Parramatta Eels 40
Canberra Raiders 4
The Parramatta Eels are alive in the third week of the finals. It’s been a journey (as we’ve been constantly reminded of during the last week), but a grand final appearance is only one win away. I’d forgotten just how exciting it all is, and haven’t been able to wipe the grin off my face since Friday night.
It was a complete, dominant performance, the Eels at their absolute best. The forwards were rolling, the spine creative and the footy free-flowing and aggressive. From the opening stages Canberra didn’t stand a chance, and while the next two weeks are going to be much tougher I am full of confidence about the Parramatta premiership chances after that win.
Parramatta’s long run of good health might be at an unfortunately timed end, as Tom Opacic went down with a hamstring complaint. Rare is the one-week hamstring injury, so it looks like a reshuffle of the Eels edge defence is on the cards, right when it has found its groove.
I’m convinced the NRL stat counters just started winding the dials with every Parramatta run by the second half, because these metres numbers are unbelievable. Canberra never had a shot in this one, they were dominated and frustrated out of the contest, barely getting a chance in good ball and requiring some freak individual skills just to get on the board at all.
For the numbers inclined:
Possession: Eels 59%, Raiders 41%
Completions: Eels 34/44 (77%), Raiders 25/36 (69%)
Run metres: Eels 2,396, Raiders 1,623
Tackle breaks: Eels 47, Raiders 25
Average set distance: Eels 54.5m, Raiders 45.1m
Offloads: Eels 19, Raiders 9
Forced dropouts: Eels 3, Raiders 0
Bombs: Raiders 8, Eels 0
Bombs to Waqa Blake: Eels 1, Raiders 0
Tackles: Raiders 367, Eels 258
Ineffective tackles: Raiders 39, Eels 15
Mad Monday’s: Raiders 1, Eels 0
I’m saving my one “the whole team is MVP” soppy moment for the grand final win, so tonight Dylan Brown gets to claim sole ownership of the TCT grades MVP. Maybe he hates vikings, or the colour green, or just Ricky Stuart, but Dylan has played his best football this year against the Raiders and in this one he was exceptional. Bonus marks for his honest response about the forward pass call. You da MVP, Dyl.
1 – Fullback
This performance was vintage King Gutho, complete with those beautiful cutout passes to unlock the edge and yet another crucial trysaver. It turned out Ricky Stuart’s pronouncement of his plan to attack Waqa Blake was a clever ruse to hide kicking it to Gutherson all night, but the captain was on and handled (nearly) everything sent his way with ease.
2 – Left Wing
I don’t know if professor Sivo hit the books during his injury layoff, but he’s come back a more complete footballer than the man whose first, second and third plan was to run over his opposite. I’d say his sound defensive performances are my favourite part, but I’d be a bold faced liar. Give me those fends all day every day.
3 – Right Centre
The Raiders gave Will Penisini some space and the young gun didn’t need a second invitation, piercing the line to open scoring and remaining dangerous throughout. He led the Eels in tackle breaks and made more tackles (23) than the rest of the players one through six combined (21). He hasn’t always shined this year, but the man of unspeakable nicknames has handled everything thrown at him in 2022.
4 – Left Centre
How nice was it to see another team’s fullback eat an embarrassing bounce of the ball for a change? While poor Xavier Savage got a lesson in why you attack the ball, Tom Opacic was on the spot to capitalise and begin the rout. Unfortunately his night was cut short with a hamstring injury, so the Eels will be dusting off the hyperbaric chamber and busting out the experimental treatments all weekend to make sure we don’t have to break the one defensive backline combination that has worked this season.
5 – Right Wing
As somebody who wakes up in cold sweats at the thought of the time I spent a half hour of a third grade lunchtime with a dot of tomato sauce on my nose, I’m incredibly jealous of Waqa Blake’s ability to let embarrassment go and bounce back from last week. Better teams will test him, but this weekend Waqa was at his devastating best.
6 – Five Eighth
While I am deeply suspicious of the 321 metres that NRL.com says Dylan Brown ran for on Friday night, I don’t blame the stats boffins for losing their heads trying to describe how good Dylbags was. This was his side, he threw more passes than Moses and Gutherson combined, and nearly out-touched their combined total too. He found acres of space to roam on the edge, was involved in just about everything good that the Eels did and he delivered a brilliant response to a self-admitted quiet performance the week before.
7 – Halfback
Mitch perfectly timed the delivery of his annual reminder that yeah, he’s got a bit of toe about him, scoring a ripping try in the corner when finding open field. I’m glad he survived Jack Wighton’s weekly reminder that he’s a bit of a grub, and love that the halfback wants to be back out there for the closing stages of a hiding even if an HIA he eventually passed was as good an excuse as any for an early mark. He let Dylan run the show this week, but next week I reckon it will be his game.
8 – Front Row
Big Reg wasn’t too happy about what happened last week, and took it out on the Raiders pack to the tune of nearly 200 metres. From the opening set this game was all Parramatta, and that was largely thanks to our big men stepping up and shutting down the in-form Canberra front row. He even threw more passes than Junior Paulo, perhaps adding another wrinkle to the finals gameplan.
9 – Hooker
Reed played like a man who knew it might be his last night behind elite forwards for a long time, and while he gets at least one more week of that I’m wishing he’d found his rhythm in unlocking our sweeping passing game earlier this season. The side-to-side movement that cut the Raiders apart started at the ruck, and finally we started to see clever ballplaying off of crash ball (such as the Junior try) rather than just trying to barge through the middle. If he’s on like this for two more weeks, I might just miss the little imp when he goes.
10 – Front Row
Sometimes it is easy to get complacent and take for granted just how incredible the skillset of Junior Paulo is. The passing game, the offloads, the hit-and-spin and elite support play were all on display in this one, and his former club had no answers. Not bad from a man who is so massive he forced the NRL photographer to use an ultra-wide lens for the captain’s photos.
11 – Second Row
Remember when we had worries about Shaun Lane’s fitness? Those silly, innocent times. Now he’s running 200 metres for fun, sticking in his tackles and still finding ways to unlock the edge attack with his line running and offloads. I’ve seen his name come up for Australian selection a few times in recent weeks and I want it known by everybody on the bandwagon: I’ve always loved Shaun Lane.
12 – Second Row
Ice’s motor shows no sign of burning out despite his heavy use this season, as he once again led the forwards in metres while finishing second only to Reed in tackle count. He’s going to be very difficult to replace next season, for the Tigers.
13 – Interchange
Ryan Matterson got to show off those soft hands that made him a half through junior footy as he held up the line and put Junior Paulo over with a beautiful ball. Luckily he’s also embraced the fact he is a massive unit and barged his way through the Raiders defence all night long. I love the mixture of skills we have in this pack right now.
14 – Interchange
Good grades all round today, and while Makatoa’s stint was short he did manage an impressive post to pre contact metres ratio with 32 of his 52 metres coming after contact. We’ve had our cry about his usage, now it’s time to just enjoy the ride.
15 – Interchange
Like anybody unfortunate enough to tune in to Fox League at 6:30 on a weeknight, Jake Arthur has had to cop a lot of idiots talking crap all year. It’s nice to see him get one back after being thrown into the fire against the defending premiers last week. If anybody you know is still whinging about Jake after we secured our first preliminary final since iPhones were a thing then you need to find better company.
16 – Interchange
Oregon Kaufusi is going to be the answer to the trick question in all Parramatta Eels trivia over the next decade: “which player had the longest streak of A grades on TCT during the Eels 2022 premiership campaign?”. He hasn’t got the ceiling of his fellow forwards, but he’s doing a strong job in the current rotation after the bench was a real weakness for much of the year.
17 – Lock
Simba once again showed his versatility, being the man on the spot to finish a brace at centre after continuing his good form as a starting battering ram. There is something about a man that puts his head down to charge into the line that is beautiful to watch. We’ll see if he needs to make another cameo out wide next week, but for now his use as a middle is a masterstroke.
Breaking through week two is nice, but it is pretty clear that the Eels aren’t going to be satisfied with just “one better”. Brad Arthur and his side are focused and determined, and they’ll need every bit of that for the toughest road trip in the NRL this weekend. It’ll be steamy and the Cowboys will be well rested and fired up, but our first grand final in 13 years is only one win away.
While the players and coach can’t get ahead of themselves, us fans can sit back and really soak it all in. When you win like this it’s easy to ignore yet another petty campaign to stir discontent and endless recycled and overblown garbage about finals win records (half of Brad Arthur’s finals losses have come against the eventual premiers). It’s tough, but just try and be happy this week.
Until next time, stay slippery Eels fans.
Stats and images provided by NRL