The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 4, 2023: Eels vs Panthers

I usually use this little introduction to talk a bit of trash, outline the rivalry with our opponent and have a few digs. There isn’t much point in that this week, because every Eels fan is all too familiar with the modern rivalry between the clubs, and while the Panthers are arrogant and lack any sense of sportsmanship, they are unfortunately winners. There’s just not a lot of shots, however well thought out and justified, that can beat a retort of “but who won the grand final?”  It will be all too sweet when us fans can start giving it back to overgrown grubs like Luai and Fisher-Harris, but until teams can start doing their talking on the field against Penrith, us fans just have to lump it.

There’ll be talk of revenge, but you don’t get yours back for a grand final loss by winning a club game. You can take some pride back, feel a bit better about yourself, but it doesn’t change what happened on the big stage. What a win here could do is kickstart the Eels true revenge campaign: a premiership, and while it will be a tough slog, if Brisbane and St Helens can do it, surely we can. 

Game Info

Date: Thursday, March 23 2023
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 8:00PM AEDT
Referee: Ashley Klein
Bunker: Adam Gee
Weather: Warm, high chance of rain
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo

Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

I’m glad we looked on last week and I’m tempted to do the same again this week. Three losses, a Thursday night Eels game (is it my imagination or do we struggle on Thursdays?) and facing the premiers – could there be any more reasons to keep the coin in the pocket!

But, the odds look very good and there’s a range of them available, even starting at the head to head odds of $3.30.

But, I want to get a points start involved, and I’m heading to the line/over under market. For the 7.5 start to the Eels combined with over 38.5 total match points you’ll get a return of $4.20. Given the high match points of the past two weeks, and Parra’s consistent margins, that seems quite generous. And if you aren’t comfortable with taking the Eels then just look at the total match points. I reckon it will be high scoring.

Happy, responsible punting everyone.




Parramatta Eels

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. Ryan Matterson 13. J’maine Hopgood. 14. Matt Doorey 15. Brendan Hands 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Makahesi Makatoa.

18. Jake Arthur 19. Jirah Momoisea

Ryan Matterson makes a very welcome return this week

As expected, Ryan Matterson walks back into the side after three weeks on the sidelines that don’t need to be talked about anymore. The surprise is his position on the edge, having been most successful in the middle rotation in his time at Parramatta. Still, edge depth is stretched with Shaun Lane still sidelined, and I’d expect Matterson to play a similar game regardless of the number on his back. He’d best be primed for a big one.

Matterson’s return pushes Matt Doorey to the bench and Jirah Momoisea out of the side, a fair enough series of demotions based on three rounds of play. The other big change is the surprise debut of Brendan Hands, a utility with experience at hooker and in the halves, who replaces the injured Jack Murchie. It signals an intent from Brad Arthur to give Josh Hodgson a mid-game rest, and ultimately is a better use of a bench spot right now. I think Murchie will be fighting with Wiremu Greig for that last bench spot on his return.

Penrith Panthers

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Sunia Turuva 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Luke Garner 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo. 14. Soni Luke 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon.

18. Matthew Eisenhuth 19. Zac Hosking

It sure must be nice to never suffer injuries. Penrith are, as usual, full strength with the only changes from the grand final being forced: Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau are gone, replaced by Mitch Kenny and Luke Garner, while Taylan May was hurt in pre-season and Sunia Turuva takes his spot. 

Having previewed four clashes against basically the same team last season and having a general dislike for them as a whole, I haven’t got a lot more to say on the Panthers.


There is precedent for the Eels turning around horror defensive stretches in games against the Panthers. Sure, there’s also precedent of some pretty ordinary performances on the biggest stages against the Panthers, but let’s focus on the precedents that benefit us here. In short, I’m willing to bet the big time nature of the match and the chance for some revenge will provide some defensive mettle that has otherwise been missing in the opening three rounds.

This is the only picture in the TCT archive labelled “Brendan Hands”

That is all that the Eels really need to fix, and it comes down to protecting the ball. The tries are being leaked through a combination of inexperience and incompetence in the edge defence, as guys who haven’t defended together in a system are exploited by opposing shape and leaving guys who are terrible at defensive decision making forced into choices. We’re not going to fix Waqa, Bryce or Bailey overnight, so the key to improved defensive efforts is reducing the chances for the opposition to throw good ball shape at them.

That means fewer mistakes. Parramatta are second worst in the NRL in errors made, and third worst in completion percentage, two categories they were near best in the league last year. Even league average ball control would have seen the Eels 3-0 to start the year; if they’d kept to the high standards set in 2022 then we might be premiership favourites already. 

There is no one culprit for the errors the Eels are making. Gutherson, Moses and Brown have had their share of mistakes, but the 1, 6 and 7 often do and it isn’t much to worry about. Dylan needs to stop the cold drops, but he’s been more positive than negative in the opening rounds. 

Josh Hodgson has made too many errors (and given away too many penalties), and of course Blake and Simonsson haven’t had a happy time. Hodgson will improve as he gets more comfortable with the team and the team gets used to his timing. It’s unsatisfying to give a general “just be better” to fix the handling issues, but honestly the Eels just need improvement across the board in this regard.

Penrith will prove tougher to crack than the Sharks or Sea Eagles, but Parramatta has found success against their defensive line in the past. The Panthers will eat shape all day and ask for seconds, but offloads, well targeted kicks and the skills of big men around the ruck will be the key to points, all three areas Parramatta have some talent. You just need to weather the storm of their aggressive middle defence, sometimes you can (round 9 last year) and sometimes you can’t (that other game). 


While the Panthers defensive machine has kept on humming through the off-season, their attack hasn’t exactly excelled. Luke Garner is no Viliame Kikau, and the absence of Kikau has suddenly meant Jarome Luai doesn’t have so much time to run across field and target one-on-one matchups. The Eels have usually defended that side of the field well against Penrith, but the absence of that Kikau X-factor is welcome. 

Can you imagine how good the Hopgood revenge game is going to be?

The Panthers also persist with their defensively minded early stint of Mitch Kenny at hooker, which stifles their attack. If Parramatta want to get on top of the battle early then they need strong kick chase to keep the early tackle metres manageable, so the late tackle runs from the big middle men are meeting a set, aggressive defensive line. Both teams have halfbacks that nullify minor advantages in field position with great kicking games, but forcing some tough work from the Panthers forwards will pay dividends once the chances come in the form of more chances to offload and move defenders around with passing at the line, a specialty of Paulo, Matterson and now Hopgood.

The worry on the other side of that equation is that the Eels have been terrible marker defenders this year. It isn’t just being slow to get into position, it is not knowing when to give away the set restart to save a defensive line. Last week Tom Trbojevic ran through a half set line because nobody held down in the tackle on a half break, the week before Mitchell Moses made a huge effort for nothing as a quick play-the-ball and no defensive line allowed Will Kennedy to stroll through. Hodgson and Hopgood were exploited behind the ruck by the Sharks, and even Harry Grant scored a matchwinner running behind the ruck. Soni Luke is going to have a field day with that if the Eels don’t improve.

The Game

Look, I can’t tip us. Nathan Cleary won’t forget the results he got from kicking at Waqa Blake last year, and the Panthers forwards will be salivating at the prospect of getting another one over a team they have had “younger sibling” syndrome against for a couple of decades. It will take a massive turnaround from Parramatta to compete here, and in their current state even with improvement it might not be enough to beat them.

There’s no shame in that. Josh Hodgson is still finding his feet, Shaun Lane is still out and there are two dead men walking lining up in the backline. The Eels will get better and season 2023 is only just getting started. This team can definitely win the game; a bit of X-factor and a determined revenge effort after the grand final, a masterclass from Moses, Brown or both, J’maine Hopgood showing his old club what they never gave a real shot. It’s a chance, it is just less likely than some other potential outcomes.

I expect improvement, and that we will again be competitive. I just don’t expect a win. I’m all here for being pleasantly surprised. Go you Eels!

Prediction: Penrith 28 d Parramatta 22

Man of the Match: Soni Luke



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35 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 4, 2023: Eels vs Panthers

  1. Sec50

    Hands is a great selection but how is it possible if he is not in our nrl squad.? I have yet to see it explained.
    Klein and Penrith is a recipe from hell. But hey, one lives in hope.

    1. sixties

      If you mean selecting players outside the top 30, Forty and I discussed this in the pod. Evidently there are some changes to the system of eligibility this year (whether it applies to Hands I’m not sure) but it received no media attention that we saw.

      1. Sec50

        The nrl squad is the top 30 without dispensation. So yes I mean outside the top 30. Sorry I didn’t listen to the pod. But thanks for the detail. I am nowhere near an understanding.

  2. MickB

    Spot on here Gol, except I think we will get toweled. There are too many things for the Eels to fix (even if some are super basic “moments”), the Riff are experts at coming out strong off a rest, and I think our defensive issues will allow them to settle into a rhythm we’ve not yet seen, and the flood gates could well open. I also fear BA will go back to his 16 man strategy and they will have us beat with fatigue.

    Sure I don’t wish that was the case, and if we cross the line first it won’t stop me getting unnecessarily excited, but its hard to see it going another way.

  3. Spark

    I think having Hands able to give Hodgo a spell will make all the difference.
    My question is – how come it has taken BA until round 4 to realise that Hodgo probably couldn’t play 80 minutes???
    One would have thought that at his age, the amount of football that he had missed and being new to the set up that we should have carried another hooker/ utility on the bench.
    Can’t help thinking that BA may have missed the jump here.
    I do hope he gets a run. It would be classic BA to pick him and leave him on the pine all night.

    1. sixties

      I guess the question prior to this week Spark is who you would have selected to give Hodgo a rest?

      1. Spark

        Mitch Rein is in the top 30 for a reason and is the back up hooker. If he’s not going to be used, why is he in the top 30 ? . Hopgood could have moved to hooker and a forward could have been bought on.
        Even JA could have been used for 10 minutes to give him a break.
        If all else failed perhaps we needed to upgrade a utility?

        1. Gol Post author

          Rein is very much a backup, he’d be able to come in and give 80 solid minutes in case of injury, but his skills offer nothing as a bench impact player. He’s valuable to have in the 30 but I don’t see him offering much as a 14.

  4. Ron

    I agree with the sombre reality of this preview but our edge frailties are not merely a product of rusty combinations and individuals missing their assignments. We have been frail on edges for years. That’s because our markers and middle defenders don’t have line speed/work out enough to put inside pressure on teams and help our edges by cutting down the opposition’s decision making time. We generally get rolled in middle/have players lying in ruck, forcing our defensive line to compress and when that is paired with slow line speed it’s no wonder we get stripped on edges like clockwork. The reason we desperately need to hold the ball is not only about getting to kick but it also helps our defence because we reduce the chances their opposition have to exploit our systemic deficiencies that we have had for years. The years we were “better defensively” by stats were not necessarily a result of good defence (evidenced by getting blown out against strorm, Rabbitohs in high scoring finals) but merely that we didn’t give teams as many opportunities to hurt us. So the question really becomes one of wrestling to gain a competitive advantage and/ or line speed. Unfortunately we lack both and we well know any match with Klein means a lot of wrestle and latitude to teams against us. I simply don’t understand how the coaching staff haven’t addressed these issues over the years by tinkering with the system/finding players who can contribute to a stronger defensive team. We hear all this lip service from our players in the pre season about defence etc but we don’t see it on the field. I hope they can find their resolve and have some pride about their defence but I fear Penrith will bully them in the middle and cut our edges to pieces. I’ve always been worried about our leadership so we really need to see junior, reg, gutho, Moses run this unit. Enough of the excuses about new combinations etc. You’re veterans that need to show these people that have come into the team (and especially those that come into team because did injuries/departures and haven’t really earnt it) that we have a standard we expect. Those standards seemed to have slipped massively so far this season

    1. Ron

      And don’t get me started on our inability to get kick pressure – very lazy team on that front and Cleary will murder us if we don’t improve it

    2. sixties

      Ron, whilst there are some valid points, anyone reading this would think you were describing the spoon team from the last few years. It is surely a truth that the fewer chances you give an opposition the easier you make it for your defence. Gol pointed out the errors and completions. Yes the defence needs to be better. And I agree that when we have been picked apart by Souths or Manly in the past that it started from the middle and worked outwards. And don’t start me on the wrestle and Klein. In round one he did not follow what the mandate around the ruck was meant to be and that the refs enforced during opposed session in the preseason. And the NRL admitted the refs stuffed up that crucial call against Hodgson which was probably a game changer. But even with issues around our defence and in not operating a slide defence for far too long, there have been plenty of good defensive efforts too that have that win percentage over the previous four seasons high.
      The first step is bringing a bit more intensity in the collisions that I believe have been missing in the opening rounds. The second is completions. That’s my starting points.

      1. Ron

        I agree that it’s a bleak assessment and a footy team is generally never as bad/good as it seems but I think I’m just frustrated with the team and it’s construction. I’m very disappointed with our recruitment team/junior development in young forwards over the years. We wasted top 30 spots on Sam hughes, Hollis, Louizou, Nathan brown amongst others and lost stefano, oregan, ice. JJ Bentham miss looks like a Spencer Lenin clone that we need on our bench (hopefully by next year). Similarly, Toni matele would help out quite a bit once he learns to defend a bit better (hopefully sometime this year).

        I do think we have a strong squad at full strength but we need to unearth some good juniors to push the team along (something we have struggled with). Other teams like south’s/broncos seems to bring in young centres, wingers and forwards that develop well but we have struggled.

        Hopefully Mitch resigns soon and the parra football department can surgically take apart and reassemble aspects of this team (no waqa etc)

        Will always be backing parra this year but I can sometimes appear cynical when trying to be realist

        1. Prometheus

          Agree Ron, we have a junior area the size of Russia and really Hayne was our last locally produced superstar in 2006. Something is amiss.

          1. Ron

            W shave managed to develop hayne, semi, dyl brown, reed and junior Paulo in that time but most of the forwards are external recruits. BA has done a fantastic job wi the getting underperforming forwards from other clubs and making them much better (ice, lane, manu mau, rcg, Kenny edwards, etc) but he’s been let down by our own junior development. I just can’t believe we let stefano go to keep a bunch of plodders, some of whom were external recruits.

          2. Prometheus

            You’ve either missed my point or chosen to. Only Hayne and Junior are true local juniors. With an area our size where are the rest of our real local superstars. In such a long period.

      2. Colin Hussey

        The referring from Klein is an abject failure especially against the eels, problem though is who would be better, especially in the eyes of the Ref’s and Analiegh who picks sticks up for his boys and where he finds faults with the ref who abjectly misses so much or ignores what he see’s happening. I suppose that the reason he has a shaved head is because of the glare it reveals during the game.

        Trouble is! who would replace him and some of the others, that are not much if any better? While some of the younger refs in lower grades are somewhat better, I would wonder how long they would last with carrying out their roles that would shame those of so called top grade adjudicators?

  5. Martin Pluss

    The first paragraph is poignant.

    Makes me think we need to play the long game and let the process shape the outcome.

    This will focus the attention and remove the white noise.

    Cheers Martin

  6. Milo

    No excuses for me; If we aim up in all the right areas we can win.
    I get it abt our form and defence issues and also bloody Klein as ref. How in hell is he a nrl ref??
    But we’ve had the same spine so far and same two front rowers as well; as for not having Lane and Matto, to me this shouldn’t make a difference as we have guys who have nrl experience in the squad.
    I’ve said it so far, we must be v good in defence and our spine have to lead. This will tell us abt our mental side too.

  7. Glenn

    For some inexplicable reason my spidie senses are predicting a win, the first time this year. How good would that be?

  8. pete

    Terrible start to the season. The errors, dumb plays, missed tackles. Our injury and suspension crisis has impacted as well.
    It’s a simple game that we just ain’t getting right.

    Hopefully, the changes to the bench will ignite some form.

    Can’t wait to see Hands play some decent minutes. Wiremu, to get more minutes and Makatoa to repeat last week’s form.

    If we get back to basics and “Just be better” we can get an upset.

    Go Eels!!

  9. BDon

    Tks Gol. I don’t have the attention span to do this, but I reckon if I consolidated your write-up, postings under name Ron and sixties’ response I’d have the research base for what is driving our current performances. It’s hard to pinpoint performance issues in a couple of lines, as you suggest it would be great to settle on our error level and offer ‘just do better’ as the solution, which is probably not wrong, just not highly practical.One of the simplest readings in psychology is ‘all behaviour is motivated’, the hard part is working out the ‘why?’.

  10. Porky 🐷

    Matterson ,were stuck with him till 2026 and he didnt even want to play for us 2023 , what a sook , hes not committed to football let alone this club !!!!! Mitch next ,him and unc gonna bleed club dry , seriously this board has zero idea and no courage , let him go , costs us games regularly and wants more money to do it, sorry people the footy dept is in the hands of amateurs !!

    1. !0 Year Member

      He made an erroneous decision and he has had his fair share of criticism….. Me included. He is a class player and showed today. I personally am happy to see him here for a few more years.

  11. Anonymous

    Have no doubts , the klien factor will be seen tonight, its a simple formula he uses , adjudicate us to the rules properly and under referee the opposition, watch carefully the held / release time difference and how hard the first 20 will be for us , break the spirit stuff, 6 agains where they happen for both teams , its going to stink again !!!!!!!!!

  12. Anonymous

    We need a centre , patrick herbert just released by titans , dirt cheap had knee reco cant play and cant play till mid season , meets our criteria😇

  13. John Eel

    All the bed wetters can settle down. We got our first win.

    And, we did it despite Ashleigh Klein’s best effort to get the Panthers over the line.

    1. Anonymous

      I still don’t know how he thought Gutho had knocked that ball on in the ingoal. Klein must have his eyes painted on. That was poor refereeing.

  14. John Eel

    Eels and Penrith have both had one win each. I feel that this is going to be a tough slog all year with teams so close now with both GF teams losing players.

    What has been good is that recruitment is proving to be first class at the Eels with players like Doorey, Hands, Hopgood and others showing some very good early signs.

    It was predicted on here that Cleary would kick to Blake. This proved to be the case however the kicks were a little off and Sivo kept taking the bombs.

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