Welcome to this happy place. A spot without conjecture or debate about the contract of a particular halfback.
Instead we’ll focus on a couple of other players that should be locked up sooner rather than later. We know what can happen if the window of opportunity is lost.
On the topic of locking things, I’d advocate locking out a couple of officials and rule interpretations after what I witnessed last week.
Turning to the positive, Parra’s junior rep teams are on track for successful seasons, and I’m sharing some details on a couple of young goal kicking sharp shooters.
Get It Done
Is it too early to extend the deal of J’maine Hopgood? I wouldn’t be hesitating.
We’re only one game into his time at the Eels, but I’d already seen enough of this bloke in the Panthers lower grades, in the preseason, in the All Stars match, and in the Newcastle trial to know that he is the real deal.
He’s only contracted for two years, which means that other clubs can talk to him in less than eight months.
It wouldn’t surprise if the Eels are already on top of this, given what transpired with Isaiah Papali’i. But if they aren’t, they need to be.
Matt Doorey is another in the same boat. His contract with the club is just for one year, with a mutual option for 2024. He’s a player who will only get better under BA.
I’ll also be closely tracking the form of Jack Murchie. I liked what he produced during the preseason and I thought he had a solid first outing last Thursday.
Slow Start For Top Four Teams
It was an average start to the 2023 season for each of of 2022’s Top Four.
Our Eels couldn’t get the job done in extra time against Round 1 specialists, the Storm, whilst both the Panthers and the Sharks lost at home.
The other Top Four side, the Cowboys, were lucky to scrape home by a field goal after surrendering an 18 point lead against Raiders.
Is this an early sign of the changing of the guard?
I’m not jumping off the Eels, as they weren’t outplayed. Rather, they were guilty of making errors at critical times. And let’s face it, any team that restricts the Storm to 12 points over 80 minutes, or restricts any opponent for that matter, will usually win the match.
It would also take a brave person to suggest that Penrith will falter this year.
On the other hand, some punters have suggested that the Cowboys and the Sharks flew under the radar in 2022 and were the beneficiaries of favourable draws.
As far as I’m concerned, there’s a risk of reading too much into the opening round results, especially when it comes to teams missing key players and/or with a number of players having a restricted preseason due to the World Cup.
What the Top Four won’t be able to avoid is opponents lifting when they play any of last season’s top performers.
Instant Reaction Too Harsh?
I was extremely disappointed with the Eels golden point loss to the Storm. After the match, the frustration of letting a win slip away was palpable.
If Eels players look into the mirror they will find the reason for the loss. Errors were found at crucial times. Plays such as Lumelume going for broke in the corner on the second tackle, or Sivo kicking on the first when the team needed to set for a field goal, were more reminiscent of training track practice than taking a match relevant option.
Mind you, maybe passing to Sivo in a narrowing corridor wasn’t a smart idea in the first place.
And though I remain uncomfortable about the Eels butchering the two competition points, I felt that the forwards could hold their heads high. Parra’s starting middles, Junior, Reg, and J’maine did everything asked and possibly more, whilst Doorey had a very promising first outing and Cartwright had his most workmanlike game in Eels colours.
Hodgson found a try assist for Junior in his Eels debut. Expect to see even more from him in every passing week.
Watching the other matches, I thought that the under strength Eels performed at least as well as many of the other teams. They just didn’t get the result.
But I’m still disappointed.
Return of The Wrestle
Watching the officiating of Ashley Klein on Thursday night was another frustrating experience.
Klein wasn’t the reason for the Eels loss, but that doesn’t mean that his performance isn’t deserving of serious criticism.
Let’s first consider his “interpretation” of the ruck.
The Eels average play the ball speed was a pedestrian four seconds. That’s a full second slower than the Storm.
Furthermore, it means that there were play the balls slower than four seconds.
Let’s extrapolate those numbers across the match. The Eels played the ball around 200 times. That means more than an extra three minutes for the Storm defence to get back and set. And those figures don’t show when the longer play the balls were allowed to happen. Was it as the Eels threatened to stretch the defence?
Those at the ground know what transpired. Melbourne players continued to grapple with Eels players in the standing “held” position. Arms would magically end up tangled in the Eels arms, and the call of “release” was coming painfully slow and with almost no consequence for failing to do so.
For grounded players it was just as bad, with the Storm given great latitude in how long they could stay on the tackled player.
The evidence is there on the tape. It’s there in the stats.
But the worst call of the night arguably belonged to Hodgson being penalised for interference in the ruck. The Eels rightly challenged the call. The Storm player had not only planted the ball before rising, he had put the ball down to the side of the ruck, right where the defender would be moving through to get to the marker position. It’s a classic Storm ploy.
But then not only does Klein get it wrong, the bunker inexplicably and rapidly upholds his decision. That is no excuse for such an obvious error, and it impacted the conclusion of the game with Parra forced to defend a late Melbourne surge.
And though I emphasise that the Eels have to look to themselves for the loss, the officiating was often sub standard.
On Saturday I witnessed the first example of the attacking team being penalised for holding the ball in the scrum.
It came in the Jersey Flegg match when the Eels player put his foot on the ball to stop it before picking it up at the base of the scrum for a set play.
When watching from a distance it seemed to happen very quickly, so quickly that the holding time in the scrum was almost negligible.
I’ve watched a replay of the incident and there is no doubt that the player put his foot on the ball before picking it up.
Justification of the ref’s call aside, just as I was critical of the six again rule before it was introduced, so too did I speak out about this rule before the season started. It’s an absurd change to introduce.
It makes no sense for the old rule to be completely flipped on its head to the point that the team feeding the scrum is penalised. A simple call of “out” when a referee has deemed that the ball is being deliberately held in would suffice. Why introduce another penalty?
Again, it’s difficult to understand why any team would lock the ball in the scrum.
But my fear is that it provides the opportunity for a pedantic referee, and we have one or two of those, to decide that a delay in the ball exiting the scrum is actually deliberate.
Maybe it will never happen at NRL level. We can all live in hope.
Grounding The Ball
The decision to not award a penalty try to Joseph Suaalii in the Roosters and Dolphins clash was the wrong call. But that’s because it never got to that stage. Somehow, some way, the young centre was deemed to have grounded the ball so a penalty try review wasn’t necessary.
Please. It wasn’t even close to grounded.
This reminds me of the bad old days of video referees still-framing footage that appears to show some point where pressure is applied. We all remember how that worked out.
When will the NRL ever learn? The more that they change rules or interpretations, the more they make a rod for the referee’s back.
Get To The Kick
How often do we see it? A team will score a try only to turn over possession in the kick-off set.
It’s frustrating to watch when it’s your team. It’s a blessing when it’s the opposition.
And it happens with ridiculous frequency. It’s almost as if the scoring side has lost focus after the jubilation in celebrating a try.
Last weekend the habit was almost in plague proportions in Eels lower grade and junior representative matches.
It must take years off the life of coaches to see their teams throw away any advantage gained from scoring.
I reckon set completions from kick offs are worthy of a statistic.
Junior Reps On Track
Each of Parra’s junior rep teams have enjoyed successful starts to their seasons.
With five matches completed in the nine round seasons, the Eels sit in the top 6 in every grade. The Matts and Ball teams have both won four matches and sit in fourth spot, whilst the Gale team has won three games and drawn one to be placed equal fourth.
It hasn’t been the easiest draw. Each of the three away rounds has featured a significant road trip – to Kanwal, Wollongong and Canberra.
The SG Ball team experienced their first defeat last weekend in going down to the table-topping Raiders. It was an uncharacteristically poor defensive effort, and the players’ pride would be stinging this week.
On the other hand, it’s been a month of undefeated footy for the Matts and Gale teams after both lost their opening round matches against the Roosters. Both teams look to be building in cohesion and confidence as the season builds towards finals footy.
You can catch the action in the Tarsha Gale and S G Ball Cups at Cabramatta this Saturday. The Harold Matthews Cup team have a bye, but there will still be three grades of footy as the Eels Jersey Flegg match against the Sharks will kick off after the reps conclude.
And you can keep up to date with each match via our live coverage on TCT.
Goal Kicking Superstars In The Making
Regulars at Eels Junior Rep matches would be well aware of the potential of goal kicking wingers Dom Farrugia and Alysha Bell.
Both Dom and Alysha have arguably the most powerful boots in their grades. Recent matches have featured conversions from the sideline and there’s a couple of moments I’d like to share.
In a recent Harold Matthews match at Kellyville, Dom Farrugia drilled his conversion between the posts. But it was where the ball went afterwards that even drew a smirk from the young bloke himself.
The ball not only sailed over the high fence at the southern end of the ground, and it didn’t just travel past the vacant ground behind that fence, it flew across to the other side of the backstreet, landing and staying on the second floor balcony of a house..
Can you picture the ball boy knocking on somebody’s front door asking for a match ball?
At the risk of putting some sort of jinx on her, Alysha Bell is in a class of her own when it comes to goal kickers in the Tarsha Gale Cup.
Last season we watched her kick a sideline conversion in extremely windy conditions at Kellyville and I thought it was something special.
But she easily eclipsed that a couple of weeks ago when the Eels scored a last second try in the corner against the Steelers in Wollongong.
Still trailing by two points, her team needed the conversion to force a draw. The conditions weren’t perfect, with a breeze making kicks awkward. Despite the pressure she absolutely drilled the ball between the posts.
Like all kickers, Alysha will probably miss her share of conversions. But, more often than not, her team advances by six points when they cross for tries and that’s a huge advantage in rugby league.
See You In Parra Leagues
Last week, Forty and I returned to our live appearances at the Home of the Eels, Parra Leagues. Due to the late kick off, we presented a match preview before the big game against the Storm.
This Friday night, we’ll be back to the post match slot as we give our instant reactions to the Eels clash with the Sharks.
Join us for a drink, a feed and plenty of footy talk.
It all kicks off in Jacks Bar and Grill around forty minutes after full time.
Credit for all Eels NRL images to Parra Eels media (cheers Bocko)
Kleins performance was sub standard, as it usually is against the Eels. He must hold some sort of unintentional bias against the club due to growing up in the system and then goes out of his way to show that he doesn’t favour the side. That being said – I always give on field referees a lot of leeway in their interpretations. They are under heavy fatigue. The Captains challenge is one of the best rules ever introduced in fact, I believe there should be at least 2 challenges per half to the teams, such is the ineptitude of the… Read more »
There is nothing wrong with the bunker but unfortunately there is to often plenty wrong with those who sit in it.
Hey I’m all for the concept too – but those that adjudicate from that privileged position need to be more than accountable.
Spark, I’m with you. Some leeway for on field refs. And respect too for their fitness levels. They are athletes in their own right in controlling such a fast game. But, as you say the bunker shouldn’t make the errors that they do. And some of the errors are outrageously wrong.
I was in GA section and could see the player never got to his feet. Amazing. We get that penalty… Slot the 2 points and most probably win. With everything that went on, we were not good enough, as Sixties points out.
Yeah, I’m not blaming the officials for the loss because we had enough opportunities. But damn, the officiating did influence the game.
As I have said previously in this forum Kiein is a poor referee. I stress poor not biased. I have been watching him closely for a number of years. His performance in last years State of Origin and the disgraceful decision to allow the Cowboys a challenge let alone award the penalty costing the Tigers the win in Townsville are recent cases in point.
Joe, I am in the same boat as you. This is not meant as a ref bashing. I have respect for the dedication, the athleticism and the difficulty of being on in field NRL ref. And I don’t think that the NRL helps with all the rule or interpretation changes. Refs probably disagree with some changes. But I’m baffled about Klein’s current high ranking. When he first returned from England many years ago he was very good. But I shudder now when we get him and I’m sure there are supporters of other clubs that feel similarly.
My 1 cent worths, that’s all that Klein is worth as a ref, & he’s never improved as one, only gotten worse. I watched the clip on the storm play the ball from Anasede, and what an insightful watch owing to the play the ball call, not from Klink but from the head of the refs where he talked about the issue and concluded the fact that the play the ball was not carried out correctly and was there for all to see if they saw his post match review of Kleins refereing towards the end when the Klein penalty… Read more »
I can see you’re fired up Colin. I am too. And yet as bad as Klein was, I can’t help but be even more frustrated by a bunker official under minimal pressure to review different angles (as if needed!) to make the call.
Sixties…..I will call out the elephant in the room. The lack of commentary on the amount of time the eels have to recruit another play maker, should we have too, astounds me. Whilst everyone thinks he isn’t going anywhere……I think it’s very selfish and self indulgent. Where is the player whom sacrificed for his team last year. He who rests on his laurels is resting in the wrong place.
This is a halfback free zone this week ten year
We’ve been big fans of Doorey since his days lining up alongside Dyl in the Harold Matts, it was a shame to see him leave initially and its great to see him back. Hopefully that 1+1 deal can be extended for an extra few years. Same with Hopgood, he started off as a supercoach/fantasy favourite player and it won’t be long before he’s one of the favourites amongst the greater NRL. Huge workrate, no nonsense, hits hard, exactly the sort of forward every team loves. It won’t be long before he’s pulling on a maroon jersey. Dom has a booming… Read more »
Nelson put his body drop, wayward arms/elbow trick on Hopgood and you see Hopgood glance back at Klein, no screaming or distraction, just focusses on playing the ball as quickly as he can.
I wasn’t expecting him to hit so hard in defense. Was it Trey Mooney we lost at the same time as Doorey? I watched him in NSW CUP. Good physique but gee he made some errors. Still wouldn’t mind trying to get him back as well.
No, Doorey came through in Dylan’s age group. Mooney came through in the same group as Jake, Will, Sean, Sam, Matt K, Toni and Jontay.
I reckon Doorey will be one of the biggest improvers throughout this season Ham.
Hopgood is Captaincy material. He needs to be the future of the club.
Hyperbole! The kid has played a good game. He looks a keeper. Let’s revisit after the season
It’s my opinion!
And it wouldn’t surprise to see it happen in a few years. Whether he covets that level of leadership is yet to be seen. But he’s definitely the type of player to build a club around.
Tks sixties. The concussion doctor thought Munster hit Penisini high but ref/bunker didn’t see it that way. Live it looked 50/50 but replay showed the shoulder glancing upwards to the neck/head…why didn’t the bunker call it? And no way that guy stood up to play the ball, Hodgson’s foot contacted the ball because the Storm player planted the ball first, then got up.
BDon, I’m thinking that unless the contact with the head is obviously accidental then a HIA is an automatic 10 in the bin for other player. But of course, that means the bunker has to decide…
I wish I had the answer. If I did I could probably get on the club payroll
The most annoying play that consistently happen throughout the game was Munster block plays every time we kicked long to his side. He would intentionally change line and attempt to shoulder out either winger or centre chasing the kick, if it happened 10m from the ball penalty every time but because it was 20-30m off the ball the refs can’t or won’t penalise. Typical Melbourne finding a way to make the rules work for them.
It isn’t just Munster anymore, I noticed a few of the storm players doing it and the player returning the ball heads directly to that spot. The NRL needs to do the referees a favour from 2024 onwards and double the amount in the game, 2 refs on the field (using Harrigan’s model of a main ref and pocket ref, not the bastardised version the NRL turned it into), and 4 touchies. Too much happens in a game for only 3 refs to see.
I also noticed a few other teams try it after the success the Storm had….. Although…. They didn’t break the line…. Let’s hope the refs would have called it up if they did
Do you honestly think the NRL will revisit that? They are too concerned about the media response. It was a media push they got it back to one ref in the first place.
There’s no chance that the current administration revert back to or increase the amount of refs. Hopefully more level heads are brought back into positions of power and extra refs will be revisited
They are experts!
Absolute no brainer extending Hopgood he is class. Doorey as well needs more than a year.
Watching NRL360 tonight Daley (Flat track bullies Daley) has the Eels at $19 and 9th in the betting on the TAB for the premiership.
John, if the other TCT boys (and many other Eels fans) would give me the all clear to put my coin on the Eels, I’d be all over those odds. Obviously it’s been a while so there should be decent odds, but $19 is well over.
“ The Eels average play the ball speed was a pedestrian four seconds. That’s a full second slower than the Storm.”
Thanks mate. When you consider the range of speeds that would have produced this average of 4 seconds, there were some massively slowed up rucks that went unpenalised.