There’s a corny, old line that some supporters might reference about the Eels this week – it’s not the end of the world but you can see it from here.
Or rather, it’s not the end of the season but you can see it from PARRAdise.
How many of you are feeling that way? Judging from the replies to our posts this week, it certainly seems like the prevailing mood.
Call me the eternal optimist, but I’m not yet subscribing to any gloomy predictions.
There might not be any evidence of premiership winning defence for me to hang my hat on, but the Eels aren’t too dissimilar in performance to all but the top three clubs.
Of course, winning the tight games and getting some premiership points will help, and it’s becoming increasingly imperative to find more victories.
What positives are happening in Eels territory? You’ve come to the right place to discuss it.
Congratulations to both J’Maine Hopgood and the Eels on J’Maine’s recently announced contract extension.
Now signed till the end of 2025, the deal avoids a repeat of what transpired when Isaiah Papali’i was only contracted for two years, a scenario which allowed the Tigers to get under the Eels guard.
As things stand, an extension of 12 months gives both parties breathing room – or at least a season of footy without any speculation.
That’s a win/win in my books.
Andrew Davey’s Return
The mid season return of Andy Davey to the Eels caught a number of supporters by surprise, though there were rumours of him being close to signing at the end of last season.
However, the greatest debate occurred when he was named in the NRL starting side after just one week in NSW Cup. Some fans felt that it was disrespectful to incumbent players or others who had been busting their guts for selection back in NSW Cup.
Whilst I can understand that perspective, the selection of a mid season transfer player in the top grade is not unexpected. When clubs add players to the roster, they aren’t looking to simply fill up the numbers in reserve grade. Even if supporters don’t agree with the signing, there will be intent behind it.
Which brings me to my next point. The Eels still sit on a roster of 28 players. Given that we’ve hit Round 11, they no longer need to get exemptions to select players outside of the Top 30. So if there is no point in elevating anyone, should we expect more external recruits to be added for this season?
Hopefully, with the cost of such recruitment dropping with each passing week, it might be possible to squeeze a quality player or two into the cap. Of course, the Eels aren’t Robinson Crusoe when it comes to mid year suitors, so there will be competition to land any name players who become available.
I reckon it’s time to bite the bullet and chase some talent.
Defending The Indefensible?
Let’s rate the Eels defence.
Average? Poor? Diabolical?
The eye test tells you that it’s not currently premiership standard. But how far off is it?
At the same stage last season the Eels differential sat at +46, scoring 259 points and conceding 213. This season, their for and against is 246/214, giving a differential of 32 points. The win/loss this year is the reverse of last season at 4/6.
If you look at the NRL ladder, it’s no surprise that the top three teams are light years ahead of everyone else when it comes to defence.
Despite only winning one game more than the Eels, Penrith remain the gold standard, only conceding 13 points per game. They are followed by the Rabbitohs with 15 points per game and the Broncos who concede 17 points on average.
Surprisingly, the Eels sit in the next clump of teams.
In order, the teams and their averages are Storm 19.3, Roosters 19.3, Warriors 19.8, Sharks 21.3, Eels 21.4, Manly 23, Dolphins 23.9, Knights 23.9, Titans 24.7, Raiders 24.9.
There are probably 2-3 teams in this group of teams who are rated as finals certainties or title contenders.
How can the Eels improve?
The defensive system changed to a slide defence half way through last season and from that perspective it’s functioning better. They aren’t perfect, but we are no longer seeing the Eels being shredded out wide. If Parra gets done for numbers it’s not too different to how other teams might concede points. I do note that Souths will soon be the litmus test there.
There was an incisive post by the Rugby League Eye Test which identified opposition teams taking the game to the Eels middle, the acclaimed strength of the team, and making them less effective. The missed tackle count of Eels middle players such as Hodgson and Hopgood who currently miss and average 4.8 and 3.2 tackles respectively, and even RCG at 3, perhaps reflects that.
Without question, the Eels make the task hard on themselves. They only concede 3.9 line breaks per game, which is the 6th best in the NRL, but along the way they have an average missed tackle count of 33.1 which ranks at 12th, with 14.5 ineffective which ranks at 13th. Perhaps we need to praise the work of the Eels scramble to limit the line breaks.
Parra’s attack has also come in for criticism, though that might be somewhat unfounded. They are currently the fourth best attacking outfit, even sitting just above the Rabbitohs. That’s despite the team leaving tries out on the field in a number of games.
In fact, the strength of the Eels attack has resulted in Parra boasting the fifth best differential in the premiership, despite only having a 40% win rate.
My take is fairly straight forward. The Eels defence will improve when they can eliminate the periods in matches when their line becomes passive. Some individuals also need to work on their technique – the old hit and stick just isn’t working for them.
Whether they can do so is up for debate.
Nothing To See Here
This doesn’t really fit into an optimistically themed column, although it could be said that the NRL officials are continually crossing their fingers in giving a pass mark to the defensive stylings of Jayden Campbell and a couple of others.
For some unknown reason, sliding into a player who’s diving over the line for a try is deemed as completely acceptable. It is a technique fraught with danger, and whether it fully connects or not, it has no place in the game.
When Campbell used this method on Sivo last weekend, the result wasn’t catastrophic. However, Sean Russell was put into hospital last year with busted ribs and a punctured lung, and still there was no case to answer.
Laurie Daley sprung to the defence of the Titan’s fullback last year, claiming that there was no intent to harm and that “do-gooders” were at risk of ruining the game. Hang on, is lack of intent to harm an acceptable defence? If so, 99% of suspensions are without basis.
There are no defeat sour grapes in my takes here, and when I wrote on this last season there had been multiple instances, not just the tackle on Russell. I am simply dumbfounded that any tackle that involves using the knees to make contact can be deemed as acceptable.
NSW Cup Eels Return To The Winners List
After a couple of disastrous performances against the Bulldogs and the Warriors, the Eels NSW Cup side have now recorded back to back wins over the Knights and the Magpies.
The 44 to 10 trouncing of the cellar dwelling Newcastle team may have been expected, but it was just what the doctor ordered to cure any confidence ills. The follow up victory over an in form Wests sees them climb to 7th place, though they are still sitting below both the Magpies and this week’s opponents, the Raiders.
Parra’s forwards have performed much better over the last two rounds and the inclusion of Meni Luke at dummy half and the selection of Daejarn Asi at fullback, have also proved instrumental.
Things will be a bit tougher this week with Jake Arthur’s elevation to the NRL. Arthur has been in terrific touch this year and unquestionably the most consistent performer in the team.
The Raiders also have their share of talent in NSW Cup.
A win here would be a cracking good result for our Eels.
NRLW Roster News
After a slow start to their announcements, the Eels have now confirmed the contracts of new recruits Elsie Albert, Rachael Pearson, Nakia Davis-Welsh, Mahalia Murphy, Jade Fonua, Amelia Mafi, Shannon Muru, Pihuka Berryman-Duff, Tyla Amiatu, Capri Paekau and Rosemarie Beckett. Although listed as a recruit, Rose Beckett is a graduate of Parra’s 2022 Tarsha Gale Cup team.
The players listed above join returning Eels, Kennedy Cherrington, Abbi Church, Zali Fay, Cassey Tohi- Hiku and Rueben Cherrington.
More signings will be announced very soon.
Eels supporters have naturally been concerned with the loss of many of the 2022 grand final side. This was always going to be the consequence of competition expansion and all players becoming free agents. The growth in the women’s game also means that player agents are major factors in negotiating contracts, even down into pathways football.
The positive from 2023 is that clubs can now sign their talent to multi-year deals, which creates the potential for fan favourites such as the Cherrington sisters to become one club players.
For now, we all look forward to seeing the roster finalised.
Gotta Wear Shades
Congratulations to the Eels SG Ball team on their premiership success. Titles aren’t won overnight, and we should acknowledge the hard work of the players, coach Steve O’Dea and his staff, and all of the pathways staff that have assisted in the journey of these players.
I have written on the 2023 Eels Junior Rep season already, so I won’t go over the same ground here, but there is a bit of a production line taking shape. Ultimately the measure of the quality of that production line will be determined by how many pathways players progress to the NRL.
How bright is the future? The first signs are encouraging.
This week, Richard Penisini, Ethan Sanders, Saxon Pryke, and Sam Tuivaiti have all been named in the Flegg team to take on the Raiders. Lance Fualema is the concussion sub.
It might have been more had Blaize Talagi not picked up an injury in the City vs Country fixture, or had Matt Arthur not been suspended for two weeks following the Ball grand final.
There has been no hesitation in promoting these players. How far they advance this season will be interesting to observe, though I am confident all due care will be taken.
My congratulations also to Nicholas Lenaz who earned his call up from Flegg to NSW Cup. Anybody who has watched Nic play knows that he absolutely rips in on both sides of the game. We wish him well for this weekend.
The Home Of The Eels
Parra Leagues is the place to be for any Eels fans not travelling to a freezing GIO Stadium this Saturday night.
Forty and I will be hosting festivities in Jack’s Bar and Grill, kicking off with our match preview at 7pm, then switching over to the live broadcast at 7:35pm.
The Instant Reaction podcast will wrap things up straight after full time as we celebrate an Eels victory.
A feed, some drinks, an Eels win and plenty of footy talk. Sounds like the way to keep warm on a cool May night.
See you there!