It’s getting chilly in Sydney, and after a weekend up in sunny Brisbane for Magic Round, I hope the Eels are feeling more up to a cold night in Canberra than I am. The confidence of Parramatta fans always sits on a knife’s edge, and while social media and the comments section suggests plenty of fans had already began chanting the death rites for season 2023 when Harry Grant crossed in golden point round one, there is a certain melancholy over the fanbase after losing yet another winnable game last week.
Only a big effort and a win against Canberra will snap us out of this malaise, there is no more to be gained from honourable losses and close matches. The Raiders have been decent but hardly outstanding in season 2023 and are there to be beaten, but the odds stacked against the Eels in terms of scheduling, weather and injury mean it will take the very best the men in Blue and Gold have to win this one.
To put it simply; a loss here and I start throwing things, starting with a white towel into the ring of season 2023. Don’t let it come to that, Parramatta, my wife will be very upset if she comes downstairs Sunday morning to all our plates smashed to bits and “Parra Sux” scrawled in tomato sauce over the carpets. With that threat out of the way, on to the preview!
Date: Saturday May 13, 2023
Venue: Bruce Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 7:35PM AEST
Referee: Grant Atkins
Bunker: Kasey Badger
Weather: Cold, dry
Broadcast: Fox League, Kayo
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
The speculation has not travelled at all well in 2023. That’s no surprise given the Eels form.
I’m almost tempted to opt out of a tip again this week, but there is value in selecting Parra in any market.
Keeping it simple, there’s a return of $2.15 in the Head to Head market.
Why would I take the Eels?
Besides me being the eternal optimist, they have won in their last two visits to Canberra and they’ve taken the honours in five of their last six clashes.
If you want even more value, I like the chances of Bailey Simonsson scoring against his old team. You can get $7 for him being an anytime try-scorer in an Eels victory.
If you want to be really bold, you can back J’Maine Hopgood to celebrate his new deal by getting a try in an Eels win at the whopping odds of $21.
Happy, responsible punting,
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Bailey Simonsson 5. Haze Dunster 6. Dylan Brown 7. Jake Arthur 8. Wiremu Greig 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Andrew Davey 13. J’maine Hopgood.14. Bryce Cartwright 15. Brendan Hands 16. Ryan Matterson 17. Makahesi Makatoa.
18. Sean Russell 19. Ofahiki Ogden
Mitchell Moses is the big one here, taking a mandatory stand down following a category one HIA last weekend. It didn’t look great and I’d be grateful if one week is all he misses for that knock. Jake Arthur is his natural, and frankly only, replacement. We’ll talk about that a bit more later.
The rest of the team remains as is, with Ofahiki Ogden looming on the extended bench after a big effort two weeks ago and a less than stellar bench performance from Makahesi Makatoa. A late swap could be in order.
1. Sebastian Kris 2. Albert Hopoate 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Matthew Timoko 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Josh Papali’i 9. Zac Woolford 10. Joseph Tapine 11. Hudson Young 12. Elliott Whitehead 13. Corey Horsburgh. 14. Tom Starling 15. Emre Guler 16. Pasami Saulo 17. Ata Mariota.
18. Xavier Savage 22. Hohepa Puru.
The Raiders are missing a couple of players here, with noted Eel-killer Danny Levi still out with a broken jaw while Nick Cotric is sidelined again with a hamstring complaint. Xavier Savage hasn’t been able to secure a permanent spot in the side, his fullback jersey now taken by Seb Kris while Albert Hopoate walks back into the lineup after missing a week.
Canberra appears to have a pile of 6.5/10 forwards they interchange through the bench spots weekly, while the only Englishman who stuck around in Elliott Whitehead is playing like a 6.5/10 forward at this late stage of his career. It might be harsh to grade Josh Papali’i and Joseph Tapine that low, but these two dominant forces of the pack have had a slow start to season 2023.
The loss last weekend was a setback and resulted in an unfortunate reduction in the Eels buffer for season 2023, but it was hardly fatal. That sin bin becomes a penalty try and it is a Parramatta win, Mitch Moses puts a few kicks over and the result changes.
Yet season 2023 has far too many of those “so close” moments. The Eels have lost six games and could (perhaps should) have won four of them. The early losses could be excused as close games against tough opponents, but Parramatta finding ways to lose against inferior teams is the fast lane to finishing your season in August. Now they need to start winning more than their share of the coin flips, and it might be generous to describe a cold night in the nation’s capital as a 50/50 shot for the visitors. Without our halfback, it is an uphill battle.
The Eels are a modest 2-3 from the five games played without Mitchell Moses since 2021. Jake Arthur has played very well in NSW Cup, dominant at times and clearly one of the best halves at that level of the game. He’ll be in a more confident space stepping up to first grade now than he was a year ago. That confidence will only grow with the emergence of Dylan Brown as a dominant playmaker.
Brown has out-touched Mitch Moses just about every game, with more of the Eels attack going through the livewire five eighth than last year. In terms of attacking structures I don’t think it will be too hard for Jake to slot in on the right side, and unlike his previous stints in first grade he won’t be asked to be a dominant ballplayer.
Where Moses will be missed is his kicking game, a long time crutch of an Eels side that gives us plenty of metres in the middle of the park. It will put more pressure on a Parramatta defence that hasn’t been great but isn’t quite as bad as doomsayers would proclaim. Canberra aren’t exactly a testing attacking side, they throw the fewest passes of any team and are one of the worst metre gaining sides in the NRL, but they’ll happily make the Eels pay a meat pie price if invited into good ball again and again.
One hope for Parramatta is the revenge game factor. Bailey Simonsson played his best game in Blue and Gold by the length of the straight and a lap on top in the Eels v Raiders clash last season, and I hope that fire is burning for him once more. Josh Hodgson didn’t leave Canberra on bad terms, but if we can’t get a solid game out of him against his old teammates then maybe he needs to build his confidence up against Mounties instead. Yes, I know Mounties don’t play NSW Cup anymore, that’s how low Hodgson might need to go to dominate.
The Raiders are on a four match winning streak, barely beating the Bulldogs, getting away with a massive capitulation against the Dolphins, just beating the Dragons and holding an admittedly impressive win over the Broncos, now well over a month ago. They’ll be confident and that could work one of two ways. They play with undue confidence and abandon, everything sticks and they play well, or they come in thinking they are better than they are and the Eels teach them a lesson.
For a pack full of big men and big names, the Raiders just haven’t got it done in the middle of the park. Josh Papali’i isn’t what he used to be, and Joe Tapine hasn’t matched his heights of 2022. Corey Horsburgh is a trier but doesn’t strike fear into opposing packs, and the bench is full of players offering a lot of promise but not much performance. That’s good news for an Eels pack that will hopefully be fired up to cover for the loss of their halfback and lay a platform so solid that anybody running behind them could create points.
There just isn’t much to the Raiders as an attacking side. They grind, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, have decent discipline and completion rates, but they’re one of the worst sides in the NRL for tackles breaks and running metres. Of course, this is a resistable force meeting a moveable object, as the Eels are among the worst in the NRL for missed tackles.
Their attack is about as one dimensional and predictable as you’d expect from playing a glorified centre at five eighth and a journeyman at halfback, but their outside backs do make up for some of that with their strength and skill. If the Eels give ground in the middle players like Kris and Timoko will make them pay, while Jordan Rapana usually saves his best games for the Eels, and very occasionally an absolute shocker. Surely he is due a shocker.
As I said in the intro, I hope the Eels are more excited for this game than I am. Cold footy against a tough, grinding side, at a venue we’ve had good recent success at but a long history of losing. I’ve spent the whole season being perhaps overly confident, sure that things will come good. I’ve had a busy week, I aged myself about ten years on Dad Schoolies last weekend, I haven’t got much in me this week.
Still, our recent record against Canberra is solid, taking five of our last six, and on paper we are a class above, even without Moses. The forwards do their job, Dylan steps up and we defend competently, and we win. That last one is the biggest ask, but Canberra has scored more than 20 against us just once in the last eight clashes. We’ve got their number in that regard.
This is a side we put 40 on in a semi final just last year. That’s a big turnaround to make, and I don’t think Ricky and his Raiders are capable of making it. Things are a little weird down in the nation’s capital right now, as they often are, from dinosaurs appearing in the coaching box to tears at press conferences and the heart of the club taking a pay cut just to get out of there. The results haven’t felt it yet, but this week I think it will come crashing down for Ricky. I can feel that confidence coming back already.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: Parramatta 22 d Canberra 12
Man of the Match: Dylan Brown