After opening up the season against two competition heavyweights, it will be a relief for Parramatta fans to be heading to Brookvale for a clash with a team that missed the 2022 finals, the Manly Sea Eagles. A dysfunctional mess that capitulated to end that season then thought the best way to fix it would be to sign a coach who most recently took a superclub to a wooden spoon, the Sea Eagles represent the best chance for the Eels to get a win on the board in this opening stretch of five tough games.
Fun aside, while I don’t like Manly, I don’t respect Manly and I think the game would be better for the Perth, Central Coast or Port Moresby Sea Eagles, I begrudgingly admit they will be an opponent of some challenge this Thursday night. There’s a lot of room for improvement for the Eels and the Sea Eagles started the season hot by beating a pathetic Bulldogs side back in round one before a hard earned rest courtesy of the bye. We’ll know a lot more about both teams come Friday morning, and I’m hoping that what we know is that Parramatta aren’t as bad as an 0-2 start suggested and Manly aren’t as good as beating a team that couldn’t pass, run or tackle indicated.
Date: Thursday, March 16 2023
Venue: Brookvale Oval, Brookvale
Kick-off: 8:00PM AEDT
Referee: Adam Gee
Bunker: Ashley Klein
Weather: Hot, windy, chance of divots
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
If you are game to punt on this one then you have a stronger nerve than I have.
Even though there is value in taking the Eels at $2.30, and I believe they can get the job done, I can’t possibly suggest investing on them tonight.
Keep the powder dry, watch this one play out, and we’ll reconvene next week.
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Bailey Simonsson 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 20. Ofahiki Ogden
Considering the unavailables (and the fact reggies got 40 put on them last week) it isn’t much of a surprise to see the same side trotting out that lost to the Sharks. I’m well and truly over seeing Waqa Blake bumble through a first grade career in an Eels jersey, but he has shown a remarkable ability to bounce back from shockers so is due an 11/10 for us this weekend. Sean Russell is apparently injured, though nobody at the club will tell us that, or for how long.
It’ll be hot on Thursday and the Eels starting forwards have played two big minute games, so maybe the bench management will be better…oh who am I kidding. BA-roulette suggests Jirah Momoisea is the one to miss out on getting on the field this week.
Manly Sea Eagles
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Christian Tuipulotu 3. Brad Parker 4. Tolutau Koula 5. Reuben Garrick 6. Josh Schuster 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Haumole Olakau’atu 11. Kelma Tuilagi 13. Josh Aloiai. 14. Kaeo Weekes 15. Ben Trbojevic 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Sean Keppie.
18. Toafofoa Sipley 21. Karl Lawton.
Josh Schuster makes his anticipated halves debut against the Eels this week, I’m hoping for a train wreck but he is unfortunately the type of guy to be motivated by the perceived sleight that he grew up in the Parramatta catchment area but was signed up by Manly before he could grow facial hair so apparently we rejected him?
The Manly bench looks a bit light on. Kaeo Weekes is a fullback, and I’d always thought Ben Trbojevic playing back row was just a Supercoach positional mistake. The pressure will be on the Manly middle to play big minutes, something Aloiai and Jake Trbojevic can easily handle but we haven’t really seen from Paseka or Keppie. Opportunities should be there to run at tired forwards, if our own forwards aren’t too tired.
All the talk this week is of a potential 0-5 start for the Eels, which I’m not going to pretend is a good thing but I don’t think is the season ending worry that many are trying to paint it as. Who you lose to matters as much as if you lose, and while dropping five games to teams that will be in the finals or there abouts reduces the margin for error and makes it more likely you’ll be in those single elimination finals positions, it doesn’t change that the Eels next five opponents after this horror run are the Tigers, Bulldogs, Broncos, Knights and Titans. If the Eels were 5-5 and those losses were to the current top five teams, would you feel that the season was over?
What a poor start does mean is there is no room for the Eels to “Eels” it against weak teams as they are want to do. Losses to Wests and Canterbury last year not only sucked fans of the will to support, they made a top four finish far tougher than it needed to be. This year losses like that could be the difference between the top eight and a pitchfork wielding mob outside Brad Arthur’s home.
That “lose to bad teams” narrative is itself overblown (something I just contributed to by calling it “Eelsing it”, I admit). Before last season, the only team that finished outside of the top eight that the Eels lost to was the Dragons, who beat them in both 2020 and 2021. Sure Parramatta had a reputation for playing down to opponents and not putting big scores or comfortable wins on sides beneath them, but outright losses weren’t common. They weren’t really common last year either, but the two we had were absolute, unforgivable shockers.
The other big story I wanted to debunk was this “playing three teams off a bye” blowup. Yes, it is not ideal and the NRL clearly decides a draw like it designs rule changes and negotiates television deals; poorly. Yet it is hardly a huge advantage in the early season where match fitness and combinations are lacking and a bye can interrupt valuable preparations without the reward of giving tired bodies a rest. How tired could Manly have been after having the Bulldogs beaten by halftime in round one? Now a rest before the first week of the finals, that would be an advantage. The biggest advantage of the bye is the rest and recovery, which just doesn’t matter as much early in the season. Maybe the Sea Eagles, Panthers and Roosters spend that extra week gameplanning hard against the Eels’ weaknesses, but come on, how much will an extra week help to master a gameplan of “run at Waqa Blake”?
It won’t become a ‘running’ feature but an update on the back five metres from last week: Sivo (14th), Gutherson (40th), Simonsson (42nd), Blake (59th), Penisini (69th) or 80 total backs. For perspective, the lowest ranked Panthers back is Stephen Crichton (37th), the lowest ranked Roosters back 41st (Manu). Brad Arthur’s “use the big men” strategy sure could benefit from some easing of the load on early tackles.
Footy-wise the solution to what ails us is pretty simple: fewer mistakes. While completion percentage is an overrated statistic (total completions is more useful), the Eels dropping from second in completions last year to 14th this year explains a lot about why they have started winless. Considering both games went down to the final play, it is easy to see a 2-0 world if completions were just league average.
This translates to the Eels being third in the NRL for errors, a statistic they were 14th in last year. If they can hold on to the bloody ball then good things will come; post contact metres remain high (probably because so many runs are coming out of their own end rather than the poor metre returns of attacking the line) and the second phase play is still there. The plan works, the execution is the problem.
There is very little to take from Manly’s only appearance so far in 2023. Their opponents the Bulldogs were diabolical, unable to put together even simple backline movements without throwing the ball away. You won’t see many single week turnarounds more dramatic than their win last weekend, because that first game was truly abysmal. Blacktown Workers would have beaten them, let alone the first grade Sea Eagles.
All eyes will be on Josh Schuster, who was hopeless last year but the promise of a halves position and a proper off-season sees him return at first grade levels of fitness and with a point to prove. It isn’t the Parramatta style to rush up and really cut down his space to frustrate him, but I’d like to see him targeted because I feel he could be knocked off his game with a bit of pressure. Now former Eel Nathan Brown was very good at this role back in the day, though the 2022-23 version had all the aggression without any of the execution.
Tom Trbojevic survived round one, though he clearly looked banged up and the Sea Eagles tried to give him an early mark before injuries forced him back into action. Even a hampered Turbo is a dangerous one, and he has absolutely crushed the Eels when given space to roam. Martin Taupau’s absence will be huge for the Eels, he loved getting late offloads away against us that created those opportunities. Still, strength in the tackle and locking the ball down will be crucial. To harp on it, that requires fresher defenders and better use of interchange.
That edge of Cartwright and Waqa Blake just has to hold together. They are the two worst defenders at the club and placed next to each other they are asking for shape to be run at them. Letting in a few tries last week only makes them a more appealing target. Olakau’atu will be licking his lips at the prospect, and if Schuster is going to find early confidence it will be from executing basic plays at this terrible combination.
Parramatta needs to limit those chances, and that means no mistakes. Easier said than done, but it really is that simple: Parramatta holds the ball, Parramatta wins.
I think I just summed it up really. This one won’t be easy, going to Brookvale never is, but if we can consolidate a fast start instead of capitulating after it that would be a big improvement. Some players having games that don’t make me hate them would be nice, too.
The other pieces are starting to flow together. Moses and Brown were both much better last week, Hopgood is a sensation and while Josh Hodgson has at times looked like he needs a rest, he’s had some nice moments. There’s room to improve for the Englishman, for sure, but there is hope.
Don’t forget we’ve got two of the form players of 2022 to return in Matterson and Lane. The trust BA has in Matto will alleviate some of the bench issues, and a Cartwright to Lane switch is a huge upgrade on both sides of the ball. You don’t win premierships in March, and you can’t lose them here either. Well, you probably can if you are the Tigers, but two very close losses to contenders? Four close losses to contenders? Neither of those outcomes are cataclysmic. Disappointing? Sure. The end of the world? Hardly, and as much as I’d love a meteor to fall on Brookvale Oval and knock the Sea Eagles over to Perth, I don’t see one falling on the Eels season this week, regardless of the result.
Can I tip them? Yes, if only to bank some goodwill because tipping them in either of the next two will be tough. I’m not afraid of the 0-5 start, but I don’t want to tip it. Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 28 d Manly 24
Man of the Match: J’maine Hopgood
More urgency at every crossroad!!
– fight for penalties, win the play the ball and chase your kickers territorial advantage. If we don’t pressure the kicker as we are prone to do and Cherry Evans plays at his best it will be over by half time!
Get down, dirty and desperate!!
Fair calls Luke. And it’s not complicated is it
Gol you are the best……great write up!
That he is Anon.
Nice read Gol.
Fingers crossed for a bounce back 🤞
Tks Gol. ‘Eelsing’…would prefer it to be the winning song in the sheds, and Hopgood probably sings like Van Morrison. The thing that’ll make me squirm tonight is the soft penalty or error where Manly get first tackle near our 20. We just have to avoid too many of them, We’ll prosper if we can starve them a bit.
Hopgood is inflicted with same stupidity as the rest of the team. We are coached poorly……. passing to the edges with no space….. This is not a first….. Time and time again