The 2023 NRL preseason concludes for the Parramatta Eels with their trial against the Newcastle Knights. Outside of an injury quandry in the backline, Brad Arthur has unsurprisingly named a full-strength team for today’s game. Schemes, structures, combinations and conditioning are all big factors to watch for today but after an extremely vanilla game-plan against the Panthers last week let’s break down some specific things to keep track of against the Knights.
1. How does Josh Hodgson change our attack?
Yes he threw an intercept last week. No I am not worried about that in the least. Tonight is our first proper look at Josh Hodgson with the supporting cast in place to help him shine and in turn help his team-mates shine even brighter. If there is somehow an even higher level for Parramatta’s fearsome frontrow pairing of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo, their interplay with Hodgson will take them to it.
Likewise, his partnerships with Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown will be critical to Parramatta’s success. Outside of providing clean service to his halves I am curious to see what sort of combinations are in place there for when Hodgson himself runs and kicks aggressively.
There is of course one other key player partnership for Hodgson that I haven’t yet mentioned and that is because…
2. How does J’Maine Hopgood change our attack?
Excuse the lazy sub-headers but when you distil this down to its core it really doesn’t get much simpler for both Hodgson and J’Maine Hopgood. Everything I offered above applies equally to the young tearaway the Eels signed from Penrith. In fact the overlapping responsibilities between Hodgson – the savvy old veteran – and Hopgood – a potential rising star – creates a fascinating duality between the two.
Hopgood will be the point man for the Blue & Gold in 2023. The fulcrum for which most of our play will run through. His ability to ball-play before the line to use either a battery of dominant forwards or find his halves on the front foot will be hopefully be an elevating factor for the Eels’ offence.
That isn’t to say that there won’t be hiccups along the way. This is after all Hopgood’s first season as a full-time NRL starter. Even so, he has impressed at every step of the way. From the preseason to the All-Stars game. Now he gets his chance to officially debut as an Eel and carve out a whole new legacy.
3. Can Cini and/or Lumelume put on a show?
Parramatta’s spine? Immaculate. Their starting pack? Immense. Their backline? Well unfortunately it is looking beat up as all hell right now. No Waqa Blake, Maika Sivo, Bailey Simonsson or Haze Dunster means the Eels are well below anything resembling full strength this week.
It has handed a gilded opportunity to Zac Cini and Isaac Lumelume however with both men now seriously looking at potential Round 1 gigs as it stands. Cini arriving at this moment was no accident following a 2022 season in the NSW Cup where he proved himself to be both impactful and consistent. Lumelume is the new face at the club who could simply be the right guy at the right time.
While I titled it as putting on a show the reality is if either or both of these players can do a solid job against a rather offensively stacked Newcastle backline then you can put a massive checkmark next to their names.
4. Will anyone demand selection on the bench?
The biggest issue I had with our loss to the Panthers last week was the lack of a standout performance among the contenders for the NRL interchange spots. That has to change this week given that Ryan Matterson will serve a 3-game suspension to start the season. ‘BA’ simply needs to have multiple candidates put their hands up tonight.
We get our first look at Jack Murchie today – another player who impressed Sixties in the preseason and frankly I have him locked in for a bench spot come Round 1. Makahesi Makatoa and Wiremu Greig climbed the rankings last week courtesy of solid but not spectacular efforts but the Eels need more than that. Whether it is them or someone among Jirah Momoisea, Ofahiki Ogden and Ky Rodwell we need to see some fire and brimstone, some real hunger.
5. How much do the Eels reveal tonight?
We saw an ultra-vanilla game-plan used against Penrith last week…so how much will the Eels reveal tonight against Newcastle? We saw next to no offloading, one of the calling cards of the Blue & Gold, and nothing new that could be attributed to Trent Barrett in terms of shapes and structures.
The Eels could very well keep things on the simpler side tonight so as not to tip too much ahead of a monster game against the Melbourne Storm in Round 1. By the same token we could get a glimpse of what lies ahead as core players work on new looks and combinations. How will the Eels play in and out of phase? Do we use forwards in ways we haven’t in the past? How do Hodgson and Hopgood change our red-zone offence in particular?
6. Can the rookies ride the wave from last week?
Toni Mataele, Jayden Yates and Matthew Komolafe were genuine silver linings from last week. Komolafe showed the sort of hustle, both figuratively and literally, you crave in any young player while Yates was thrust into a vastly expanded role following an early concussion to Mitch Rein where he showed tremendous poise. Then you have Mataele who put his stamp on the second half with a dominant physical effort that seriously solidified his stock as the rookie to watch in 2023.
All three young players will likely get around half of the game to push their cases this week so all that remains to see is just how much they can get done!
7. Escape this game with no injuries
Simple, no nonsense stuff. Win or lose, dominant or dominated…get out of this game with no serious injuries. A great trial result is nothing if it is entangled with injuries. So as much as I want to see all the new combinations at play, see Barrett’s shapes carving up, I will settle for any outcome that has the Eels healthy for Round 1!
Tks Forty. If Hodgson and Hopgood have been reading TCT, they might be feeling the pressure. But you know what, they’re both footballers to their bootstraps, Hodgson through years of losing skin at top level and Hopgood because he’s served a really strong apprenticeship since a kid( and Queenslanders rarely let you down under the pump). Good luck to them both in the Blue and Gold.
They were very good as it turned out BDon
Thought Mataele Cini and Yates were very good last week. Be good to see them with the top liners at some stage tonight but unlikely I would imagine
I’m not sure we have to worry about tactics or showing anybody our latest moves. By the time the season ends I am usually still waiting for them. The opportunities are there for the fringe players no doubt. I can remember a trial, I think against Knights that led us into 2018, we looked pretty good. Frankly if we played brilliantly and won by 50 I would be really concerned….. I think I am with Sixties on this one and just hope for an injury free game…… that said anything can happen and you can’t really play a game within… Read more »
Apart from Lanes injury I simply enjoyed watching this game for what it was – a trial.
That they were and did fine tonight, albeit in shorter stints for Mataele and Yates.
I’m looking forward to the brother sister centre pairing, Zac Cini and Penny Sini.
On a serious note, Hodgson, Hopgood and Murchie. These are the main players that are replacing our departures, let’s hope they hit the ground running, otherwise we will never hear the end of it.
Nice wordplay Mick!
Going for a couple of beers now at the club across the road before the game looking forward to it
Hope the beers went down well. It was warm enough
Very please to have ‘the team’ on the field. Nothing like being together in a more competitive situation. This provides time to gel.
on behalf of Forty, thanks Martin.
I got grilled last week for being critical of Hodgson style and slow delivery against Penrith – with his three steps before passing. Clearly he was spoken to this week because he almost exclusively planted his feet at dummy half and just passed.
It meant for a better performance from him and the attack.
Interestingly he never set foot outside the 20m tram lines so he must still have a way to go fitness wise.
No, he’s ultra fit and arrived that way, but match fitness is something that develops with all players through a season and Hodgo hasn’t played for some time. Don’t worry too much about any negatives about how he plays. There was already evidence of the space created for our halves by both Hodgo and Hopgood which will only get better. We still didn’t show much last night, we simply played with more energy, intent and more stars.