Seeing South Sydney come up on the Eels schedule in recent years is like being reminded of a dentist appointment you booked 12 months in advance. You know that pain is coming. We are the Bunnies bunnies right now, no two ways about it, and not alot about season 2023 has given fans reason to think this week will be any different.
If the mere fact that the Rabbitohs left edge attack carves through the Eels defence like a hot knife through butter wasn’t bad enough, there is the added motivation of Indigenous Round for South Sydney, whose best player you may remember as being the centrepiece of the NRL launch commercial a couple of years ago, draped in an Aboriginal flag. You think he might get fired up for this one? South Sydney has embraced indigenous culture more than any other side in the NRL and while the Eels have done well in promoting the good cause this week, the only indigenous player on the roster is J’maine Hopgood, who is already taking too much on his shoulders.
The best hope we have is the fates’ penchant for irony and upset, and that the most Eels thing to do after throwing away so many winnable games would be to come out and belt South Sydney. I’d enjoy every second of that, but until I see it I’m not going to believe in it. On that positive note, on with the preview!
Date: Friday, May 19th, 2023
Venue: Sydney Football Stadium, Moore Park
Kick-off: 8:00PM AEST
Referee: Ashley Klein
Bunker: Grant Atkins
Weather: Cool, dry
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)
Last week should have delivered big time. After suggesting J’Maine Hopgood to score a try in an Eels win, at the juicy odds of $21, my hopes were raised when the Eels lock was the first try scorer.
Unfortunately, the TAB doesn’t pay out on could have or should have. So it was another one in the loss column.
This week, it would be ludicrous for me to suggest putting your hard earned on the Eels to beat the Bunnies, but I can’t tip against the Eels.
Instead I’ll back the total match points to be more than 52.5. You can get $4 on that in the Pick Your Own Total market.
Happy, responsible punting,
1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Will Penisini 4. Bailey Simonsson 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Wiremu Greig 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Junior Paulo 11. Bryce Cartwright 12. Andrew Davey 13. J’maine Hopgood.14. Ofahiki Ogden 15. Brendan Hands 16. Ryan Matterson 17. Makahesi Makatoa.
18. Jake Arthur 19. Haze Dunster
Three changes here, with the big one being the return of Mitchell Moses from concussion protocols. Jake Arthur did a serviceable job replacing Moses’ kicking game last week, but you only need one or two ordinary kicks to tip the positional arm wrestle against you, and the consistency of Moses was missed in that regard.
Shaun Lane is out with a hamstring strain that could see him sidelined for up to two months; we’ll go most of season 2023 without a healthy Lane at this point. Bryce Cartwright steps into the starting side and while he’s been good as a starter, playing more consistently and conservatively, looking at a back row of Davey/Cartwright and comparing it to the end of last year with a NZ international and a “should have been” Australian rep, this is sad viewing. Ofahiki Ogden comes in onto the bench, he was very good in his last start and I’m hoping he rips and tears in this one.
The last change is Sean Russell stepping in for Haze Dunster, perhaps a nod to the speed difference between a healthy Alex Johnston and the current state of Dunster, and what could happen when those two are matched one-on-one. Dunster has better fundamentals, but Russell is healthy. Either would be in for a long night on Friday.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
1. Latrell Mitchell 2. Alex Johnston 3. Isaiah Tass 4. Campbell Graham 5. Taane Milne 6. Cody Walker 7. Lachlan Ilias 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Hame Sele 11. Michael Chee Kam 12. Jacob Host 13. Cameron Murray. 14. Blake Taaffe 15. Jai Arrow 16. Liam Knight 17. Daniel Suluka-Fifita.
18. Ben Lovett 19. Richie Kennar.
Honestly, I’m not going to talk about Souths much in this preview. I liken it to a bandit forcing me to dig the hole they’ll bury me in. Like the Eels, South Sydney are missing a couple of key forwards in Thomas Burgess and Keaon Koloamatangi, but the Rabbitohs pack has done a good job all year of having replacements step up. Still, if the Eels are to win, it comes from the few big names remaining in the pack; Matterson, Paulo, Hopgood, dominating guys like Chee Kam, Host and Sele.
This next man up policy in the Souths pack has created envious depth in their squad. Aside from Burgess and Koloamatangi, standout replacements Shaq Mitchell and Davvy Moale are also injured. If this happened at the Eels we’d be looking at Ky Rodwell or Jirah Momoisea coming into first grade, at Souths it is Liam Knight and Daniel Suluka-Fifita, both reasonably experienced and moderately talented players.
Like a sad parent having to sit down and tell their kids that Patch is going to doggy heaven, here in the preview we need to have a tough chat about Josh Hodgson. While I could gently talk about how sometimes old dogs get sick and won’t get better, instead I’m pulling out the X-rays and showing you the massive lump of bad defence growing in the Parramatta pack:
1. Totals are the number of tries the Eels scored or conceded when each player was on the field.
2. In round 5 Josh Hodgson was on the field for 20 minutes with 12 men on the field, where 2 tries were conceded.
3. Round 7 is excluded, where Brendan Hands played a full 80 minutes when Josh Hodgson was a late withdrawal.
4. In round 10 Josh Hodgson was on the field for 10 minutes with 12 defenders on the field, where 2 tries were conceded.
That the Eels score 50% of their tries in the 40% of the match that Hands is on the field, that would be reason enough to say “maybe the kid needs more time out there”. That we concede 73% of our tries in the 60% of the time Hodgson is out there, that’s a major concern. Those numbers might be swayed by the Eels being a better second half team than first half, or when in the forward rotation the two are on the field, sure, but I think they are pretty damning. If you aren’t convinced, here’s some more stats from the Fox lab:
- Hodgson has the worst tackling efficiency of starting hookers in the NRL (84%)
- Conceded the most tries of any starting hooker in the NRL (5, one more than the man he replaced, Reed Mahoney)
- Sixth worst of starting hookers for errors made (6, Mahoney has 12)
- Third worst of starting hookers in penalties conceded (7, Mahoney is worst with 17)
I throw those jabs at Reed Mahoney not just to be mean, but also to note that the Eels are worse in 2023 not because Mahoney is gone, but because his replacement has been significantly below average.
Is Josh Hodgson all that ails the Eels? Absolutely not, but he’s had a full pre-season (where he looked impressive enough to convince all observers he’d be a big difference maker for the Eels in 2023) and now three months of football. At his age, he might be as recovered from his injuries as he is going to get, and if that is the case, that’s not good enough for first grade in a team with premiership aspirations
I said I don’t want to talk about Souths, and I mean it. We’ve all watched the last four years of matches, we know what they’ll try and do and likely how successful they’ll be. If that left edge wasn’t bad enough, Campbell Graham is now in rare form and alongside the improved Lachlan Ilias he has unlocked a right side attack that the Rabbitohs have leaned on a surprising amount in 2023. Koloamatangi’s absence in recent weeks has seen the left shoot back to prominence, but stacking up against the well known threat may not be an option if it leaves Graham room to roam.
South Sydney could tip over the wrong side of the tightrope between confidence and arrogance, there is no doubt their best players have that streak of arrogance in them and their recent record against us will surely have them feeling pretty good about their chances. Good enough to take it easy, go through the motions and just expect things to happen? We can only hope. Parramatta need to produce something very different to recent years or Souths need to come into the game below their best for the result to be any different. I’m not seeing a lot of positive differences between the Eels of 2023 and the last couple of years, so it is on Souths to come down to our level in this contest.
Maybe the emotional soup of Indigenous Round mixing with over-confidence and a run of sustained success against tough opponents (their six game winning streak includes victories over the Broncos, Storm and Panthers) could lead to a letdown game. It’s a long shot, but that’s where we are at right now as Eels fans; long shots.
Not a lot of hope in this preview, huh? Honestly I might just go and see a movie this Friday night and tell somebody to simply text me “YES” if the Eels are still in the contest at half time and I’ll watch the replay when I get home. A large portion of the possibility space this Friday results in another terrible Eels loss to South Sydney. I for one don’t need to watch Latrell Mitchell lairing it up against us yet again as the Rabbitohs crack the 20 point mark in time with the clock. Those brave enough to watch live are advised to have the mute button close at hand.
Another bad Souths loss wouldn’t be the end of the season, but we’re sure starting to see that September holiday on the horizon. Losses to the Titans and Raiders dropped the Parramatta buffer significantly and all but ended any hopes of a top four finish. The form of the side and the current position on the ladder mean just making the eight is what we need to focus on. Easier games are coming, yes, but a win here is a shortcut to reviving the hopes of fans and reminding the rest of the NRL that Parramatta ain’t done yet.
I suppose this is what tests you as a fan, right? Blind faith in your team against all odds. I’m not going to tip us, but despite the tenor of this preview, I’m going to support us. A win here, however it comes, would rival any we’ve achieved in the last five years.
Go you Eels!
Prediction: South Sydney 34 d Parramatta 12
Man of the Match: Latrell Mitchell