Parramatta Eels 24
It wasn’t pretty, easy or a lot of fun to watch, but this was a win the Parramatta Eels needed. I felt like the Eels were playing with their food for much of the contest, in control but not putting the Cowboys away and setting up a tense finish. Then Mitchell Moses did his thing and let us relax for at least two minutes of game time.
If you remove the stupidity of bye points, the Eels now sit within the top eight. 13 teams sit on five, six or seven wins this year, with Parramatta smack in the middle of that group and holding one of the better points differentials. The table is set for a finals footy feast if the Eels are good enough, and that’s a decent place to be for a side that started the year with one win from five.
New recruit Joe Ofahengaue’s Eels debut lasted just ten minutes before succumbing to a calf injury, while Josh Hodgson also got banged up. Any more injuries in the pack and we’ll be getting NSW Cup coach Nathan Cayless sized up for jersey.
Michael Jennings may be persona non grata in Eels territory after his PED use left us naming a rookie to debut in a semi final less than 24 hours from kickoff, but the feats on the field of one Will Penisini are starting to resemble the disgraced Australian centre’s best. He’s not far off becoming one of those players that brings fans to their feet every time he gets the ball with some room to move. If that’s not the definition of X-factor, what is?
For the numbers inclined:
Possession: Eels 52%, Cowboys 48%
Completions: Eels 33/44 (75%), Cowboys 36/43 (83%)
Running metres: Eels 2,073, Cowboys 1,787
Post contact metres: Eels 547, Cowboys 477
Line breaks: Eels 8, Cowboys 5
Tackle breaks: Eels 29, Cowboys 32
Offloads: Eels 5, Cowboys 9
Tackles: Eels 363, Cowboys 391
Errors: Eels 14, Cowboys 9
Penalties conceded: Eels 4, Cowboys 2
Ruck infringements: Eels 0, Cowboys 2
Back-to-back MVP for Dylbags, as the Dylan Brown emergence continues at rapid pace after, I don’t want to say a slow start, but an understated beginning to season 2023. Holding that ball up for Wiremu Greig to score was the kind of patient play you expect of veteran halves, and that try-saving tackle on Chad Townsend was a rare effort, how convincingly he wrapped up the Cowboys half did not do justice to how difficult and unlikely a play it was. You da MVP, Dylan.
1 – Fullback
It wasn’t a showpiece game for the King, but he led all Eels in metres and several times made the toughest carry of an exit set, looking like Tom Trbojevic taking powerful runs on the fourth to give his kickers the space they need. It was a crucial effort as the Eels played a bit of Panther-ball to take the pressure off their under-strength pack.
2 – Left Wing
Sivo sauntered his way to 200 running metres, many on kick returns as the Cowboys tested him in the air and found him rock solid. Sivo’s defensive efforts stood out as a bit ordinary, particularly that sort of attempted intercept, and may he never try an in-and-away again when he can just steamroll somebody.
3 – Right Centre
While he didn’t join in the hard work to the extent of his fellow outside backs, Will Penisini was an impact weapon that tore the Cowboys up with every touch of the ball. Eight tackle breaks, two line break assists, one for a try, and a gasp of anticipation from the crowd every time he got the ball.
4 – Left Centre
Very similar attacking numbers to Will Penisini for our reformed centre Bailey Simonsson, though he needed nearly twice as many carries to reach them. Four errors are too many, but I’m still happy that we’ve found a way to get the best out of Bailey.
5 – Right Wing
Sean Russell proved himself adept at the hard slog, playing a solid and safe game on the wing. That this alone is worth a B says a lot about the torment Eels fans have taken from their right side flanker in recent years.
6 – Five Eighth
I have to admit, a few years ago I wondered what the fuss was about Dylan Brown. Yeah, his defensive skill was elite for his age, but he just didn’t do a lot. That all sounds pretty dumb now, doesn’t it? Not all 18 year olds coming into first grade are standouts straight away, but now he’s about to hit 100 first grade games just after his 23rd birthday and he’s one of the best five eighths in the competition.
7 – Halfback
Solid performance from Moses here, including icing the match with a beautiful solo effort. His balance with Dylan was nice, both are working well together and picking their moments, and the strength of their combination is what I am pinning any Parramatta premiership hopes to for the remainder of 2023.
8 – Front Row
I’d forgotten this was a revenge game for big Wiremu, and he duly celebrated with a powerful try. Two line breaks, solid defence and 145 tough metres, Greig looked every bit a forward leader out there, not bad for a guy with 15 first grade games to his name.
9 – Hooker
Solid from Hodgson, who got his running game out a couple of times before he took an early shower due to injury. He was responsible for half of the penalties the Eels conceded today, though at least one was a bit rich, but he defended well and looked solid. Maybe there is some bite left in the old dog yet.
10 – Front Row
Not enough to go on for Joe Ofahengaue in his Eels debut, which lasted ten minutes and two runs. He’s still got plenty of time to be a strong contributor this year, but it was an inauspicious start.
11 – Second Row
Big defensive effort for Bryce Cartwright, who put away the flashy football and got a job done. I doubt this kind of effort was in the Carty Party of a couple of years ago, this was a mature performance and exactly what the side needed this week.
12 – Second Row
Good metres and solid defence from the 80 minutes Matt Doorey played, though the attacking feast I’d hoped for on the edge with Mitchell Moses didn’t quite develop. Still, he didn’t let anybody down.
13 – Lock
Hard slogging for Hopgood, who, as the workhorse in this pack, knew he was in for a big night and just gritted teeth and got it done. 21 runs at what isn’t exactly a top clip of 7.5 metres per carry, a couple of offloads and 45 tackles, like many this week he gave the team what it needed and not a heap more.
14 – Interchange
Some of his carries were nice, but as a relief prop you can’t be dropping the ball twice in your 30 minute stint. The bad play the ball was especially egregious seeing it has been a point of crackdown all season long.
17 – Interchange
Exactly the kind of effort Makahesi Makatoa is built for: big minutes off the bench when an early injury throws out rotations and plans. He isn’t high impact, but he is reliable.
16 – Interchange
A classic Brad Arthur debut stint of 17 minutes for Luca Moretti, who looked solid but made a basic, unnecessary mistake in making contact with the kicker. Yeah there was nothing in it, but when it is a point of referee focus you just can’t give a half an opportunity to milk a penalty by giving a player a pointless tap on the shoulder.
15 – Interchange
Brendan Hands unleashed his running game this week, and it was a nice wrinkle to his already impressive set of skills. If Hodgson does miss any time due to injury, I doubt many Eels fans will be too concerned about Hands stepping in.
This was the kind of win that, come the end of the season, you’ll have absolutely no memory of what happened in the game. The Eels came in, faced some adversity, scared us all a little bit but ultimately got the job done. It wasn’t a pretty game, the ruck was at times brutal to watch. The Cowboys were there to play spoiler and did so with abandon as a near rookie referee was tested and found unwilling to blow the whistle. Still, it was a win.
An ugly win beats an impressive loss any day of the week, especially on a chilly Friday night during an Origin round. The Eels enter their bye on the fringe of the top eight, with a chance to get healthy and refresh for what will undoubtedly be a chaotic final few months of the season. We’ve got unexpected sides in the top eight, anticipated contenders that are struggling, and I don’t know about you guys but I haven’t managed to tip better than 6/8 all season long. Upsets are in the air every week.
On a sombre note, this week saw it made known the extent of the injuries suffered by former Eels coach Daniel Anderson in an accident at the end of 2022. There is a fundraiser set up to support Anderson, which you can donate to here: https://danielandersonfund.com.au/
Until next time, stay slippery Eels fans.
Stats and images provided by NRL / Eels media