Parramatta Eels 43
Newcastle Knights 12
Newcastle laid down their intent to phone this one in from the third tackle of the match and the Parramatta Eels took full advantage, piling on tackle breaks, line breaks and tries at will in the first half and cruising to their best win of the season. It wasn’t perfect but it was a welcome bounce back after a tough loss, and some much needed, confidence boosting downhill running for the Eels pack.
For a dinnertime kickoff at CommBank Stadium, it is absolutely unacceptable that Mr. Chicken was closed, along with half of the other food outlets at the ground. If I’m going to pay 30 bucks for a burger that looked like it had a bite taken out of it and some unsalted chips, you could at least make sure I don’t have to wait most of halftime to get it.
Plenty of X-factor worthy material in this one. The 10-0 first half line break count was incredible, as was the Eels racking up 61 tackle breaks by full time. Really makes me glad I dug into the research to identify Newcastle as a good tackling side in the preview.
The ultimate X-Factor however, belongs to Shaun Lane and his NRL record three charge downs (stat not verified). I hate the charge down as a play, more often than not you are just giving away six more tackles, but here it worked out as well as you can hope. Get em out of your system, Laney baby. For the numbers inclined:
Possession: Eels 53%, Knights 47%
Completions: Eels 29/43 (67%), Knights 25/39 (64%)
Run metres: Eels 2,137, Knights 1,527
Line breaks: Eels 13, Knights 3
Tackle breaks: Eels 61, Knights 46
Average set distance: Eels 49.7, Knights 39.2
Offloads: Eels 16, Knights 7
Errors: Eels 16, Knights 13
Disrespectful field goals: Eels 1, Knights 0
Hard to split a lot of very good performances here, but sitting on the fence just gets splinters in your backside so hat-trick hero Clint Gutherson gets the honours here. Two wombat burrows for tries, some strong work under the high ball (mostly) and his usual excellence in support play, and a casual nine tackle breaks. Some imposter might be making a claim on his title next weekend, but one title ol’ Charlie can never claim is Grades MVP.
1 – Fullback
Sometimes things are just so easy you don’t want to give out the A+ stamp, and so it is with Clint Gutherson this weekend. It was an elite performance on both sides of the ball, and was duly rewarded with his maiden try treble, but against such weak opposition I think you’d need six tries to crack an A+ and on that count, Gutho only got halfway.
2 – Left Wing
It was a rare home performance without a try for Maika Sivo, undoubtedly leaving bookmakers feeling very happy with themselves. Sivo nailed the 10/10 difficulty dive with his chip and chase then belly-flopped the regulation pass for a try, but he did his work and had a few nice moments in defence too.
3 – Right Centre
For about 15 minutes in the first half Will Penisini was an immortal, combining the power of Mal Meninga with the speed and elusiveness of Steve Renouf. The gameplan was as simple as get the ball to the right, where if Penisini didn’t break the line himself, the mere threat of his running opened up space for his teammates. A star is emerging right in front of our eyes.
4 – Left Centre
Sean Russell finally caught a short kickoff, only to be bundled into touch immediately. That’s an improvement, I suppose. His defensive efforts are still up and down, he made a few nice tackles but was also caught in no-man’s-land once or twice. He did well to finish off his try and just as well to not do too much before Gutherson’s first, but the jury is still out for mine.
5 – Right Wing
On what he actually did, Haze Dunster had a solid game. He’s probably the second best of our outside backs (behind Penisini) in rucking out the ball and he’s a solid tackler, but twice in the first half he just couldn’t get there to finish off breaks. He’s overcoming a brutal injury and there is clearly a good footballer in there, but he can’t run at full pace right now. There’s no shame in being one of the many outside backs that takes two years to get back to their best after a knee reconstruction. If he continues to make his recovery in first grade, he’s going to get found out.
6 – Five Eighth
Dylan Brown had all the space in the world and looked very good for it, hopefully it was a big confidence booster for a man that has been well marked to this point. There’ll be harder going for him coming, but it was nice to see Dylan at his most dynamic.
7 – Halfback
I love a fired up Mitchell Moses. There was a point in the second half where he believed the touch judge missed a knock-on and he absolutely gave it to them, then gave it to the referee as he ran back into the defensive line. It was probably 36-6 at the time. He carved the right edge and Kalyn Ponga to pieces in that first half, then gave Gutho his hat-trick with another beautiful break in the second. The seven from seven, including a few sideline beauties, was the icing.
8 – Front Row
While property on Wiremu Island is the hottest ticket in town, I’m not booking my flights until he stops dropping the ball once per stint. He put on a couple of real shots, played big minutes and made great metres, and I’m certainly happy with him stepping up, but there’s still some landscaping to do.
9 – Hooker
Josh Hodgson wasn’t really tested through the middle by the Knights, but he had a few moments where he got Reed-level crash ball happy and then late in the game he cracked out his kicking game to the kind of reception usually reserved for Adam O’Brien on Derby Day. He won’t have won many hearts, but at least he didn’t break any.
10 – Front Row
It was a lighter evening of work for Junior Paulo than he has been used to this year, but he still managed to dance then power his way over the line as well as breaking seven tackles and getting away some offloads. The metres numbers don’t suggest a killer performance, but the eye test says this was a good one from the co-captain.
11 – Second Row
Charge downs do not a great performance make, and while Shaun Lane was one of the few Eels to not miss a tackle, he didn’t join in on the attacking feast as you might expect from a man of his talents. He did get more involved in distribution than we are used to, which is an interesting wrinkle for the Tall Glass of Water. Let’s see how this plays out.
14 – Second Row
Carty preferred to let others do the hard lifting in his 150th game, not setting the world afire with his run metres but certainly dipping in to his bag of tricks for a few key attacking plays in the first half. He missed too many tackles and I don’t even know how he managed only 11 post contact metres, but he nailed the big moments.
13 – Lock
Vintage Hopgood this one, digging back into those fine days of early March where he was being fitted for an Australian jersey after two games in Blue and Gold. Huge metres, offloads galore, a key try assist, but my favourite part? Only two missed tackles with 45 made.
16 – Interchange
I’d have found a way to get Matt Doorey some time on the field when winning by 30 and coming off a game played in a sauna, but I’m just the grades guy.
14 – Interchange
It’s a shame that it takes Reagan Campbell-Gillard going down for our other props to come into their own, but if Makahesi Makatoa keeps playing like this he’ll be impossible to keep out of the first grade side. Good minutes, huge metres, incredible post-contact numbers and some hard runs that pass the eye test. The first time I’ve enjoyed a Big Mac in a good decade or so.
20 – Interchange
Ofahiki Ogden got his chance and took it with both hands, feet, ears and every other body part you have two of. It was a good chance to get some downhill running in and show what he can do, and he looks determined to make this last bench spot a very tough call for Brad Arthur going forward.
15 – Interchange
A game of footy for Brendan Hands, who threw a forward pass but was otherwise the good kind of invisible; no mistakes, did his job. He’s doing his apprenticeship in the furnace, and handling the heat pretty well so far.
It was fun to watch, but the headlines should be reading “Nightmare Knights” rather than “Electric Eels”. Normally when you say “you can only play as well as your opposition allows” you are lamenting a loss, but the Knights porous edge defence gave the Eels plenty of chances to show off and play themselves back into form.
The ball control still isn’t where it needs to be and while the Knights are a good tackle breaking team, you don’t want to be seeing that missed tackle number cracking 40. Better teams will make you pay for that. Still, this was a great confidence run and made for a nice, stress-free evening at CommBank Stadium.
Now the entire NRL (including your humble grades guy) travels to Brisbane for Magic Round. The Eels close out the show against the Titans on what could be a cow paddock by the time we run on, but it will be a game we are expected to win. The Titans delivered an impressive last start win against Manly in a milestone game for the Sea Eagles, but they’re also the team that has given up a record number of 20+ point leads. We could see absolutely anything come next Sunday night. I can’t wait.
Until then, stay slippery Eels fans.
Stats and images provided by NRL / Eels media