How good is winning?
After three weeks of being near enough but not good enough, our NRL team finally found a victory against the toughest of all opponents. Walking out of CommBank Stadium with a spring in the step rather than a slump in the shoulders was a sweet, sweet change.
Perhaps a match against the Panthers was exactly what the Eels needed in their quest to deliver a quality 80 minute performance, or 83 minutes as the case may be. They knew that delivering another error riddled game would not result in a close contest against the reigning premiers.
When the drama finished with Mitch Moses icing the match-winning field goal, there were a number of players singing the Eels victory song for the first time in their life.
Let me just say, after the first month of the 2023 season, those voices were music to my ears.
Hands, Brendan Hands, Reaching Out…
With the Neil Diamond anthem playing in his head, our Twitter guy Mitch Clarke delivered a classic after the selection of Brendan Hands last Tuesday. Yet, he probably never envisaged Brendan would deliver the kind of NRL debut that would leave us singing his praises for days afterwards.
In his 34 minutes off the interchange bench, the former Panthers lower grade player provided crisp service from dummy half, faultless defence and put the icing on the cake by scoring a critical try.
And don’t undervalue his pass to Moses for the match winning field goal. It’s not unusual for the pass to be affected by the pressure of the situation, but Hands kept his cool and delivered the ball exactly as required.
It remains to be seen whether his immediate success will lead to a top 30 upgrade, and if it does there probably won’t be any dissenting voices in the CommBank Stadium stands.
You Gotta Have Faith!
What did that glorious Eels victory over the Panthers actually mean?
Grand final redemption? No, and you all know that only comes with a premiership?
Bragging rights over our little brother club? A little, but the Riff are back to back title holders.
Two points? Getting warmer.
Belief? Yes, and not just self belief, but belief within the group for the player beside them.
There is a small collection of new combinations in this Eels team and the players are only just getting to know each other.
Hodgson, Hopgood, Hands, and Doorey are all new to the club. It’s not just learning the shapes, calls or the defensive systems, it’s also understanding how the bloke beside them responds to different situations and how to communicate with them.
Belief and trust between team mates is a huge factor in successful teams, and Thursday’s performance against the benchmark team would have facilitated a huge step forward in that regard.
Money (That’s What I Want)
Well we all want good coin, and one bloke who seems set is Mitch Moses. His contract has finally been done and it’s the biggest in the Eels history. Well it’s apparently been done.
The other thing that was apparent was the impact on the form of our number 7. Prior to the start of the season, I reported that he was training better than I’d ever seen. It looked like negotiations weren’t entering into his mind one bit.
But, the media were relentless and we saw that he didn’t like it. And his form over the first three rounds was reflective of a man feeling the pressure.
Then on Thursday night, after news of his signing hit the media, Moses produced the mature, composed performance that was needed under the circumstances. Apart from his big field goal moment, the rest of his game was all about ensuring that the team stuck to the game plan, and the measure of that was his record setting kicking. He simply refused to waver from his target.
If that becomes the benchmark performance that he aims for every week, there will be no shortage of wins in the Eels future.
Three Out Of Three Ain’t Bad
I always maintained my belief that the Eels were capable of defeating the Panthers, but the likelihood of winning all three senior grades seemed remote. After all, Penrith are the reigning champs in all three grades and that isn’t a fluke.
The common factor in each of the Eels wins was resilience.
When the Panthers lifted the intensity in these matches, the Eels responded. They refused to surrender.
I saw similar in the lower grade wins the previous week against the Sea Eagles at Blacktown. Both teams were behind in the second half, with big calls not falling their way, but they fought their way back to win.
There were celebrations that accompanied the victories and I wondered whether the results would be the catalyst for certain players to find better form and press for higher grade selection.
As it turned out, the wins seemed to provide the impetus for the club to find much needed positivity. It won’t mean anything if the Eels don’t back it up this coming week against the Roosters, and it’s not going to be easy without the services of Junior Paulo.
However, it’s time for the Eels to believe that they can go on with it rather than letting thoughts of why they can’t enter into their mindset.
Heard It Through The Grapevine?
The Michael Chammas story that the Eels have informed Clint Gutherson of their intent to approach a fullback has set rugby league social media alight.
There are many who claim to know what is happening but I’m not one of them.
A name that has cropped up frequently is Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
However, given his contract situation with NZ Rugby this seems unlikely.
What we do know is that Waqa Blake’s contract expires at the end of the season and a move to Super League could be on the cards for him. This leaves a centre position to be filled, and with three top 30 spots currently free, that might happen sooner rather than later.
As things stand, Gutho is locked in on fullback money until 2025, so he has no need for concern. He backs that up by performing well virtually every week.
You’ll Never Walk Alone
Brad Arthur and his staff weren’t just interested observers at the Flegg and NSW Cup matches at Blacktown last week, they were involved in offering support and words of encouragement for the teams.
It’s not unusual to see BA and the NRL staff at lower grade and junior fixtures. You would probably expect it given that his sons Jake and Matt are both in the Eels system.
However, the Eels coach and his crew were attending these matches long before the Arthur boys were old enough to be involved.
Furthermore, the NRL staff are integral to development programs such as JETS, and investing in juniors and getting pathways right has long been a priority for Arthur who was himself a Parramatta junior.
I couldn’t say too much last week, but after attending the Eels captains run session I was convinced that the players would be primed for a big performance against the Panthers.
Parra’s captains run is now a full session rather than a light run held the day before. So there was an opposed game that formed much of the work.
Last week was easily the best training run that I’ve seen in some time. It wasn’t perfect, and those that are familiar with my opinion on regular season sessions know that perfection leaves me concerned.
I believe that players get ahead of themselves when the training track execution is without fault.
But this session was high on energy and intensity. The NRL and Cup teams ripped into the opposed in a manner that I’ve rarely season a couple of days before the game.
Statements were being made, maybe not so much for the coaches but probably to each other. It was reinforcing that the bloke next to them was going to give their all in the match.
The opposed was tough. The NSW Cup boys challenged their NRL counterparts. So it was not surprising that they too defeated the Panthers much vaunted Cup team.
I don’t think there will be too many regular season sessions like that. This one came when it was most needed.
Children Of The Revolution
This weekend marks the final regular round for the Junior Representative Season.
After Round 8, all three teams are on track to play finals football, and despite dropping their games to the Panthers last week, the Matts and Ball teams are enjoying much improved seasons, all whilst navigating significant injury tolls throughout their campaigns.
The Tarsha Gale side have been going through a bit of a rebuild but have grown as a combination throughout the season. They face a massive task this week against the undefeated Bulldogs and either need to win or get close to the Dogs to hang on to fifth place.
Incidentally, those in attendance witnessed another astonishing goal kicking performance from Parra’s Alysha Bell. The sharpshooting winger kicked four from four, including three huge sideline conversions that any NRL kicker would do well to land.
Those who follow our live blogs are aware that we extended our 2023 coverage to some development squad matches and also the Lisa Fiaola Cup.
We were honoured to be able to take the official team photos for the Under 16s Development Squad and in doing so witness even more of the dedication of the staff and the tight ship run in the pathways.
And just on the Lisa Fiaola Cup team, what a talented group of female pathways players the Eels have there!
Outside of their individual skills and abilities they are obviously very well coached.
They play an entertaining combination of structured and unstructured attacking footy and roll the sleeves up in defence.
In their three games thus far they have disposed of the Sharks by 44 to 6, the Sea Eagles 50 nil and the Panthers 28 to 4. All of that in 60 minute games played in 20 minute thirds.
The Tarsha Gale and Lisa Fiaola sides are in action at Belmore this Saturday whilst the Matts and Ball teams hit the field at Kellyville.
If you can’t be there you can follow the TCT live blogs. Forty and I will split the two venues between ourselves to ensure that you don’t miss getting the match details as they happen.
The Kids Are Alright
There was plenty of fun to be had for all registered Under 6 players when the official season launch was combined with a fun day at Commbank Stadium last Saturday.
On top of all of the activities organised for the kids, the under six teams had team photos, tours of the dressing rooms and the experience of running onto the arena in Eels jerseys, with Sparkie and Sparkles leading them through the cheering crowd lining the stadium’s Field Club.
One lucky team also had a couple of ring-ins that looked suspiciously like Shaun Lane and Sean Russell.
I was privileged to be able to host the Q & A session with Shaun, Sean and Nathan Cayless. All of them shared anecdotes of their time playing junior footy, with fun, family, mateship and community featuring in their recollections.
Just quietly Shaun and Sean revealed to those in attendance that they are very, very close to being ready to return to play.
Come Out And Play
Last week we announced that Big Swing Golf Northmead had partnered up with The Cumberland Throw for our coverage of all things Eels for 2023.
Located on Windsor Road, their facilities and state of the art golf and sport simulators provide the ideal venue to cater for a range of functions and events or just a simple get together to have fun with your mates.
Footy and golf – that’s a popular mix!
We are privileged to have our incredible partners. Parra Leagues Club is behind our coverage of Parra’s Junior Rep teams, with Jacks Bar and Grill being the regular venue for our NRL match day appearances. And then we have Starr Partners Real Estate Auburn, Narellan and Parramatta who have provided unwavering support for TCT since our early years.
Now Big Swing Golf Northmead has become part of The Cumberland Throw’s growing family and there will be news about an upcoming TCT event to celebrate the partnership.