans enter every week believing they can both beat or lose to anybody, and unfortunately their opponents feel the same way, hence few chances for differential building hidings against minnows. Every opponent will come to play knowing the Eels are a potential win, regardless of table positions.
It’s hard to understand what Parramatta’s problem is. Traditionally the coach is the motivator of a team, responsible for its psychology and “revving them up”. While coaches still give the pre-match rev up and tear paint off the walls with half time blowups, the preparation of a football team is far more complex than it was even 20 years ago. Athletes are finely tuned machines, whose preparation is managed to the second. Footballers are no longer knockabouts getting the chance to let off some steam on Sunday afternoons, every aspect of their life is open for public scrutiny and the actual playing of football games, while the most important part of their job, is the smallest part of their work. That is a lot of life to balance, multiplied 30 times across a first grade squad, and that’s before looking at how they interact together and gel as a group.
If Brad Arthur had answers to what plagues the Eels he’d have made progress on a solution by now. The team is clearly close, but loyalty to Arthur and the group hasn’t trumped cold hard cash in retention or mattered when things go wrong on the field. It is impossible to tell when the team will respond to him and lift for a game and when they will phone it in. They play smart, tactical football one week then idiot-ball the next. As anybody who watches Brad Arthur press conferences will know, even he doesn’t understand what is wrong with this team.
Many responses to that situation are “well replace him then”, but few BA doubters ever follow those calls up with legitimate candidates that would do a better job. The train wreck sides looked at experienced options such as Shane Flanagan or Anthony Seibold and were so underwhelmed they decided to go with “retiree training his former player who has zero coaching experience”, “second Penrith assistant” and “paying main Penrith assistant ridiculous money for five years” for their coaches. Gold Coast and Newcastle will likely be making similar searches soon, St George-Illawarra too. With so much movement in the coaching ranks, it feels like a good time to have the sixth or seventh best coach in rugby league. Sacking him to go with the fifth option in a dry market would be foolish.
Instead the next step has to be taken with changes around him. It’s safe to say this year’s injection of fresh coaching talent hasn’t produced the desired results, despite the form of Dylan Brown and Shaun Lane. Most notably, the team has taken a big step backwards defensively. Nearly every year a new set of assistants and consultants get thrown into the side but none have made a seismic difference to the team. Trent Barrett is a good get, as an assistant he was so good he got another head coaching role he wasn’t up to, but he probably doesn’t fix what ails the Eels.
Changes need to go beyond some new ex-coaches in the box next to Brad Arthur, jealously eyeing off his horde of Mount Franklin bottles. A shift to defensive and attacking coaches as opposed to forwards and backs is long overdue, but the big difference will come from names and roles that nobody pays much attention to. Mental coaches, psychologists, nutritionists, hypnotists, some small change needs to butterfly effect its way through the club. Maybe it isn’t even a hire, but a hard head recruit or a young player standing up in leadership making the difference. It might just be a change of captain or leadership group.
It’s a complex situation without an easy solution, and angry grades commenters want single post answers when letting off steam after another rough loss. It isn’t just “sack the coach/board/assistant coach/head of football”. Undoubtedly all of those people have areas they can improve in, and are responsible in certain ways for the frustrating season Eels fans have endured, but they’ve also built a team that is a constant finals presence going on a half decade. A struggle to take that final step to premierships is better than what plenty of teams have been going through, even if the frustration is just as real, and while the solution to “we’re not good” is usually “replace the coach”, the solution to Parramatta, like the team, will be far more complex.
And with that, I have successfully not mentioned the Parramatta Eels opponents in an entire preview section.
As somebody trying to exercise self-care, I haven’t watched much Bulldogs football this year. Then again, if I was truly invested in self-care I wouldn’t be watching much Eels football either. I’m very sure that Good Parramatta showing up will result in a comfortable win, and I’m just as sure Ordinary Parramatta will get beaten by anywhere from 2 to 32. The Bulldogs outmuscled and out-enthused the Eels last time around, and their doing so again would be unforgivable.
The forwards will hopefully be shamed into a big effort this weekend, Brad Arthur calling them out directly for the capitulation last week. Junior Paulo and RCG are rarely bested in back-to-back games, and if those two are on then so are Parramatta. It’s a shame they need to be embarrassed into big performances rather than coming into games ready to crush their opposition, but that’s what we’ve got.
A hot start will likely drive the fight out of the Bulldogs, and I expect we’ll know how this game is going to go by the tenth minute. Hopefully I’m leaning back in my seat and relaxing rather than heading for the bar, or the exit.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 28 d Canterbury 10
Man of the Match: Reagan Campbell-Gillard