The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 24, 2023: Eels vs Broncos

You may not have heard, but the Parramatta Eels’ season is on the line this weekend against the Brisbane Broncos. The Eels take their third short turnaround of the year (and their second involving both interstate travel and a game against the Broncos), with two of their best suspended and another on the sidelines, to face a Brisbane side on a five game winning streak and in a red hot fight for the minor premiership. It’ll be a tough challenge and, spoiler alert, I’m not tipping them.

Of course, the season isn’t over with a loss, but defeat would certainly mean this battered Eels side needs to beat Penrith, in Penrith, in a couple of weeks time, also with the minor premiership likely at stake. Some luck of the draw that is. Then you look at the teams directly above us on the ladder, who get to play the Dragons, Bulldogs and Titans, while the Cowboys have a bye. This is as must win as a game can be without actually being “must win”.

Like most fans, my confidence took a beating over the opening five rounds that it never really recovered from, and the last month of Eels football has done absolutely nothing to boost it from those “Waqa Blake under a high ball” levels. Faith and belief is all we have now. Maybe year 37 is the one the football higher powers finally start listening.

Game Info

Date: Friday, August 11, 2023
Venue: The Gabba, Brisbane
Kick-off: 8:00PM AEST
Referee: Adam Gee
Bunker: Gerard Sutton
Weather: Warm, dry
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo

Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

There is no way to sugar coat this. You’ve watched the same Broncos and Eels sides over the last month or so as I have. You know where the Brisbane attack will be heading.

The obvious selection is Selwyn Cobbo in the try scoring market. I’ll look for value and take the player inside him to score two tries or more. Katoni Staggs is the man and the price is $8.

If you’re game to back our Eels, there’s value all over the place. Parra are $3.70 in the head to head market and have been known to lift in Brisbane. My heart is urging them on but I just can’t suggest putting your hard-earned on them.

Happy, responsible punting,




Parramatta Eels

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Bailey Simonsson 3. Will Penisini 4. Daejarn Asi 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Joe Ofahengaue 9. Joey Lussick 10. Junior Paulo 11. Andrew Davey 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. J’maine Hopgood.14. Luca Moretti 15. Ryan Matterson 16. Wiremu Greig 17. Brendan Hands.

18. Makahesi Makatoa 19. Waqa Blake

Hopefully Bailey has a better time on the wing now he’s found his confidence

While I didn’t think his debut was a disaster, Arthur Miller-Stephen has been dropped to bring Daejarn Asi into the centres and shift Bailey Simonsson to wing. Asi has a bit of centre experience, but his defensive efforts at five eighth give me little confidence he will shore up that brittle defensive edge. Simonsson has been frankly terrible as a winger in Blue and Gold, but maybe his finding form as a centre will give him some more confidence in a return to the flank.

In the pack Brad Arthur has promoted Andrew Davey back into the starting side, with Ryan Matterson returning to the bench. Considering the bollocking that the Broncos forwards gave the Eels in Darwin earlier this year I don’t hate Matterson coming from the bench to keep the fire burning in that 25th to 40th minute period that Brisbane ran riot through last time. Joe Ofahengaue retains his start, maybe he’ll get some more minutes this time, while Brendan Hands pushes Makahesi Makatoa out of the side and will spell Joey Lussick in a more traditional bench rotation.

Brisbane Broncos

1. Reece Walsh 2. Deine Mariner 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Herbie Farnworth 5. Selwyn Cobbo 6. Ezra Mam 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Flegler 9. Billy Walters 10. Payne Haas 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan. 14. Tyson Smoothy 15. Brendan Piakura 16. Kobe Hetherington 17. Keenan Palasia.

18. Corey Jensen 19. Xavier Willison.

Brisbane have a few key ins this week, with halfback Adam Reynolds returning and a few others being cleared of potential injury in Farnworth and Riki. Deine Mariner in for Corey Oates (and then Jesse Arthars) is the only change to the full strength Broncos side, though you could make a case for the suspended Martin Taupau as well.

The biggest Broncos weakness is their hooker rotation, consisting of Billy Walters and Tyson Smoothy. The Broncos pack are big and nasty enough to overcome these two in most cases, but I’d love to see the Eels target both like they did Reed Mahoney back in the first Bulldogs clash in terms of snapping at them quickly from marker to cut down their decision making time.

What is left to say?

A significant part of me is waiting for this nightmare of a season to be over, which isn’t usually a good sign that you’ve got a premiership contender on your hands. The Eels have never felt terribly far off the heights of 2022, as Sixties said early in the year, this often felt like a more consistent football team even when losing early matches. While some moronic Fox Sports mouthpieces might want to do victory laps about predicting Parramatta’s doom based on losing Reed Mahoney and Isaiah Papali’i, that is a complete misdiagnosis of the problem.

J’maine Hopgood has been better than anybody the Eels lost at the end of last year

Those headline departures have barely been missed. Even with Josh Hodgson’s tenure in Blue and Gold hitting the bottom of the range of outcomes as he’s battled indifferent form and now injury, Brendan Hands has been fine in relief and honestly, I don’t think Mahoney would solve any problems we have in 2023. You could make an easy case that Bryce Cartwright has had a better season than Isaiah Papali’i this year; Carty has more tries (6-2), try involvements (12-4), offloads (45-14) and line break assists (7-0) and is only slightly behind Papali’i on metres made and total missed tackles. Most tellingly, the defensive turnstile Cartwright has been marked with only 4 try concedes by Fox Sports this year, while Papali’i has been attributed 11. We might miss the player Papali’i was as an Eel, but Papali’i is not that player this year.

J’maine Hopgood might not be a one-for-one replacement for Marata Niukore, but he’s made bigger contributions to the side than Simba did last season. The one player we might have missed the most from the departing class is Tom Opacic, and that’s mostly because we didn’t replace him at all. While not a new recruit, I doubt anybody is looking at Wiremu Greig and going “yeah, but if only Oregon Kaufusi was still here”. Recruitment and retention is the problem, but not at the headline level.

Instead it has been depth that has killed us. We might not miss Papali’i, but I certainly miss Shaun Lane, who has spent the whole year either injured or playing himself back from injury. I probably wouldn’t have let our only noted backup halfback leave the club mid-season either, even if he was as maligned as Jake Arthur was. One look at Haze Dunster struggling to run in the pre-season should have been enough to send out a five-alarm alert to find more outside backs, and that was before finding out Waqa Blake had regressed from “exciting but erratic” to flat out walking disaster.

For a few years the Eels have remained in good health and on the right side of officials on and off the field, hiding the issues of depth that have plagued the club for a while now. There are too many “dead” spots in the roster, players not ready or capable of first grade, and that is exacerbated by never filling a full 30 player top squad. As a promising crop of youngsters come through the grades some of those issues will sort themselves out, but that is a year or two away and the premiership window, as much as I hate that term, is open now. Fix it, Eels officials, or find somebody who can.

Looking on the bright side

Not that I want to turn this preview into a reflection on 2023, but there are only so many ways I can say “turn up in the middle of the field and have a crack” or “defend like you’ve met each other before” before I go a bit funny. While things have flagged a bit in recent weeks, this is the best Parramatta attacking side perhaps in Brad Arthur’s entire tenure. Defences are starting to figure it out a bit, but the shape and options the club has played with for most of the year have seen the points flow freely. The passing game of the middle forwards is the kind of difference maker that wins close contests and big matches, and offloading remains a big part of the Parramatta game and something opposing clubs have not found a way to reliably shut down for years.

Will Penisini is quietly becoming a strike weapon

Clint Gutherson is in career best form, Will Penisini is emerging as one of the best young centres in the game (and certainly one of the most underappreciated), J’maine Hopgood is a revelation, Bryce Cartwright has stepped up to another level and while not superstars, Brendan Hands, Sean Russell and Bailey Simonsson are playing solid, value football. You’d be doing some 2011 Eels Board level maths to rate Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses outside of the top three halves combinations in the NRL, same for Junior and Reg up front. Things need to be tidied up around the edges, but this is a premiership contender of a squad when things are going right.

If Parramatta can hold on this week and get Sivo and Reg back, they immediately become the team nobody wants to play if they do make the finals. Away form hasn’t been a strength this year, but the core of this side pulled off one of the great away ambushes against the Cowboys last year, as well as racking up huge away wins against Penrith and Melbourne. This Eels side even broke the Rabbitohs hoodoo this year, and in such a convincing style that the Rabbitohs season was derailed following that loss.

Brisbane, I guess

The last battle between these sides wasn’t pretty. Pat Carrigan and Payne Haas had a field day, especially once the Darwin heat and a short turnaround started to sap the Eels energy. Even with that first half capitulation in the middle, the Eels came home the stronger and who knows, had the referee had some bottle and used the sin bin when they should have, the Eels could have pulled one out of the fire against an 11-man Broncos.

The Broncos play with a dazzling confidence, which an Eels defence that struggles to shut down open play and put players onto the ground are susceptible to. Ezra Mam, Selwyn Cobbo and Reece Walsh are capable of just about anything on the football field, and have the confidence to try it. It turns bare chances into tries, and it requires a dedication and discipline in defence that I’d say is beyond the Eels in most situations. Maybe the desperation of this game will see a renewed effort, but I’d be taking the overs on the line for freakish flick pass offload tries and kicks that bounce perfectly for the Broncos chaser. It’s just how they roll.

Walsh in particular is the danger man, always on the spot to break through the line and an expert at summing up a situation to turn a break into a try. That is helped by the confidence of the young Broncos in support, and the Parramatta scramble needs to be perfect in the times when the line defence does falter. It’d be a good week to not face an attacking runner on the back foot, which will require a commitment to wrestling and pushing the ruck beyond what we’ve seen from the Eels for years.

Brisbane have also had a tough defensive resolve, particularly defending their own line. Even a coach like Kevin Walters will have watched recent footage and have Broncos defenders primed to rush up on Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson; if the Eels have a counter then this is the week to unleash it. It may have just been the game situation, but Wiremu Greig running off Mitch Moses last week was the first time in a while a defence has had to really commit to a runner off of the halfback. Hopefully we can get a furious 20 minutes out of Greig this week, and the brave might find joy in anytime try scorer markets for the Emu,

Can we do it?

Bryce “breakout year” Cartwright

Honestly, I don’t think so. It would take a huge reversal of form and a level of defensive resolve from the makeshift right edge that has been absent for well over a month now. So much needs to go right for the Eels, a fast start, a middle that can hold their own, discipline with and without the ball, and enough attack to crack a strong defensive unit. Then you just need to avoid the flukes, the solo efforts and skills of the Broncos outside backs, halfback and fullback, and the tireless efforts of Carrigan and Haas.

The upset is undoubtedly a chance. The 2023 Eels have packed a few surprises; knocking off Penrith after a rough start to the year. Dominating South Sydney, finally. Running riot over the Dolphins in a half of footy, and perhaps most surprising of all, delivering the sweetest of revenge games against Reed Mahoney. Even with a few replacement level plug-ins, this is a quality football side packing some true superstars of the game. If Moses, Gutherson, Brown, Paulo and Matterson fire, anything is possible.

It just hasn’t been a year where I can reliably back that to happen. Faith hasn’t done a whole lot for Eels fans in my lifetime, and it is hard to muster too much up for a team that has made life hard for themselves week after week in 2023. I’ll sit down on Friday night with hope, but a win will be a pleasant surprise. Surprise enough to give me that faith for the rest of 2023, undoubtedly.

Go you Eels!

Prediction: Brisbane 28 d Parramatta 18

Man of the Match: Payne Haas


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12 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 24, 2023: Eels vs Broncos

  1. Shaun

    “It’s the hope that kills you.” Y’all know that? I disagree, you know? I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief. Now, where I’m from, we got a saying too, yeah? A question, actually. “Do you believe in miracles?” Now, I don’t need y’all to answer that question for me… but I do want you to answer that question for yourselves. Right now. Do you believe in miracles?”

    There is no time for measured, reasonable analysis. For the rest of the of the season, no matter how much longer, I’m going to live ruled by hope and heart. Go Parra!

  2. adz4parra

    The Broncos have had 5 seasons worth of freakish bounces and flukely flick passes come off in the 23 rounds – your luck has to turn at some point.

    They have also been up for months.

    They also have quite a few players carrying noticeable limps.

    If we show up unwilling to give them an inch, I don’t think a win is as remote a possibility as many think. They haven’t been put under serious pressure in months and may just be due an off night.

    We’ve just got to work out a way to counter the outside-in rush on our playmakers that has thwarted 80% of our attacking raids over the last month.

  3. Anonymous

    Don’t every lose your faith Gol……and sure, you’re a realist but don’t let that stop you from dreaming…….great write up as per usual

  4. Raven of Domination

    I think now with Baily on the wing will bring more faith in our left side defence. If we can move up in defence and not wait around, will see us put greater presure on there attack, it would seem this year this wait and see what they are going to do”, has crept into our defensive line. We just seem to be giving teams to much time to make decisions. With Dylans second game back will bring greater confidence, and i hope we do not starve Will of the ball. We have beaten Bris so many times in Bris against the odds, I am predicting one for the ages. Go you Parra Eels!!!! Throw the Kitchen Sink at Them!!!!

  5. Noel Beddoe

    We have recruited Trent Barret to improve our attack and we have the second best attacking record in the NRL; meanwhile we sit outside the top eight.
    You don’t have to be Wayne Bennet to understand the problem.
    For years we had massive defensive issues on our right edge. We promoted Tom Opacic and thoae problems vanished.
    Lst year we had five outzstanding defensive players. Because players like Isiah and Marata came to us so young and inexpensively it was always going to be difgicult to retain them due to salary cap pressures. There was no excuse to lose Tom Opacic and Ray Stone.
    In planning for next year I’d certainly be contactin Tom’s English club for permission to negotiate and making him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

  6. Brett Allen

    Anyone who thinks BA’s position is anything but untenable now is smoking some funky shit. He’s not in his own, the board, Sarantinos & O’Neill should also be under serious threat.

    1. Spark

      The problem is that BAs coaching is so one dimensional- it’s all about forward dominance and the rest will take care of itself. Unfortunately the game has moved on now. The Broncos like other teams burnt us for speed in the backs. We are SO slow and although the team tried hard, we just don’t have the talent out wide and we were just gassed.
      Even the juniors coming through are devoid of speed so it’s “front loading the effort through the forwards” next year and the next.
      Haven’t heard the presser yet but I’m sure it will be the same one dimensional phrases that he trots out every week.

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