The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 6, 2023: Eels vs Tigers

The Wests Tigers are having one of those weeks that makes you sit back and think “gee, glad that isn’t us.” Actually the Wests Tigers are having one of those decades. The off-field performances make the on-field efforts look decent, and they’ve won only one of their last 18 games on the park. If I were a Tigers member I’d be calling Steve Sharp for advice.

The preview isn’t really the place for a soapbox, but I would say that if clubs are so flippant about designing their ANZAC jerseys that they can put a stock image of US soldiers on their first attempt then create its replacement in an afternoon, maybe they aren’t giving the whole endeavour the respect it deserves. We all know special jerseys are a fan exploiting cash cow for clubs, but maybe leave ANZAC Day out of it.

That out of the way, now we get Easter Monday football with the great rabble of the NRL hosting the great underachievers in the Eels. It isn’t just a must win game for Parramatta, it is a must dominate game. Players are returning from injury and, perhaps even more importantly, finally being dropped. Hope is high for the Blue and Golds as they look to kickstart their 2023 campaign.

Game Info

Date: Monday, April 10, 2023
Venue: Stadium Australia, Homebush
Kick-off: 4:00PM AEST
Referee: Ben Cummins
Bunker: Matt Noyen
Weather: Mild, dry
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo

Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

The Eels are $1.23 for the win in the head to head and we only start to get a decent return at the -13.5 line.

I’m confident of an Eels win and I believe they can cover this, but it’s a danger game and I’ll simply be happy with a win.

If you agree with Gol’s tip below you can get $5.70 for Eels -30.5 in the pick your own line market.

I’ll defer to the old saying – “odds on look on”.

Keep your coin in your pocket this week




Parramatta Eels

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Sean Russell 5. Haze Dunster 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Wiremu Greig 11. Shaun Lane 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. Ryan Matterson.14. J’maine Hopgood 15. Brendan Hands 16. Jack Murchie 17. Makahesi Makatoa.

18. Jake Arthur 19. Matt Doorey 20. Ofahiki Ogden 21. Ky Rodwell 22. Waqa Blake

Big, welcome changes to the Parramatta Eels side. Good Shaun Lane returns to the team after missing the opening five rounds with a broken jaw, he might be a touch underdone but his mere presence unlocks space for the men around him. Ryan Matterson shifts to lock and J’maine Hopgood moves to the bench, though Brad Arthur’s history with Matto and Marata Niukore means I’m not placing bets on that being the starting lineup come game time. I’d expect Hopgood gets about that 60 minutes of game time we’re accustomed to, even starting off the bench.

It’s been a while, Haze

Perhaps an even more welcome change is the backline shuffle, with the underperforming Waqa Blake dropped to NSW Cup and Bailey Simonsson suspended for two matches. Haze Dunster comes in on the wing, making his first top grade appearance since 2021 after suffering a horrific knee injury in the pre-season last year. He’s looked exponentially better each week in NSW Cup and has shaken off the rust, I can’t wait to see him. He was taking great strides in his kick return and yardage game at the end of ‘21, and should offer plenty in that regard.

Sean Russell recovers from a shoulder injury we were never really told about to make his debut at centre, a position he hasn’t a lot of recent experience at. He’s versatile, has fullback experience and has shown a nose for the tryline in his short first grade career, and frankly he doesn’t have to do much to be better than the man he is replacing. This is addition by subtraction regardless of who came into the side.

Matt Doorey is the unlucky man to make way for Shaun Lane, forced off the bench in favour of Jack Murchie and Makahesi Makatoa. It’s a bit harsh on Doorey but he doesn’t offer middle coverage and until Junior Paulo is back next week, that has been judged more important. That Parramatta bench has quickly taken on a much more dangerous look with the return of Lane and Matterson.

Wests Tigers

1. Charlie Staines 2. Asu Kepaoa 3. Brent Naden 4. Starford To’a 5. Junior Tupou 6. Adam Doueihi 7. Luke Brooks 8. Stefano Utoikamanu 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. David Klemmer 11. Isaiah Papali’i 12. John Bateman 13. Fonua Pola. 14. Jake Simpkin 15. Alex Twal 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Shawn Blore.

18. Justin Matamua 19. Alex Seyfarth 20. Brandon Wakeham 21. Rua Ngatikaura

After a hiding at the hands of Brisbane the Wests Tigers have again shifted their spine, this time reverting to their traditional Doueihi/Brooks halves combination and giving Charlie Staines a shot at fullback. I for one am shocked that a player who couldn’t beat Kyle Flanagan for a spot in the Bulldogs team did not turn out to be the answer for the Tigers.

The pack looks solid on paper, with five rep players spread across the starters and bench, but they’ve had their struggles in ‘23. The Tigers are stacked with former Eels: Utoikamanu, Twal and the king of bad choices himself, Isaiah Papali’i, who I hope can buy contentment with the extra $50K a year he took to play there. Api Koroisau hasn’t hit stride, John Bateman is a one-man show that nobody at Wests knows how to sing along with, and Utoikamanu has stalled in his development after a promising start.

The backline doesn’t look great, and that’s coming from someone who has had to deal with watching Waqa Blake for years. Brent Naden tries hard and offers a bit of X-factor, but Asa Kepaoa has played back row and centre so far this year and Junior Tupou has barely a half dozen games of experience. He’s not keeping David Nofoaluma out of this side on incredible potential, that is much more about the former’s attitude. Starford To’a has been in and out of the side as well.


The early draw for the Parramatta Eels has been so ridiculous that it is hard to know exactly where the team stands. We know what they are not: I can cross “good defensive team” off the list straight away, but are things as bad as they seem? We’ll know a bit more after Monday’s game, but given my deadline for the preview is “any time before Monday” I’ll have to give some analytics a shot.

The Eels currently sit 13th in points against per game, and while you can point to the tough draw for some of that, South Sydney have faced the exact same opponents as the Eels after five weeks and are the third best defensive team in the competition. Good defence can be achieved against good teams, but the Eels haven’t managed it.

Sean Russell also makes his return from injury

There is one glaring failure; Parramatta is leaking a worrying 33% of their tries through the middle of the park. Even in a “bad” Eels defensive season last year they were still fourth in lowest percentage of tries conceded through the middle, down from first in 2021 and 2020 (thank you Stats Insider). So why has the middle been so brittle?

While the statistic is imperfect (hence it being hidden deep in the Stat Lab and not surfaced on broadcast or individual match tables) Fox Sports tracks tries conceded. Currently Eels new recruits (and middle defenders) J’maine Hopgood and Josh Hodgson rank worst in their respective positions for tries conceded. Hopgood is “credited” with five concedes, Hodgson four. That passes the eye test, both have been caught out at marker on long range tries, sometimes both on the same run. It may go some way to explaining the demotion of Hopgood to the bench and the presence of Brendan Hands as utility, to preserve the defensive energy of both players.

Defence isn’t a two man problem, of course. Waqa Blake and Bailey Simonsson are both top ten for concedes by outside backs, a position Waqa has laid claim to for most of his career. Some of that is because of the focus on middle defence by the Eels; compressed defence asks a lot of outside men and Waqa has not had many answers to an overlap in his time at Parramatta. Haze Dunster and Sean Russell are raw by comparison, but they just need to be solid to make those spaces their own long term.

Rugby League Eye Test this week exposed another problem for the Eels: they’re conceding far more points than the field position they give their opponents suggests they should. So either the Eels are unlucky, giving up long range tries or being victims of fantastic play when asked to defend their line, or the Eels are hopeless, giving away tries from anywhere on the field and leaking immediately when asked to defend their line.

The truth is somewhere in the middle; the Eye Test model suggests Parramatta’s traditional field position control game is working (they have the lowest expected points against them based on field position conceded) but too many cheap tries are being conceded. A couple of intercept tries, a couple of breaks through the middle from long range, some tries against 12 men, that might be all it takes to skew the numbers after five weeks. Keeping Hodgson and Hopgood fresh plus the return of Matterson and Lane (plus the demotion of Blake and Simonsson) might be all that is needed to get these numbers moving the right way.


While Parramatta’s problem is leaking points despite not giving away good attacking field position, the Tigers have had the opposite problem: being parked in their opponents attacking zone but unable to score. In those same Eye Test ratings the Tigers should have the fourth best attack based on field position, instead they are last in the NRL by some distance.

Some of this is self fulfilling: if you aren’t a good attacking team you spend more time in the opposition red zone because scoring tries gets you out of the red zone, leading to more time spent in the red zone but fewer points. Still it is a jarring and very accurate summation of Tigers football in 2023: they are a terrible attacking team.

Mitch Moses loves a big game against his old club

The Tigers are a team without structure, driven to panic mode as early as round 4 when Adam Doueihi was shifted to fullback and Brendan Wakeham promoted to the halves. That lasted two games, and now the Tigers will try Charlie Staines at fullback with Doueihi and Brooks combining in the halves again. The two of them have two total try assists this year. The issue is a larger lack of any structured attack; players run into each other on backline movements or leave their half stranded with the ball. Option runners never look like getting the ball, and outside runners don’t know what their half is doing.

That is hard to fix in a week, or even a month, and the shifting of the spine suggests that coach Tim Sheens believes the fix will come from personnel changes rather than structural changes. This is reinforced by the stats; the Tigers lead the NRL in offloads and handling errors. They’re substituting clever, well organised attack with shift and hope, throwing passes that aren’t on and wasting energy offloading for the sake of it.

If the Tigers are any hope of winning this one it is on the back of emotion. That worked last Easter; the Eels didn’t show up as committed as they should be and the Tigers had a real “sick of losing” kind of game led by the departed Jackson Hastings. This time around they’ve spent the week defending themselves from another demonstration of off-field incompetence, to the point where players had to defend the club’s inexcusable screw ups with their ANZAC jersey because nobody with actual responsibility in that area would stand up. Being hung out to dry by management isn’t exactly how I’d try and galvanise my footy team after a tough opening month.

My biggest fear is a game-day resignation from Justin Pascoe or Lee Hagipantelis that would light a fire under a team that is rotting from the head down. It seems unlikely, if they’ve both survived the absolute mess they’ve created to this point, what is one more embarrassment? We Eels fans know the feeling; it took criminal incompetence to finally see our club placed in the hands of administrators and turned around. I hope for the sake of Tigers fans it doesn’t take that for their club to get fixed.

Who am I kidding? Stuff em, move them to Perth and be done with it. We’ll take good care of the Campbelltown nursery for you.

The Game

Even if the Tigers are fired up, hold the ball and match the Eels for enthusiasm, Parramatta should still win handily. Doueihi is hobbled and has been way out of sync as a playmaker. Brooks is still firmly leashed to mediocrity and there is very limited strike power in that backline. The gap in quality between the sides is vast and it needs to be demonstrated on the field.

It is inexcusable for the Eels to be ambushed here. If you are coming off a good start and a string of tough games I can see why you might let your guard down against the cellar dwellers. When you are 1-4, desperate for a win and feeling the pressure, no minnow should be sneaking up on you. If Parramatta lose this game their season is as good as cooked.

I’m allowed to take the Tigers lightly, but the men on the field in Blue and Gold this Easter Monday have to be fired up. A win is a must, and after spending a lot of last year “getting the job done” in games they expect to win, the Eels need to start dominating these games and getting their points differential in order. At the start of round 6 nearly half the competition was sitting on two wins. For and against could be the difference between fourth and seventh, a top eight spot or watching from home in September. You don’t get many matches against the worst team in the league after an off-field week from hell, you need to make them count. Go you Eels!

Prediction: Parramatta 52 d Wests 12

Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses


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18 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 6, 2023: Eels vs Tigers

  1. Sec50

    This is the beginning of a big run for the Eels. Absolutely confident that Russell and Dunster will dramatically improve this team. The best selections I can remember from BA who is sometimes stupidly loyal. Go the mighty Eels.

  2. Glenn

    Thank you Gol for your enthusiasm and your big win forecast. I expect a win but much closer, just to keep us supporters having heart palpitations.

  3. Prometheus

    When are Arthur and his defensive coaches going to be accountable. This has gone on for season after season. Don’t think a big win on Monday will be a fix. Defense attitude seems to be totally haphazard at Parra.

    1. Mr_E

      To add to that I’d say defence is 80% attitude and communication, and 20% structure. While we defend well in the opposition 20-30, by jamming in etc, unfortunately this same structure is used everywhere else on the field. You absolutely cannot have a compressed defense in our own 20. It should start from the wingers and number up pushing their opposite number in. We simply cannot give them an easy passage to the line. The amount of times I’ve seen the last defender 15-20 meters in from the touch and 2 attackers outside really kills me. To the point where if it is happening near me I yell to that particular winger to “call them out and get out here” (not that they would hear\listen to me :-), but I try LOL ).

      1. BDon

        Mr E…2021 v Manly at BankWest, I was sitting near the fence on the 20mtr line and Manly’s started rucking the ball out from their own line and Fergo was screaming for the men inside him to spread, you could hear his every word,he had noticed Manly pushing their line across, and sure enough they threw it wide on the third tackle, outflanked Fergo not by one but two, went the length and scored.It made Fergo look lame but I really learned something that day.

  4. Chris K

    Interesting to look at Souths – they have played the same teams we did in the first five rounds, and came out with 1+W over us.

    Couple of really close games for them, with a one-pointer over Manly, and a 2 point loss to the Roosters.

    With a bit of favour from the football gods (or perhaps even a correct interpretation of a ‘forward pass’), we could have, and probably should have, been better than 1 and 4.

    We were competitve and right in every game, except perhaps the Roosters where we were crippled early from a ridiculous sinbin on Penisi.

    Souths kicked on with the Bulldogs, and I hope the team are in the right headspace to do so against the Tigers.

    We have a solid and talented playing group – here’s hoping after the toughest intro to the season of any team (the Eels playing the teams after the rest week being the only differentiator from Souths), we emphatically plant the flag down for the rest of our season.

  5. Spark

    This is such a danger game for us ! If you follow the Tigers games, they always just fall down on their last pass. If those passes suddenly stick ( and against us , of course they will ) they will look like world beaters and the Eels will struggle to keep with them.
    They have a bloody good side. It’s a pity that their back room is an absolute rabble.
    52 – 12 ? Yeah that would be absolutely fantastic but it really wouldn’t surprise me if they ambush us.
    I said to a good mate last night , who is a massive Raiders fan , that I felt that the Raiders were going to beat the Broncos and he wouldn’t hear of it. Such was the form of the respective teams.
    I had a nice little earner there.
    A loss here will be such a blow to us psychologically that it may really extinguish our season.
    The Eels have to win and win well.

  6. JonBoy

    Love the Review Gol…look forward to it each week.

    Agree, we need to win this well. But I would prefer to win 6-0 than 52-12. Even the most ardent eels hater’s being honest with their opinions should admit that when we are on, we can score 50. But the most rusted on supporters having the same level of honesty has to concede our defence is not top 4 quality maybe not even top 8 at the moment.

    The changes made with Russel and Dunster are I think a significant improvement defensively.

    I do hope BA gets the bench rotation right this week though. I think he has left Hodgo out there about 10 minutes too long and I reckon Laney will be blowin hard at the back end of each half, not to forget the rest of the middles having to pick up the slack left by Jnrs absence.

    Go you Eels

  7. Colin Good

    The tries conceded says it all about the management of the bench ,Hodgson should have twenty five minutes at the most in the first half and a good move with Hopgood going to the bench ,could see him play his best game .

  8. BDon

    Tks Gol, it took a few games for anyone to see that Bateman at Canberra was not as crazy as his footprint in a game. That pack worries me and as Van Morrison’s mama saw ‘ when the parts of the puzzle all seem to fit’…there”ll be days like this. The hope I hold is that last year Jackson Hastings had one of those No.7 masterclass games,other than maybe Api, I don’t think it’s there on Monday.
    Interesting comments from both Bellamy and Robinson this week.
    No complicated theories about underperformance, good discipline, high completions, low errors enables your team to direct its energy towards winning. Recovering from the effort to cover up poor play just gasses you.
    I distinctly recall Matt Moylan stepping back inside Hopgood on the half way line to set up a try when we looked gassed the previous ruck, Hopgood was the only forward in position and moving up, he was one out with no supporting defenders working in unison, a stepper like Moylan will eat this up.
    I also recall him not missing a low tackle, just needed the second defender around the ball, but again no one and the killer pass was made. His stats are a little misleading.We have been slack in protecting the blind side for a direction change in behind the ruck. Usually means defenders taking a breather, not pushing back across.

  9. Lucky Lyn

    We will have the ambush in the back of our minds when we face West Tigers on Monday but that’s where it will stay because we need to kick start our own Season and that will be enough motivation to get the 2 points and start our run back into the Top 8 positive thoughts only Gol and all Passionate Eels Supporters and I myself believe like you we can put a big score on West Tigers Milestone game 100 for Shaun Lane in this game is all the motivation we need also

  10. Milo

    Tbh I can’t see us scoring 50; but who knows – as long as our defence is strong and good, I’ll be happy with a 6 Pt win.
    Again there’s no reason why we cannot put 30 on them with our spine and pack, but we must be good in the ruck, defence will be key on the edge and in the ruck areas.
    It’s another good chance for Greig to show he’s worth the shot at NRL

  11. Zero58

    The Penrith game is the blueprint. Excellent defence – high completion. Even the commentators are using the expression “groundhog” day. I somewhat agree with Gol scoreboard, I think if Parra is on song they will get those fifty points. On the hand if Parra is ambushed I believe the Tigers will get up in a close one.
    I am happy for the Haze and Russell but, I wonder about Russell’s match fitness. This is one game where BA really needs his thinking ability with the bench. Lane and Hodgson present a problem with tiredness. And Hodgson has a problem with penalties. Hopwood has carried some of the other forwards with his defence and we should remember he spent most of last year in the Reggie’s. He is still adjusting to first grade and his defence is sucking the life out of his energy. The return of Matterson has helped. Am I so worried about this game I could almost watch it with my eyes closed. So many times in the past Parra has come up against a team lambblasted in the press that the opposition plays for pride and that is one big motivation that leads to a win. Hence the expression Groundhog Day. The Tigers got rid of their best player Hastings who is one motivator. That might be the difference today.
    I expect Parra to win and win easily but, no way am I putting money on it.

  12. John Eel

    This morning I purchased the DT to read the game preview. Could not find it.

    Is that normal? I don’t buy very often.

  13. John Eel

    Shaun Lane is a player who does not seem to do much media. I just watched 2 very recent videos featuring him.

    He is very good at it. Presents himself well. It is remis of the club to not have him front and centre more often.

    The main reason for posting however is to remarrk on something Sixties said. How tall is this man.

    During one of the interviews he has Dylan on one side and Mitch on the other. They barely come up to his shoulders.

    I am short and I have spoken to both those players. I have to look up to them and I presume they are 6 foot.

    How tall is Shaun?

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