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The Spotlight – February 21, 2023: Eels Injury List Casts Shadow Over Opening Round

In an interview during Friday night’s Fox League match preview, Brad Arthur confirmed that nine Eels players were unavailable for trial selection.

Amongst those out of action were first grade contenders Maika Sivo (knee), Bryce Cartwright (fractured jaw), Waqa Blake (broken arm), Haze Dunster (knee) and Bailey Simonsson (shoulder).

You can also include out of favour middle Nathan Brown (hamstring) and dummy half Mitch Rein (head) to the injury ward.

Whether any of those players will be available for round one selection is not yet certain, but after the trial Shaun Lane (broken jaw) and Ryan Matterson (suspension) have to be added as definite outs for the opener against Melbourne, with Zac Cini (rib cartilage) and Matt Doorey (ankle) also in doubt.

Lane being taken from the field

If all of the players listed above continue to be unavailable, that will represent more than one third of the roster. With only 28 players currently registered in the top 30, that means just 18 Eels would be fit for selection.

The reality is probably not as gloomy though it remains a test of Parra’s depth. Early indications are that Matt Doorey and Maika Sivo should be right to go, but outside of them question marks remain.

Haze Dunster is listed for an opening round return. In terms of match fitness he’s unquestionably underdone and they may opt to bring him back via the NSW Cup.

If Dunster were selected it takes the pressure off a Waqa Blake return. Sean Russell would shift to centre in Blake’s place.

Will BA roll the dice with Waqa?

My answer would be yes. If the athletic Blake gets a medical clearance, it’s a bone injury to the arm, not a joint injury. He’s continued to maintain his fitness during rehab, he’d been involved in the preseason prior to his injury, and is a highly experienced NRL player. Someone like Waqa doesn’t need to return via the lower grade.

I’ll go out on a limb and lock in the Round 1 three-quarters as Sivo, Penisini, Blake and Russell. Given Russell’s trial form, there won’t be many objecting to that line up.

The edge forward problem is not so confidently solved.

Let’s forget about forwards in other positions. Nathan Brown and Mitch Rein are scheduled to return but neither solve Parra’s problems on the edge.

At one time, Browny’s presence, even off the bench, might have eased the pressure. However, recent headlines have all focussed on his departure from the club. The former Origin star has been recovering from a hamstring injury during the latter part of the preseason, and prior to that he didn’t appear to feature in Parra’s plans for the season.

With the injury toll at such numbers, it’s likely that Momoisea will get the nod.

The recruit from Newcastle was in an early battle with Matt Doorey for the right edge spot. After a less than stellar trial against the Panthers, he arguably played himself out of not just a starting role, but even a place in the top 17.

His form in the second trial was much better, and given his versatility, he could be back into contention for the interchange bench.

But replacing a game changer like Shaun Lane is another matter altogether. Jirah has trained on the left a few times during the preseason, but if BA selects him there he’ll be demanding that he finds more than his exposed form, especially against the Storm.

Bryce Cartwright would be a similar gamble to Waqa should Arthur opt for him. He has the experience to handle the pressure of returning straight to NRL level footy, which is a definite advantage. However, he’s more likely to come into consideration for the bench.

The other option is Jack Murchie. This bloke has trained impressively in the middle during opposed work, but he has NRL experience as an edge forward.

Murchie could cover edge and middle

Again this is not a great outcome, as it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. In other words, it would be weakening the bench to fill the vacant back row position. A bit of left field thinking might see Murchie start in the back row, then become part of the middle rotation at the first interchange with Momoisea or Cartwright coming onto the edge off the bench. Marata Niukore did similarly at different times in his career at the Eels.

Should the Eels upgrade Toni Mataele? He’s fit, aggressive and at 20 years of age has a promising future. I’ve tipped him to be the next rising Eel to earn an NRL debut, so perhaps that will come much earlier than I anticipated.

On the other hand, Arthur has selection traits that have remained true for just on a decade. Based on past evidence, the Eels coach prefers to debut young forwards via limited minutes off the bench. That doesn’t align with the back row, a spot that is often an 80 minute responsibility under BA’s tenure.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a crack at a round one team list. Injuries and trial form have changed the landscape around the pack and the bench.

My back row would now be Doorey and Murchie. As I suggested earlier, I would then make Murchie part of the middle rotation at the first interchange.

Turning to the bench, it would be Arthur (who would be there as cover for the spine and would likely get minimal minutes), Cartwright/Momoisea, Makatoa and Greig.

Jirah Momoisea

I fully expect my selection of Jake Arthur to generate howls of disapproval. BA might not take this path. However, when the Cup side doesn’t play on the same day as the NRL team, it makes it possible for BA to cover his spine on the bench without diminishing Jake’s development in NSW Cup.

When Lane returns, I see the bench being Matterson, Murchie, Makatoa and Momoisea/Cartwright (all the Ms?).

I have no inside knowledge as to what BA will do. He has around four field sessions to work it out. One is already under the belt and I didn’t attend it.

Forced to predict his call, I reckon he’ll opt for Momoisea ahead of Carty. But whether he starts Jirah or brings him off the bench is the big question. He has also signalled his preference to select Jake in NSW Cup, so he might go with an extra middle such as Ogden or Rodwell.

All will be revealed at next week’s Team List Tuesday.

Eels forever!



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64 thoughts on “The Spotlight – February 21, 2023: Eels Injury List Casts Shadow Over Opening Round

  1. Chris Stone

    Kinda the elephant in the room and nothing we can do about it.. But geez Ryan Matterson must be looking sheepish at training sessions. I wonder if we can get him to play on compassionate grounds lol.

      1. Mick

        I thought Parra would have used the NRL’s decision to turn the pre-season into a “competition” to reduce Matto’s suspension.

          1. BDon

            Hey sixties, totally off track on suspensions. Did you see Luke Patten’s detailed summation of why Paasi didn’t get cited for the tackle that put Taylan May out for the season? Watch the tackle and you will see little difference to when Junior got suspended for a leg drop tackle, if anything Paasi hit May much harder, whereas Junior just grabbed and hung to the players waist but got swung onto the legs purely by momentum. Paasi also hit the waist but forced May forward and landed on his legs. Junior was sure fire dudded…and I’ll move on now. Oh and Junior’s victim wasn’t injured at all…moving on.

          2. John Eel

            BDon I did not see Pattens explanation but from my memory of Juniors tackle, I totally agree with what you are saying.

          3. Mick

            The point I’m trying to make Sixties is, when Parra approached the NRL to reverse Mattos decision, the pre-season trial games were just that, trials. I think it was a week or so after the knock back from the NRL, V’landys decided to turn the trials into a competition for points and prize money, surely this could have been used to wipe 2 games off his suspension considering it was an NRL sanctioned competition.

    1. !0 Year Member

      Interesting weeks ahead. Tight wad Matto. Disappointing. Looking forward to how BA will handle this adversity.

      1. sixties Post author

        I am too. I’ve obviously had a crack at tipping it but there is so much going on with players I really can’t be sure

    2. Darren

      Yeah, not happy with him considering the wage he earns and he was worried about that fine. Way to put the team first I reckon and I am a Parramatta supporter too.

  2. Eel Lee

    Great work as usual. Is there any indication yet as to why N Brown is out of favour and do we believe the Manly switch is on?

    1. Anonymous

      It was reported Harper did his ACL but now he is listed as a knee injury to return Rnd! so maybe its still on. Id rather give Brown a run and see how he goes after a pre season.

      1. !0 Year Member

        Brown ain’t going to Manly. We need him now more than ever. I don’t think he is one to kick stones

    2. sixties Post author

      He fell out of favour with his form in 2022 and he was dropped to Cup. His management sought clarification about a contract beyond 2023 and were told it was unlikely. I think both parties are still looking for a solution but I don’t think it will involve Harper.

  3. BDon

    We can only get better, that’s the good news.I sorta like that we’ve got our bookends, spine, industrious lock, and an interesting mix of backs (eg old matesPenisini/Russell). The newer guys will just need to do their job, high energy,run/tackle hard, all will be good.
    And what a great piece on – 3 things to fix.

  4. Colin Hussey

    Interesting panel for the players, certainly the injuries will/may play & who may get a run?

    Watching Kayo last week with the eels against NCLE, I noticed a knights player who pretty much destroyed the eels on two occasions with his speed, and scored against us, I tend to wonder with the eels how they may contend with players like him, at least having enough players that were strong enough to cover the opposition with their better & stronger game play, both in defense & attack/defend.

    While it was a trial, & from what I saw, a couple of the players who had some short stints, and given they have been in the top teams, they were somewhat disappointing in their game plays. Early days but how well will their contributions go, especially as they have not been great in last years comp either.

    The new signings however, show a good amount of experience and I believe that the main signings will give the eels a good edge going forward.

    In what I have seen with the other matches/teams its been something of a rough start for some of the clubs, with signs going up with the “sack the coach, along with similar unpleasant shouts from the stands”

    1. sixties Post author

      What player are you referring to Colin? None gave me any long term concerns. On the side that featured Young, we were fielding Momoisea, Cini and Lumelume. PNone are yet to be NRL regulars and have no experience playing together.

      1. Colin Hussey

        I may be wrong Sixties but I did not think Greig is an NRL player and has not really brought much overall to the club. The other one, at least to me is, Mitch Rein.

        I may well be wrong on both accounts but not sure regarding their futures, with Rein likely reaching retirement I admit that he was a fair player in his earlier days, Greig is another matter for a player of his size and what I have seen of his game play, is he just filling a spot?

        1. !0 Year Member

          Based on first trial game form …I tend to agree re Grieg. Maybe BA needs to do something very unlike BA. I still remember Brian Smith would not give Jarryd a run and then caretaker Jason Taylor gave him a chance and how awesome was that

        2. Marty

          Wiremu will be good for us , I hope by Rnd 5 with all players back that he will be a ‘must’ pick on the Bench. A big lump of a lad, just like Paulo in his early days – will take age maturity to get seasoned miles in his legs and head too

          1. BDon

            His carries were very strong, they had that look that getting to his feet and playing the ball quickly gave us mtrs in the next ruck.Haven’t been able to get the microscope on his defence.

      2. Marty

        I believe Colin thinking of Lachie Miller the Knights fullback, he did show some pretty neat stepping and acceleration, he is dangerous.
        Ex Eel Greg M was also a handful on return carries, took 4 Eel to stop him, also looks like someone finally taught him how to catch the high ball.
        The Storm have Rugby convert on the wing, big and fast so hope Sivo is fresh

        1. sixties Post author

          Miller had a very good game but didn’t score which is why I didn’t think he was referring to him, same with Marzhew, who also had a couple of big moments but is more power than pace. Anyway, despite the decent games of those three, and the dangers they brought, it mattered little to the result. There will be teams that have a fast player or two that can cause problems, see JAC with the Dogs. What matters is who plays with them.

          1. Colin Hussey

            I don’t like criticizing players, especially when they are part of our team, also more often than not.

            When Greig came out on the paddock I wondered who he was, especially with the new hair cut, but I could well be wrong on that. What also helped what I said was the particular player stood by the side of defense and did not get involved in several defensive moves. Again if I was wrong fair enough, & I accept that aspect.

            Re Mitch Rein, he has been a fair replacement when called upon with the eels, helped a fair bit when we lost our main hooker last year but age has slowed him in several games I saw. The question really is whether he can play long minutes when compared to others capable of that spot. No doubt though he could be a good back up if injuries take over with others who can play hooker.

          2. Anonymous

            Brendan Hands can play hooker just needs a go , played all last year in different spots due to injury (6,7,9,11,13) hard to shine

  5. Tanky

    Moses has knocked back the tigers apparently staying with Parramatta great news good for team spirit a mate sent me a link 2 sources Sydney morning Herald and fox sports

    1. Shaun

      I’m must admit enjoying the comments around the traps by some rather salty Tigers supporters. As well as enjoying the news about keeping Mitch for a few more seasons.

  6. Luke Winley

    A little birdie has told me that our Hindmarshian fullback is carrying an ankle injury and maybe out round one.
    We’ll still lap those purple crooks

  7. Spark

    My opinion hasn’t wavered. BA will pick JA on the bench come round 1 and round 2 and round 3 and …. It has nothing to do with injuries. He has consistently shown that he believes Jake belongs on the NRL bench as a utility and nothing will change that.
    There shouldn’t be any howls because it’s totally expected.

    1. sixties Post author

      Actually Spark, I don’t think (and I’m close to certain) that he picked him in the past as a utility. I’ve documented that late in the season he was picked specifically to cover the halves who each carried injuries and he filled in at training for them. I know he ended up jumping in at dummy half very late in matches, but you know how brief those minutes were.
      Furthermore, his bench selection at the start of the season was not because of his utility value, but rather Dylan’s. For BA to shift Dylan he needed cover in the halves.
      Those observations are based on what I watched at training, which is why I am close to certain. It’s just fact that he trained in the halves when the other two sat out many sessions late in the year. It wasn’t reported anywhere for obvious reasons. Mitch’s hand injury did keep him out for a number of weeks, there were no risks taken at training when he returned.
      As for now, I think Jake has utility value given the experience of last year. I don’t know if BA feels the same way, because he said he wants him to get more game time playing in the halves and that meant NSW Cup. As soon as Mitch and Dylan returned to training, Jake was training against them, not alongside them. I picked him on the bench because I believe circumstances have changed due to injury and because he can be there as utility cover and back up for a weekend Cup game.

      1. Spark

        Sixties, you have the advantage of attending training sessions so defer to your inside knowledge.
        I continue to disagree. Jake has NO ability as a utility or a bench warmer in the NRL side.
        Last year he was picked on the bench and an excuse was given that there were injuries in the halves. He stayed on the bench for the rest of the year.
        We don’t have injuries in the halves at present so there is no valid reason why Jake would be anywhere near consideration for a bench role.
        We have better and more experienced players who could cover that role.
        It’s absolutely plain to see that Jayden Yeats should be given an upgrade and played as the utility instead of Jake as even in his very limited career, he runs rings around Jake for ability and usefulness to the team.
        It’s going to be criminal to see Hands, Rein and Yeats to name but a few, sitting in reserves whilst Jake takes the pine for a 5 min cameo.

        1. Mick

          I think you are wrong Spark. BA did say that Jake will not be on the bench this year because it is not good for his development. As Sixties posted earlier, we only have 18 fit players to pick from, so there might be a backflip by BA re Jake on the bench, and if he does pick him, I guarantee it will only be for the first 2 or 3 weeks until we get players back.

          1. sixties Post author

            Mick, I could even be wrong about BA selecting Jake in round one as a utility. That’s my selection based on circumstances and the draw for NSW Cup

        2. sixties Post author

          There was no “excuse” for picking Jake, Spark. Covering for the halves was a reason for that entire late season period.
          I rate Jayden Yates and anyone reading my training reports would know that. I’d like him to get regular game time in NSW Cup as his stepping stone. It’s something that hasn’t been afforded to him. Likewise, Hands has been unavailable for trials and missed games last year. I’d like to see him get some regular footy this year.

        1. Anonymous

          Prediction for Round 1…. JA to be No14 v Melbourne on Thursday night. Then to back up and play half back on Saturday for Reserve Grade……

  8. Milo

    Parra just need to compete well for the first month or so; and defence to be on song. The rest will sort itself.
    Melb are always going to be tough and nothing will change here, prepare for the first half bartering and stay patient and use ball well to work their beasts around.
    Our bench has to be strong…..
    Thanks for a wonderful off season again and for the in depth reports and reactions to trials. Being o/seas it’s great to have the chance to listen in.
    Hopefully be back this yr or sooner.

  9. Glenn

    What about Asi for utility? I’m sure he is top 30 but haven’t heard about him in training reports or what his injury is. Regarding forwards, depending on his injury, I’d put him at lock and have Hopgood as edge forward at least until get troops back.

    1. sixties Post author

      The season launch photos showed him in a knee brace. I hadn’t seen him at training for a week or so prior, so the brace explained his absence. He didn’t play in the trials for that reason.

  10. Mitch A

    Great read sixties, love the reports!

    I wouldn’t complain to see a player like Yates get upgraded and used as a cover for hodgo as 14 during the earlier rounds.
    Looked solid in both trials when he came on.
    How do you rate him compared to Hands and Rein?

    1. sixties Post author

      I think there will be genuine competition between Rein and Yates in NSW Cup this year. Of course, Yates can play lock. Hands is someone that I was hoping to see more of to make a judgement, but in the games he played last year he didn’t seem to settle in one position. It wouldn’t surprise to see him in the halves in Cup this year.

      1. John Eel

        Yates is skilful and has a calmness that usually comes from experience in the NRL.

        Having said that I would hate to see him pushed too early

  11. Mark Camman

    Nathan Brown – going or staying? There must be more to this than meets the eye. He can’t get a game at Parramatta and no other club wants him. He must have done something bad to be so far on the outer.

    1. sixties Post author

      I think it’s fairly straight forward. He’s on very good money at Parra and we are now 4 months deep into the last year of his contract. He doesn’t need to rush to get out of Parra. He earns that money whether he plays NRL or Cup. I believe there have been a couple of clubs interested but agreements haven’t quite been reached.

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