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)