There isn’t much better than a home final. A fired up crowd baying for opposition blood, sweating on every moment and not missing a single opportunity to get on the referee. Friday night at CommBank Stadium is a matter of life or death for the Parramatta Eels in 2022, and it takes place against the team of one of the great enemies of the Parramatta Eels: Ricky Stuart. I hope we send him home in tears.
While Parramatta is coming off a tough game and an even tougher loss, the good news for Eels fans is that they haven’t lost back-to-back games this year. Now the punishment for losing to the minor premiers is to play at home against the team that finished eighth, and only got that far because they played a series of bottom feeders for the last month of the competition while the team ahead of them lost by 50 a couple of times. This whole “finishing in the top four” business ain’t half bad.
I’ve had my fun there, but Canberra is going to be a real tough out. I expect a Parramatta victory, but I don’t expect it to be easy. Parramatta hasn’t had this good a shot at the third week of the finals during the entire lifetime of Will Penisini, so let’s make it count.
Date: Friday September 16, 2022
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 7:50 PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Head-to-Head: Played 62, Eels 30, Raiders 32
Odds: Eels $1.50 Raiders $2.60
Lines: Eels -6.5, total points 41.5
Fact: The Eels have won four of their last five against the Raiders.
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
At different times this season, I’ve advised readers to keep their money in their wallet. Usually it’s been because the odds have been far too short for an inconsistent Eels side.
This week, the importance of the contest is weighing heavily on my mind.
I’m not interested in odds, in value, in markets. I just want the Eels to win.
Put all of your energy into supporting the team. Keep your coin for another day.
Go you Eels!
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. Makahesi Makatoa 15. Jake Arthur 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Marata Niukore.
18. Nathan Brown 19. Bailey Simonsson 20. Bryce Cartwright 21. Ofahiki Ogden 22. Ky Rodwell.
No changes for the Eels, though all eyes are on Mitchell Moses who has passed concussion protocols and is expected to play barring any late symptoms developing. It’s fair to say that the Eels won’t be a great chance of winning without him, though it was Dylan Brown who led the Eels to victory rather than Moses the last time these two teams met.
There’s not much point complaining about the sub-par use of the interchange once more, but I need to fill at least two paragraphs here so I’ll have a whinge. I can see where Brad Arthur is coming from: why play Makahesi Makatoa when RCG and Paulo are ready to go? The issue is that you’ll probably get better play out of the starters with a touch of extra rest, and a bench prop should be able to go 15-20 to provide that rest. How a coach can watch RCG and Paulo be belted pillar to post last week and think “they don’t need a rest” I have no idea.
1. Xavier Savage 2. Nick Cotric 3. Matt Timoko 4. Sebastian Kris 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papalii 9. Zac Woolford 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Corey Harawira-Naera. 14. Tom Starling 15. Emre Guler 16. Corey Horsburgh 17. Ryan Sutton.
18. Albert Hopoate 19. Ata Mariota 20. Matt Frawley 21. Peter Hola 22. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Adam Elliott is the big loss for the Raiders, though they’re nothing if not stacked with middles. Harawira-Naera is a solid replacement, while Ryan Sutton returns from injury to take a spot on the bench. The rest of their injuries are long term; this is the team that has emerged for the Raiders following injuries early in the year to future Eel Josh Hodgson and long time captain Jarrod Croker.
Much like the Eels, the Raiders starting props have been eased off leading into the finals, with Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine playing 15-20 minutes longer in the Storm final than they had in weeks prior. Expect to see a lot of them in this one, and both will be looking to match the Parramatta forwards in offloading and playmaking.
You probably know how this game is going to go. As a football team Canberra are exceptional at little but grinding, and chances are good that they’ll spoil the ruck, offload like men possessed and find classic “effortball” tries from rebounded grubbers, second kicks or loose passes to keep them in the game. The stats will show the Eels should be up by 20, but it’ll be 20-16 with ten to go and your nails will be chewed down to stubs.
The Raiders gameplan will seem fairly familiar to Eels fans. Their forwards love an offload and are powerful, big minute players that rise to the occasion. Joseph Tapine is having a career year, proving that his wife has a sharper football mind than his coach. Josh Papalii needs to give his Parramatta namesake some lessons on backflipping, but he’ll probably start Friday night by instead proving near impossible to tackle and pulling off miraculous offloads. Hudson Young is one of those rare forwards that finds himself in the right place to score tries, while Elliott Whitehead is experienced and skillful.
That pack will generally put the Raiders in decent enough field position to exploit their skill players. Xavier Savage at fullback is a speedster who is still learning the game, he can be exploited in defence but must be marked close in attack. You’ll know after ten minutes if Jack Wighton is on, and if he is then Sterlo help the right edge defence that must mark up on him. Jordan Rapana’s mug should be up on wanted posters all across the greater Parramatta district for terrorising its good people year after year. Seb Kris and Matt Timoko can have their moments too.
It’s an unorthodox attack, but it won’t often need to get results to make this a tough contest. The Raiders attack is fairly left edge heavy, no surprise given their five eighth plays there exclusively and their halfback was out for half of the season. The right edge of Parramatta has been solid in recent weeks, but falling back into old habits could be very dangerous. Wighton always seems to find the right running line to break a tackle, and is strong enough to handle a rushing defence from backs or forwards. He’s got mistakes in him, but if he has one of his better games it will be an uphill battle for the Eels. If he isn’t having one of his better games, he’s liable to put a bomb into row 13.
Those bombs he does strike true will probably be heading towards Waqa Blake, a tactic so obvious after last week that the Raiders have telegraphed it in the media. I’d say kick pressure is critical but if the Eels couldn’t get up and hassle one of the best kickers in the league last week, when can they do it? Jamal Fogarty isn’t really great at anything, but he’s an experienced enough head to execute a simple game plan of “kick it at the guy who can’t catch” should Wighton be off target.
Rapana needs to be put into positions to make mistakes. He’ll rush out off his wing, though his high effort cover defence can occasionally make up for it, even if it usually involves an illegal shoulder charge. He’s a dangerous runner in broken play and can’t be given opportunities should he win a contest or receive a poor kick. Turn him around with grubbers, draw him in with shape rather than going for the traditional cutout to get outside him, and hope he panics and tries to do too much.
Unlike the Eels, the Raiders get full benefit out of their bench which is packed with big boppers that keep the energy up. Tom Starling is as dangerous as a bench rake gets, wreaking havoc once Zac Woolford has absorbed the tough early going. Corey Horsburgh is a high energy, huge motor player who is also cursed with bad luck and just seems to find himself in rough and awkward spots. In an absolute grind of a game, the Raiders will have fresher men in the middle if Brad Arthur continues his current bench plan, putting a lot of pressure on the Parramatta middle.
Still, those Parramatta middles have the responsibility of this result on their shoulders. If they can contain Tapine and Papalii and make their own inroads to allow Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali’i to roam the edges in good ball, then the path to an Eels victory is clear. If Tapine runs riot and Papalii offloads out of every second tackle, it’s not going to be a good night for Eels fans. Sometimes the game of rugby league is just that simple.
Parramatta can’t lose this one. While a lot is being made this week of Brad Arthur’s finals record, his side has started favourite in only one of his seven finals losses. As a favourite in recent years the Eels have crushed Brisbane and handily beaten Newcastle, the only loss as a favourite came against North Queensland five years ago with a team that featured Will Smith, Corey Norman and Cameron King in the spine.
One spanner in the works could be the weather. As I write this on Thursday night biblical rain is falling over Sydney, and while the CommBank Stadium drainage is solid and the forecast tomorrow is clear, chances are this will be a soggy night that will make offloading and bomb catching all the tougher. Parramatta hasn’t been a great wet weather team, but they are also very used to the slippery conditions of a cold night at CommBank.
Still, there hasn’t been a better chance at progressing to the third week of the finals in Brad Arthur’s tenure. If he wants to kill that wicked witch, he isn’t going to get a better shot than this. Canberra will be plucky, tough and will drag Parramatta into a grinding battle, but the last time the Raiders beat a side that remains alive in season 2022 was back in round 11 against Souths. They may have continued their strange dominance over Melbourne last weekend, but a soft draw and incredible Broncos collapse are the only reason Canberra has got this far. The Eels are the better team.
They aren’t to be taken lightly, but a finals performance from Brad Arthur’s men will be enough to secure victory. It’ll be nerve wracking and probably not a lot of fun to watch, but in front of a fired up home crowd, against a coach that once took a sledgehammer to the club then ran away before the rebuild, it should be an Eels win.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 26 d Canberra 16
Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses