Parramatta Eels 30
Manly Sea Eagles 34
If the Parramatta Eels are in games until the last play when they are playing badly, imagine how good it is going to be when they play well? The Eels are giving the ball away like it’s free sausage samples at a supermarket, yet have lost to three contenders by a combined 12 points. Good things are around the corner once they get the basics right.
I liked how we wore the best punches Manly could throw in the first half, they were hitting with venom and doing a classic Brad Arthur frontloading of effort. The Eels absorbed all of that, admittedly conceding two tries, then the moment the Sea Eagles got tired, they hit back. The last ten minutes were an absolute circus show but the combination of fatigue and injuries meant we could score at will against the Manly defence in those closing stages. It’s nice to be the team finishing stronger, it’s a shame we’re also the team finishing stupider.
There were so many “we could have won this one if” moments here that I can’t even focus on one to be most annoyed about. Bailey Simonsson gifting a try on the 40/20 attempt stands out, but that’s likely because Simonsson is about as popular as gastro in the Gol household right now. We continue to gift tries to the opposition, showing no respect for possession, and it is infuriating.
If teams reflect the mentality of their coach then I worry for how Brad Arthur manages to navigate so many stairs to get up to the coaches box each week. His team is dumb. Like wearing their pants on their head, backwards, level dumb. Hopgood throwing that terrible offload. Hodgson ruining a defensive stand by clearing the ruck with a leapfrog of the tackled player. Murchie with two backbreaking errors. Waqa Blake, generally.
The worst part of this loss? We have to deal with another week of “0-5”. The talking heads might even get their stats boffins to start looking at how many teams made the finals with that kind of start and we’ll be hearing about that too. It’s round three. We’re not playing well, but it won’t take much to turn these close losses into wins. We’re 3-0 and premiership heavyweights if a couple of bad forward pass calls go our way or we don’t throw a couple of intercepts. If our draw had been Tigers, Titans, Knights we’d be cruising. Just relax.
Five tries in 12 minutes, what an absolute circus. Those closing stages were unlike anything I’ve seen on a football field. Otherwise it was a game where the X-factor balance fell the way of our opponents: Josh Schuster putting in a miracle chip with a perfect bounce, tries off of intercepts and a mistake trying to stop a 40/20. Meanwhile on our side Will Penisini is gifted an opportunity and muffs it. Just that kind of game. For the numbers inclined:
Possession: Eels 51%, Sea Eagles 49%
Completions: Eels 25/39 (64%), Sea Eagles 28/40 (70%)
Running metres: Eels 1,864, Sea Eagles 1,667
Line breaks: Eels 6, Sea Eagles 3
Average set distance: Eels 47.8m, Sea Eagles 41.7m
Average PTB speed: Eels 3.47s, Sea Eagles 3.14s
Offloads: Eels 19, Sea Eagles 7
Errors: Eels 14, Sea Eagles 14
Penalties: Eels 7, Sea Eagles 7
Sure he made a couple of errors, but two tries and a massive trysaver on Christian Tuipulotu is enough for me to give MVP to our captain, our king, Clint Gutherson. He wasn’t perfect, but nobody can say they were. Tonight you da MVP, king.
1 – Fullback
Three different times Clint Gutherson dragged his Parramatta Eels back into the contest, and three times the Eels managed to give it away. That first try was a beauty in understanding your opponent and exploiting their over-commitment, while the second was a display of pure strength. He went one for three on trysavers but without the King, this one could have been anything.
2 – Left Wing
A two try night usually deserves more than a B-, but Maika Sivo did go one for four on tackle attempts and just about any winger in the comp finishes the chances created for him. What tonight needed was some tough ruck work and a bit of X-factor, and fans aren’t chanting this man’s name because they love his tackle two running.
Brad Arthur really needs to take the dairy out of Maika’s diet, because he’s terrible with a milk.
3 – Right Centre
If rating our backline by their ability to play Panther-ball, Will Penisini is the only one you’d feed. Nobody in the team is getting praise for their defence when we get 34 put on us, so that just leaves us with Penisini going “foal taking its first steps” with a bouncing ball in the in-goal. You need to ice those chances, and his inability to capitalise on an opportunistic play sums up the lack of X-factor in the Eels side right now.
4 – Left Centre
Those quick hands to put Sivo in sum up the current Waqa Blake Experience; you are overjoyed that he made a basic centre play. He does that last week and maybe the papers have to pull Ray Price out of containment for a quote or two about hating Manly instead of living off “0-5”. Blake just isn’t doing much well right now; his carries out of our own half are terrible, running without power and being dominated in tackles. Manly were able to belt him in defence like they were Eels fans unloading their frustrations. He’s one of the biggest defensive liabilities in the competition and his lead boots effort on Olakau’atu’s try was another one of those “moments”. I want off this ride.
19 – Right Wing
At least when Blake Ferguson did dumb things you could look back on some great tries and hard first tackle runs and think “well there is some good to him”. Bailey Simonsson’s 40/20 knockback to nobody was a coach killer, and considering he’d already copped a bake from BA at halftime Bailey might still have his thumb out on Warringah Road, looking for a ride home. I’d keep driving.
6 – Five Eighth
While “that” play-the-ball was a real Ralph Wiggum moment, the Parramatta Eels continue to be Dylan Brown’s team as much as Mitch Moses’. He’s touching the ball more, passing more and running more, and occasionally pulling off some magic, like that offload in the Hodgson try. It wasn’t a standout game for Dylan, but he’s growing into his role.
7 – Halfback
That ball for Sivo was an absolute peach, but my favourite Mitchell Moses moment was a kick with about ten to go in the first half, which even the commentary team managed to acknowledge began the late shift in momentum. He finally managed to stop a try with his ability to be taken out by lead runners, but overall we need more from him in these games. This is three weeks where the Eels needed an elite player to stand up and take the game by the horns, and only once against the Sharks did Mitchell Moses look like being that guy.
I suppose I have to mention his goalkicking, to avoid a baking in the comments at the least. I’m not going to hold sideline misses against him, but he definitely has “that” spot where perhaps we should start running the ball wider in the in-goal rather than making him kick 15m wide of the right upright. Luke Burt had the same issue back in the day, but we need every advantage we can get right now and kicking at 57% after 3 weeks is the opposite of advantage.
8 – Front Row
The Manly forwards came out in defence like they had green skin and anger issues, but Reagan Campbell-Gillard just cracked his neck and made the “bring it on” motion with his hand. He was denied back-to-back tryscoring weeks because referees don’t understand momentum, and while his numbers weren’t eye-popping, plenty of other forward packs wilt under the defensive pressure Manly applied, the Eels absorbed it and were back in the game by halftime.
9 – Hooker
I love a slow old man cracking through the line as much as anybody, and then the show and go was a thing of beauty that made me check the garage for my footy boots to give a career one last crack. The level of mould growing on the old boots was such that I sent them off to a lab for study as an unidentified organism.
I liked Josh Hodgson getting out of dummy half a bit before passing as a counter to the Manly line speed, and while he didn’t get an ideal result from his early grubber the play was definitely on. I didn’t like the three penalties, especially the heartbreaker that ruined what was shaping as a strong defensive stand because he decided to clear the tackle via leapfrog. Old heads should know better.
10 – Front Row
Junior Paulo’s passing game was on in this one, a nice indication that maybe the Eels won’t just keep trying to run through a brick wall when presented with defensive pressure. That’s a welcome change. Other than that, the captain was fine, playing a near ridiculous 66 minutes and slogging hard the whole way.
11 – Second Row
Carty did as Carty does, throwing some offloads, missing some tackles but playing 80 minutes and getting through a lot of tough work (leading the Eels forwards in runs). Like Junior he’s doing a fair bit of distributing and I’m very curious to see what his role will be when Ryan Matterson and Shaun Lane return. Considering what the bench has been doing, he has to remain in the side.
12 – Second Row
That line for his try was a peach, but generally Matt Doorey just isn’t doing enough with his time on the field. He’s not taking a lot of runs and easing pressure on his other big men and he’s not making a lot of tackles (though missing far too many, 14 makes, 4 misses here). He’s the line running battering ram in this back row, and he’s not doing enough of it.
13 – Lock
While there is precedent for gods creating duds (see bittermelon, polio and rugby union) it was still disappointing to see the J’maine Event deliver a bit of a stinker. The offload was bad; sure it’d help if his teammates were pushing up on the best offloader of the competition through three weeks, but I don’t blame them for not expecting it inside our own 20. Brad Arthur tried to give him a more reasonable workload, but all it did was take away his passing game and nullify his offload, while he still missed just as many tackles. That rake penalty was another “pants on head” Eels moment in a game full of them.
14 – Interchange
If you’d told me Jirah Momoisea did not get on the field in this game, I’d have no evidence to prove you wrong.
15 – Interchange
Jack Murchie’s third game in Blue & Gold was a shocker. I tempted fate with all the Oregon Kaufusi jokes and sure enough, Murchie was responsible for two killer knock-ons and a penalty, more than negating the good of his work carrying the ball. I don’t like to give bad grades to guys who end games with their nose smeared across their face, but I also don’t like interchange forwards dropping the ball.
16 – Interchange
Wiremu Greig was very busy in his short stint, but it was most notable for Josh Aloiai belting him around like he was wearing a rainbow jersey. As an impact prop coming on late you’d hope he’d be the one doing the belting.
17 – Interchange
Nothing special from Big Mak here, but I asked our bench guys to play their short stints in turbo mode, and Makahesi Makatoa cracked through 11 runs and made 13 tackles in his 27 minutes. Can’t blame a guy for doing what I asked.
As a fan, the worst kind of team to support is a gutless one, one that capitulates at the first sign of trouble. There are absolutely no worries about the Parramatta Eels on that front, they took a beating early then showed some real guts to fight back into the game. Unfortunately the next worst kind of team to support is a dumb one, and it was dumb football and stupid mistakes that ultimately cost the Eels here.
It’s not going to be a fun fortnight ahead. This was the most winnable game of the three, and now Penrith at home and Sydney away awaits us. We’ll jump significant underdogs in both and be looking down the barrel of a winless first month of the competition. I explained in the preview why I don’t think this is the end of the world, but you try telling a fanbase that called for the coach that just took us to a grand final to be sacked after losing a trial that things are going to be okay even if we start with five straight losses. Try telling the bookies too: the Eels premiership odds drifted from $21 to $31 because of the Manly loss. The Dolphins are currently $26 to win the comp. The Eels might be playing dumb, but rugby league can be a pretty dumb sport sometimes.
I’m tuning out. I don’t care about what Paul Kent or Phil Rothfield think on a good day, I certainly don’t need to hear it this week. I’d suggest you do the same. The only cure is going to be Parramatta playing some good footy, and they won’t get that chance until next Thursday night.
Until then, stay slippery Eels fans.
Stats and images provided by NRL / Eels media