After an emotion fuelled round one matchup against the despicable Storm, round two sees a much more neutral opponent arrive on the doorway to the west as the Cronulla Sharks prepare for a trip to CommBank Stadium. There just isn’t a lot of history between the Eels and the Sharks. Remember that time David Peachey talked with his hands too much and the Eels beat the Sharks 74-4? That was fun. Unless some Sharks fans are particularly upset that we poached Adam Dykes from them 20 years ago (wow I am feeling old right now) there just isn’t a lot of fire between these two sides.
What shared history there is between the two clubs is unfortunately tragic. The Eels and Sharks compete each year for the Johnny Mannah Cup, with 2023 marking ten years since Jon’s passing. Mannah was a Parramatta junior who moved across to Cronulla in search of opportunity in 2009 but was struck with cancer shortly after his first grade debut. He won that initial battle and added 12 more games to his first grade total in 2011. He returned to the Eels in 2012 but did not play a game, as cancer struck once again and claimed his life in 2013. It’s a nice game to win, but the highlight for me is always the minute of applause, as opposed to silence, to celebrate Jon’s life.
Date: Friday, March 10 2023
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 6:00PM AEDT
Referee: Gerard Sutton
Weather: Warm, possibly windy
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Last week should have been a winning return for us with taking Parra in the head to head market. We all know about what transpired.
For those who speculated on other matches, I hope you took some outsiders because Round 1 delivered its usual mix of the unexpected.
This week there is zero value in the head to head market with the Eels at ridiculously short odds.
I’m therefore looking at more exotic markets, and ignoring Cronulla’s less than stellar effort against the Bunnies. So, taking into account the Sharks defence in 2022, I don’t think it will be a high scoring match.
This leads me to the Line/Over Under market and taking the Eels at -5.5 and total match points of under 40.5. The return there is currently $3.80.
Happy, responsible punting.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Junior Paulo 11. Bryce Cartwright 12. Matt Doorey 13. J’maine Hopgood. 14. Jirah Momoisea 15. Jack Murchie 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Makahesi Makatoa.
18. Jake Arthur 19. Bailey Simonsson 20. Ofahiki Ogden 21. Ky Rodwell 22. Haze Dunster.
Sean Russell comes into the Eels side almost one year to the day since his last appearance was cut short by an apparently legal Jayden Campbell kneedrop. Isaac Lumelume makes way, given that he had special dispensation to play and is not a first grade contracted player. Russell sat out last week for a suspension nobody apparently knew about until February, and nobody can answer why it couldn’t be served at the end of last year.
The lineup is unchanged beyond that, with all eyes on the bench and whether Brad Arthur uses his full complement this week. Much like the old geezer on the hill who spends the entire game yelling “up, up, get ‘im, get ‘im” I don’t see the coach changing his ways just because some punk a few rows in front gives him a serve.
1. William Kennedy 2. Sione Katoa 3. Jesse Ramien 4. Siosifa Talakai 5. Ronaldo Mulitalo 6. Matt Moylan 7. Braydon Trindall 8. Toby Rudolf 9. Blayke Brailey 10. Braden Hamlin-Uele 11. Briton Nikora 12. Teig Wilton 13. Dale Finucane. 14. Cameron McInnes 15. Royce Hunt 16. Oregon Kaufusi 17. Connor Tracey.
18. Thomas Hazleton 19. Mawene Hiroti 20. Max Bradbury 21. Jayden Berrell 22. Niwhai Puru.
A few key outs for the Sharks, most notably the reigning Dally M medalist Nicho Hynes, replaced by the fairly competent Braydon Trindall. Everything at Cronulla ran through Hynes last year, as evidenced by his runaway Dally M count, but Trindall was solid enough last week and is more than capable of leading the Sharks to victory if the Eels can’t match them in the middle.
Wade Graham has also been suspended for a spectacular shoulder charge that belongs in a pro-wrestling ring more than it does on the footy field. He was lucky the result wasn’t a lot worse. His bench spot is filled by the returning Royce Hunt, a very different body shape that might indicate a different style for the Sharks here. Connor Tracey comes in for the injured Jack Williams as the final change, another swap that is hardly like-for-like. Craig Fitzgibbon may have liked what he saw in terms of the Eels ruck fatigue last week and wants a quick, fresh man out there to exploit it.
One worry I had after last weekend’s games is that Parramatta is playing old style football in a new world. Of 79 outside backs that played 60 or more minutes last weekend, in metres made the Eels back five ranked 27th (Gutherson, 10th among fullbacks), 53rd (Penisini), 54th (Sivo), 60th (Blake) and 73rd (Lumelume). Conversely, the Eels had four of the top ten forward metre eaters (RCG 1st, Paulo 5th, Hopgood 9th, Cartwright 10th). The former stat is as unimpressive as the latter is impressive.
It is too early in the year to know how many sides are going to be playing Panther-ball, relying on outside backs to do heavy lifting and leave the forward pack fresh for powerful defensive efforts and charges into the opposition half, but it is pretty clear that isn’t the Parramatta plan. One worry is that avoiding this strategy exposes the Eels to a deficit in the fatigue battle late in games, which is compounded by Brad Arthur’s use of interchange (yes, I know, I’ll stop harping on about it eventually).
Parramatta has one of the quality packs in the NRL, but they’ll be running uphill all year into fresher defenders if these trends continue. The meta-strategy of the NRL this year could shift against the Eels and leave their strength (big, strong, offloading forwards) nullified. It puts more pressure on the halves, both for their kicking games and to create off the back foot. If last week is any indicator, that won’t go very well.
This could all be a worry over nothing. Emulating Penrith’s style is one thing, having the cattle to do it effectively is another. Opposition teams could lose the field position battle by having smaller outside backs doing heavy ruck yardage, and that extra fatigue on the backs could be exploited by forcing difficult decisions on them with good shape or just by simply running big men at them, at pace. Shaun Lane might score a dozen tries this year if he gets to run at centres who are making 15-20 tough runs per game.
It is an interesting one to watch. The Eels in round one were very much “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and the Storm’s lesser light bench forwards managed to hold their own against them. Ultimately that middle fatigue was exploited for the Storm to win the game, admittedly by one of the craftier dummy halves in the NRL. We might not get an answer against Cronulla (who played a similarly forward dominated yardage game last week) but it is a trend I’ll be keeping a keen eye on for this first month of footy.
Cronulla were also first up losers, beaten by a Rabbitohs side that went through an injury crisis but carved the Sharks left defensive edge to shreds in a way that should have Mitchell Moses and Matt Doorey licking their lips. The Talakai/Moylan combination was asked to make decisions and the two constantly added one and one and got banana.
Looking at what Josh Hodgson and Junior Paulo did to a rushing Cameron Munster last week, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat against Cronulla. That was the most interesting shape the Eels threw last week, Hodgson at second receiver and slowing down the play in a way that is very un-Parramatta like and thoroughly confused the Storm defence. That is what I hope will be a theme this season, teams needing to respect the inside more as Hodgson works his magic. Munster shooting out would have been a safe play last year, the ball always went through Moses, now it is a huge risk.
Cronulla will definitely play a different game this week, running a four forward bench last week which they too did not take full advantage of. Now they’ve got a more traditional two genuine props and a utility on the bench. Expect more minutes from Cam McInnes and perhaps a longer stint from lock Dale Finucane, both tough defenders who love dirty work. Royce Hunt coming in gives them greater middle size, and I’d expect the Sharks to try and do what they did in round 2 last year, monster the middle of the ruck and force the Eels to work from their own half all game long.
Trindall at halfback perhaps caught the Rabbitohs by surprise last week, but the Eels need to key on him like he is an all-star playmaker, if only because that will force the ball to Moylan and Will Kennedy. Moylan has long proven to be a poor dominant half, while Kennedy can be up and down, especially as a playmaker. Trindall looked first grade ready last week, but the toughest jump from reserves to firsts is the speed of the game, and cutting down his time could see him crumble.
One area Cronulla needs to clean up is their contact. They missed more tackles than any other side last week, including some shocking numbers from edge forward Teig Wilton (8 misses), prop Toby Rudolf (6) and halves Moylan (17 made, 7 missed) and Trindall (11 made, 4 missed). Siosifa Talakai made 5 and missed 4. Hence why I think McInnes and Finucane will take on a heavier load, as those numbers are unsustainable.
The Parramatta halves need to be a lot better for the Eels to win this one. The discourse around Mitchell Moses and his contract is the biggest bore in rugby league right now, but a guy who is tossing up whether to become the highest paid or second highest paid player in rugby league should be winning you games like that one last week. Dylan Brown had a shocker too, but that only makes it more damning that Moses didn’t step up.
The halves play well and the rest sorts itself out. The outside backs can score on anybody when given enough space, and while Matt Doorey is no Shaun Lane he’ll do just fine when running good lines on the edge. Looking at how the Sharks defended last week, success could be as simple as get in good ball and throw some shape down the right edge. Sure they could figure out those communication issues in a week, but if Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake couldn’t learn to defend together over two years I’m banking it takes Moylan and Talakai more than a week.
What Parramatta can’t do is get dragged into a one out ruck battle. The Sharks middle defence rushed them last year and there was no plan B until Nathan Brown got on the field and started running angles back at the ruck and challenging the rushing defenders. Far too often last year the Eels met a rushing defence and decided the best option was to keep running straight into it. I’m hoping the smarts of Josh Hodgson bring some deception and better decision making to the side if Cronulla begins to key on the Eels middles.
Prediction: Parramatta 26 d Cronulla 16
Man of the Match: Josh Hodgson
I’m pretty sure Moses will have a much better game this week as he knows that another poor showing will diminish his contract value at the Eels considerably. I get what you are saying about using outside backs to ruck the ball back, but the reality is that we just don’t have the players to do that. Yes Sivo is a monster but he doesn’t really have the ability to do it either. Not sure what the solution is, but you are right that we can’t rely on just out starting props to do all the work.
That’s why this is an interesting watch, there are other clubs with less suitable backlines to make metres than us, but they are trying it anyway.
The outside back meters and work has been a huge unnoticed issue for sometime. Our forwards are elite however with our bench rotation are absolutely cooked by the last 10-20 minutes. Imagine how much better we would be if we consistently had 100 plus metres of work out of our own end from our back five. Additionally a thing I noticed last year and it looks to have carried at least into the game last week. We seem to just let teams roll up the field and defend our line rather than stopping them prior to this point. “Bend don’t… Read more »
Great analysis Gol. I haven’t seen the stats but our kick returns were awful last week. I reckon that the Storm would have smashed us in that stat.
I see one reason is that our defenders are not putting pressure on their kicker. As a result the Eels are regularly kicking out from deep in our defensive zone.
I think in the meantime we will see some organic improvement in the new recruits while we wait for Matterson and Lane to return.
Is Lumelume top 30 or not? Eels website shows him as being in. 29 players listed.
I think the Eels website (and all club sites) include every player in a squad once they are named (automatic updates perhaps?) but I believe the TCT word is that he wasn’t upgraded. He’s not in the latest signing tracker on the NRL website.
Great read Gol.
Wade Graham did what Finucane did last year. He tried to inspire his team in the worst possible way. His defence was laughable: I changed my tackling style because I got concussions. So I now tackle like this….lol
I’m glad we are at home.
I’m looking for another herculean performance from Hopgood. He’s just continuing on his brilliant form from last year. He just gets on with it and leads by example. I think he’s got Matto covered.
Hopgood made an excellent debut for us, but Matterson has a lot of form on the board and was a real gamebreaker last season. I’m very interested to see how they co-exist in the squad.
I feel our offloading around the 35-40m helps us propel into the oppostion’s half. It was something we did alot last year but did not seem to do it this year.
It is one of our strengths, just like the backs making yards is penrith’s strength. They have the cattle to do that. We have the cattle to do this.
However, against the Storm, i didn’t see much of it. Maybe because Matto and Lane were missing or maybe we just played safety.
Moses was continously kicking from our 40m or behind it.
I think the real danger is that Cronulla play a similar attacking game to Souths. A game style Parra doesn’t seem to handle. The wingers are big try scorers against Parra. And Trindall had a great game against Souths – definitely the danger man. What concerns me is Hopgood doing so many tackles last week which suggest someone was not. If we want him to be really effective with the ball lightened his defence load a notch. The Emu should be give two 12 – 15 minutes spell with the instructions to run hard at the opposition. I mean run… Read more »
Tks Gol. It seemed to me last night Grant Atkins may have been ‘influenced’ to manage the ruck a little better than Klein. If that reflects tonight, then our 1,6,7,9 will improve out of sight. Penrith also copped an in-your- face serve from the Broncos, they didn’t play badly, were just edged in energy and focus. Last night v Souths they didn’t play much better, but got better officiating conditions and luck. Let’s see if we can minimise poor random errors and compete in a more balanced officiating effort. Although that sounds like a perfect scenario,it’s not really a lot… Read more »