The Cumberland Throw

Post Game Grades – Round 26 vs Panthers


Parramatta Eels 32

Penrith Panthers 18

Like the sun breaking through the clouds on your last full day of a rainy holiday, this win was a very nice finish to what has largely been a disappointing time. The Eels dominated the Panthers for most of this contest, stifling the Penrith attack with resolute defence and creating their own opportunities through the weak points in a usually impenetrable Panther armour. If you wanted something to pin hopes on for an entire off season, this win certainly delivered. I’m excited about 2024 already.

Brad Arthur lamenting the side finishing one win short of the finals is a bit much for me, like this side didn’t leave that solitary win on the table by phoning it in for the last month. This season isn’t unlucky, it is a systemic failure on many levels and I hope the coach, who should be most aware of the issues at the club, brushing off the season as a bit of bad luck and oh so close, is just a deflection tactic.

Clint Gutherson is probably the opposite of what you think of when you hear the term X-Factor, but he was the difference between the sides in this contest. He ain’t quick, nimble or exhilarating but he’s the ultimate footballer, right down to knowing the rules better than some referees. I continue in my belief that I wouldn’t trade him for any other number one in the game.

For the numbers inclined, it looks like the Eels should have lost this game. Taking your chances and defending like you care can do that to numbers:

Possession: Panthers 54%, Eels 46%
Completions: Panthers 36/43 (83%), Eels 29/37 (78%)
Run metres: Panthers 1,938, Eels 1,679
Post contact metres: Panthers 530, Eels 458
Line breaks: Eels 7, Panthers 5
Tackle breaks: Panthers 48, Eels 39
Offloads: Eels 13, Panthers 12
Effective tackle %: Eels 84.8%, Panthers 84.2%
Errors: Eels 9, Panthers 9

It feels like the King has taken MVP in half our victories this year, but I don’t remember any appearance this year by Clint Gutherson more deserving of the honour. He was in everything, hobbled as he was, and led the Eels to a big lead before finally succumbing and watching the closing stages from the sideline. Enjoy a rest, King, you’re one of the few who can hold their head high after season 2023. You da MVP, Clint.





Clint Gutherson

1 – Fullback

It’s a bit of a shame such an iconic image as Clint Gutherson limping along, trying to kickstart his bung knee like a bodgy mower, is wasted on such a forgettable season. That happens in a grand final, maybe even just a semi final, and they’re making a statue of him. That he could play so well on one leg is a testament to how much he cares, and when the King is on song, his kingdom responds.


Maika Sivo

2 – Left Wing

In the unpublished, incomplete grades of last weekend I called Sivo an overpaid catch-and-fall merchant, and while that never left my hard drive, Maika still managed to take it personal. It wasn’t quite vintage Sivo, but there was plenty of power and most importantly confidence about his four try night at Penrith Park. 


Will Penisini

3 – Right Centre

Will coming into first grade with well above average defensive skills for the position has made him a favourite with the grades, but his emergence as an attacking weapon as he crosses the half century of NRL games played has me very excited for his ceiling. This was another class attacking performance from Willy P, and sooner or later it will be more than just Eels fans noticing how good this kid is. Just stop kicking mate, please.


Bailey Simonsson

4 – Left Centre

I forget who he stood over, but Bailey Simonsson giving attitude to Penrith players was one of my favourite moments of the game. No doubt he copped a bit from little brother for his Todd Byrne impression in the grand final last year, and even the slightest revenge on a much smaller stage should be celebrated. He hasn’t got the highest ceiling, but playing like he cares has won me over for tonight.


Sean Russell

5 – Right Wing

He’s not getting a lot of opportunities, something he shares in common with just about every other Eels right winger of the last five years, but Russell isn’t doing much wrong in his early first grade days. I’m hoping there is some competition for him next year (I’ll be rioting if there isn’t more competition for him next year), but he’s a solid option who will only get better.


Daejarn Asi

6 – Five Eighth

While I wouldn’t call it downhill running against the Panthers, Asi certainly looked more comfortable playing like a 7 rather than a 6 and distributing over running. Is he the backup halves answer of a premiership contender? Probably not for the long term duty he’s had to pull this year, but as a versatile player who can fill in a lot of spots in a pinch, he’s a good guy to have in the back pocket.


Dylan Brown

7 – Halfback

With the Eels finding good field position and the front foot more often than not, Dylan played a fun hybrid halves role. He took on the attacking kicking, something we’re well used to now, but also managed to get his running game on like he was playing six. With the right player (read: anybody who can kick long) next to him, I’m feeling better about being able to cover Mitchell Moses for any short stints by moving Dylan across. Funny what coming off a win against the premiers-to-be does for you, last week I had him playing for Wentworthville and Asi playing winter league baseball.



8 – Front Row

RCG played like he was making up for a past embarrassment, focused on intimidation and damage more than technique. The result was a fair few missed tackles and the Eels competing hard with and getting on top of the best forward pack in the game. His role needs to change next year, but as a swansong for the 60+ minute Reg experience, this was one heck of a show.

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Joey Lussick

9 – Hooker

Joey Lussick did the job Brad Arthur expects of his hooker: a lot of good service, a bucketload of tackling and minimal creative input or rogue darting. That’s all we need when the rest of the machine is purring.


Junior Paulo

10 – Interchange

Where Reg went out to hurt Panthers, Junior was intent on running over them. Playing 46 minutes from the bench, he ran a team high 20 times. There weren’t a lot of tackle breaks or offloads, but against a Panthers pack fresh from never having to run the ball themselves because their backs do all the work, that kind of running output is an especially tough ask. Enjoy a rest this off season Junez, and maybe hold the boxing career until after your footy days, huh?


Bryce Cartwright

12 – Second Row

The rumours that Isaiah Papali’i wants to return to Blue and Gold just won’t go away, but the Carty Party at a fraction of the price has my blessing as the preferred Eels edge for 2024, and that is only partly due to my distaste for spending yet more big coin and a precious roster spot on an edge forward while our backline is one injury away from starting Jersey Flegg players. Carty did what Carty does here, a few key creative sparks, a few mistakes and a lot of defensive attention from his former team.


Ryan Matterson

11 – Second Row

Ryan Matterson played a tough 80 highlighted by a tackle count second only to Joey Lussick. I think I prefer him as a middle, his passing game and offloading were curtailed as an edge forward, though that might have been gameplan related. It does feel like we’re not getting our money’s worth by using Matto as a battering ram, he’s paid for his ball skills.


J’maine Hopgood

13 – Interchange

Bench or starting, it doesn’t matter for J’maine Hopgood who has been a revelation this season. I expected big things from the little I’d seen of him in Cup and based on his reputation, but he came to the Eels first grade ready and soon emerged as an Origin contender, exceeding my wildest expectations. It was a textbook revenge game for Hoppy, and however long we’ve locked him down for is not enough.


Luca Moretti

14 – Interchange

I reckon Luca Moretti might have secretly been thinking “gee I might finally get a good run here” during training this week, even if that run would probably come with the team down by 30. Instead the Eels belted the Panthers and he got his usual token time, and again he made the most of it. There’s a lot of competition for those bench forward roles next year, but I’m hoping Luca can keep himself in the mix with a big off season.


Shaun Lane

15 – Interchange

I’m still struggling to understand why Shaun Lane was rushed back from injury for 14 minutes against the Panthers, but I choose to believe it was because Lane was so desperate to salvage something from a horrible year that he pestered Brad Arthur into naming him. That’s a good sign for 2024 after his expected breakout year this season turned into a nightmare.


Joe Ofahengaue

17 – Lock

I’m not sure what Penrith did to Joe Ofahengaue, but put every opponent in a pink jersey if this is how the mid-season recruit is going to play. Joe O led the team in tackle breaks and made some tough runs in his 40 minutes, absorbing the early stages and paving the way for Junior to maintain the rage. He’s got the skills, so hopefully a full off season better defines a role for him in Blue and Gold.


Wiremu Greig

16 – Prop

Wiremu Greig ate Panthers for breakfast in his first stint, if you can equate running over and through defenders with munching on toast. Work with me here, it’s the last grade of the year. If this is a glimpse of the future I am all for it, Greig getting out there and delivering 15 minutes of pain before Junior comes in against the softened up opposing pack and runs riot. His breakout season might be my favourite Eels storyline of 2023.

While it is a muted joy given what has happened in season 2023, despite my protestations in the preview I’m very happy to finish the year on a high. Yes, I’m asking where this was for the last month, but it was good to see the sheds full of players who looked to be asking themselves the same question. Better to end with something to build on rather than fizzle out in shame.

In saying that, this wasn’t a “what might have been” year, this was a systemic failure across the board. Defensive structures and ruck tactics need to change. Recruitment and retention has to be held accountable for failure to secure enough outside backs in the squad, for continually playing two or three players short of a full squad, and for questionable contracting decisions at the bottom end of the roster and with development deals. Beating Penrith to end the year doesn’t change any of that.

What beating Penrith does is allow me to enjoy football again for at least a few more days. I hope you can feel the same, take some joy out of belting the Panthers around like only a big brother can. 2023 may not have gone how we hoped, but it ended on a high.

Until next season, stay slippery Eels fans.


Stats and images provided by NRL / Eels media


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47 thoughts on “Post Game Grades – Round 26 vs Panthers

  1. Spark

    “This season isn’t unlucky, it is a systemic failure on many levels and I hope the coach, who should be most aware of the issues at the club, brushing off the season as a bit of bad luck and oh so close, is just a deflection tactic”.….
    An excellent and honest appraisal Gol.

    1. sixties

      I’ve said before that we have never censored comments about the coaching, only replies from banned individuals or opinions which cross the line into being personal. You have remained fired up about the coach Spark. You’ve become quite the Firebrand of TCT.

      1. Spark

        I thought it was an honest appraisal by Gol and I agreed with it.
        Nothing more, nothing less.
        You have to let things go mate.

          1. Spark

            Well as YOU bought the coaching up, all I and others want is for the coaching staff to be judged by the same metrics as the players, the R&R committee, the referees etc etc.
            I’ve listened to all your podcasts and I do enjoy them and thank you and forty for the effort.
            As an observer, I find whenever the players or the referees are discussed their mistakes are exposed and called out as incompetence or lack of effort. In regard the referees , sometimes more sinister whereas if there is a coaching mistake, (and there have been plenty) there is always extenuating circumstances for BA and those circumstances are always championed by you, not so much by 40 or other guests.
            Just an observation.
            I see the same mistakes in defence and lack of resilience that I’ve seen for years and ultimately, as in all professional sport, that’s on the head coach.
            I understand that you really really like BA but because I don’t share your enthusiasm for his coaching skills, it doesn’t make me the Lex Luther or the Firebrand of this site.
            Every time you think I in any way criticise BA you lose your lollies…. Only makes me want to critique him more 😂😂

    2. B.A Sports

      Yep. I appreciate the “Bad” appraisal. I am happy with B.A as a coach, but to basically suggest they were one win short of a goal is wildly flawed as his goal should have been top 4.
      And if the case is the goal wasn’t top 4, then say that but you also have to say why. And the “why” is recruitment/retention. You can’t let 4 forwards, a hooker and a centre who were regulars in your 17 go and replace them with one forward and a hooker who every other club (including the one he was at) thought should have retired.
      (He obviously can’t and won’t say that, but it’s a fact).

      1. Spark

        I’m sure BA was aiming for the minor
        Premiership like every coach and perhaps his delivery via the media isn’t his strong point, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to excel.
        The recruitment team, of which BA is a part , certainly got some decisions wrong this year.
        It’s an in-exact science but Hoppy is a wonderful addition ! It was just an off year for recruitment.
        I thought that Josh Hodgson was well worth the gamble. A premier hooker and leader. Unfortunately, his body gave out but no one could have really predicted his demise so early.

        1. Spark

          This year was a cascade of systematic failures across the entire operation – coaching, players, R&R etc. to move forward those in power have to conduct an analysis of those failures and rectify them.
          All of those facets are at fault and equally share the blame for what was a year that we could have done so much.

  2. Noel Beddoe

    The very pleasant result doesn’t change the fact that, rounds 19-25 we had something like 240 points put on us and scored around 90 in reply; for a vital part of the season we simply weren’t competitive with the stronger clubs. That’s the fact that needs to dominate thinking in the off season
    . Still the $8 for the head to head win was very nice.

    1. sixties

      It can’t be disputed. During those rounds we had Dylan suspended for a couple of them, Reg suspended, Sivo suspended, Lane out etc etc and limited backline options. The players mindsets weren’t what they should be. It all wasn’t good enough. We played poorly and ultimately though there are valid reasons in terms of adversity, the club (and that means everyone involved) have to look in the mirror as to why we didn’t qualify for the finals.

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks for all your work this year it’s always good to see your comments and I agree with them all with the exception of the BA comment. He showed genuine emotion and did not comment on our suspensions and injuries until the interviewer mentioned these. I believe he had every right to note them, not as excuse but as valid contributing reasons for our dissapointing season. Despite our sadness with missing the finals I am in lockstep with your positivity on finishing the season with an outstanding win and I’m looking forward to next year. GO EELS

    1. sixties

      Anon, I agree with you. People get upset with BA’s comments in press conferences, but that’s because they want him to say things that he just doesn’t say. He won’t publicly throw players under the bus, (he never has, not like Stuart who used to tell the media that Parra had to expect bad losses because he didn’t have the cattle), he will stand by club decisions, and he won’t point the finger at refs (he did once against the Raiders this year for good reason). Supporters might think that a player isn’t a first grade standard, or that they didn’t have a go, but he’s not going to say it in a presser. I can’t vouch for what’s said behind closed doors but I suspect he’d be much more direct.

          1. John Eel

            He won a GF at the Roosters after he inherited a quality team put together by Graeme Murray. Then went backwards every year until he was sacked by the Roosters.

            Then he went to the Sharks and resigned before he could be sacked again.

      1. Anonymous

        I’d like to think you’re right sixties…….if he wasn’t direct he’d have a massive problem with his coaching. BA will be under a microscope from the start of the season and traditionally he’s managed a food start to the season, unlike this year. Bring on 2024, wishing for a quality outside back and someone needs to take ownership of our defence

  4. MattL

    Thx for helping to make the most of a crappy year TCT!
    Will enjoy hearing your thoughts during the finals and over the off season as always.

    1. sixties

      That missed tackle that led to the try wasn’t good. It was like he switched off. However, DJ definitely had one of his better games. It’s fair to say that if he improves his defence his opportunities to play first grade would be better.

      1. John Eel

        How can you say that about Mitch.

        He has improved his defence. The fact that his defence was like it was is an indictment of the Tigers coaching.

        Even uncle Benny on NRL360 had a crack at him over his defence. The Eels made every effort along with Mitch to turn the situation around. He is now a very good defender.

  5. JamesNuge

    I thought Sean Russell had some really strong runs this game. He was able to run hard and get his bumpers up so he could get under the opposition and then push hard with his legs. He seemed to bend the line back a couple of times when he had no right to.

  6. Ron

    Great read as usual.

    Perhaps I’m being overly critical but I’m not a fan of matto at all this season (or in general except for last year). His line speed is non-existent, his defence is all arm grabbing, his lateral movement in defence is questionable and he drops his head quickly when something goes wrong. Even in this game, Penrith scored off a drop out because he was too lazy to run up and left a hole. On another Penrith line break he just stands and taps the player who runs past him. I’d look to move him and use the money elsewhere.

  7. parra-matters

    there are plenty of positive’s the first one is we won’t lose again this year. Then the emergance of Hopgood and Russell and even Greig has kicked on better that i thought he would. There are plenty of excuses in 2023, the draw was tough, injuries and suspensions but good to see they coach not using it as a excuse. onward and upward to 2024.

  8. Anonymous

    I note in a previous offering you stated Cartwright and Wiremu had re signed until end of 2025 and 2026 respectively. Ive seen no mention of this elsewhere. Can we take this to the bank?

  9. MickB

    Thanks Gol for the grades – have missed the humour mixed with analysis over the last couple of weeks, almost as much as I’d missed the ability to finish watching a whole game.

    I can’t see us turning around the week to week or month to month consistency next year, as much as I can’t explain why there is such a large gap between our best and worst performances. But thats a 2024 issue and for now I’m just going to enjoy the fact that Penrith couldn’t beat us in 2023.

  10. BDon

    Tks Gol. Always enjoy your take on the game and players. Beating the Panthers is A rated stuff and if you ask ‘Was there a bad player tonight? The answer is ‘No’, so ‘As’ everywhere. Ben Cummins had a sensible approach to stuff which could have been nitpicked, more of that please,the bunker and touchies let him down.

  11. Anonymous

    You’re back! Good to see. Where were you last week? And how come your grades article got removed the week before?

    1. Gol Post author

      The last few weeks have been too depressing, there’s only so many ways you can say “get in the bin” or “look at these reserve graders”. After losses like that the grades are basically just an excuse for the comments to be a dumping ground of “sack the coach” comments, and Sixties’ posts more than covered for that group.

  12. N.Senada

    I sense Sean Russell will improve. he seems to have a decent attitude and competes on every play. He had a very good game. Every carry was great to watch. He constantly poked his nose through for extra yardage. I appreciate his efforts. I agree with Gol. I think he can improve next season. And no doubt so will Penisini. These two and Hopgood are all young and have excellent careers ahead of them. They all seem to give their 100% every game. I love that about them.

  13. Anonymous

    Still lots of thought to go into the gameplan.
    I know it’s my bugbear but 3 short dropouts for one try is about par.
    Why, when you are so far in front?

    There are still problems on the edge, that needs to be the off season focus.

      1. sixties

        Unfortunately we seem to be the worst with short kicks – both receiving them and executing them. I might be wrong because I cringe in both situations. Maybe all teams fare similarly, but I doubt it.

  14. Offside

    I actually hated that game.
    I hated that it showed what were capable of but can’t produce consistently.
    I hate that Penrith were able to rest players because they were playing us a bottom 8 team.

    This year was a failure to add to 37 years of failure I’m someone who sees anything less then a premiership as a failed season I would hope our coaching staff and management feel the same we never looked ruthless all year we looked like we were waiting to get started.

    Anyway thanks for the reports and grades TCT now it’s time to focus on the Premier league and the cricket and ready myself for the parramatta roller-coaster to restart next season.

    1. sixties

      Cheers Offside.We have to be dissatisfied with a season in which we didn’t qualify for finals football. I have provided what I think to be the main reasons. There were other factors too but the bottom line is that there were things in our control that went wrong. There are some positives in the club or in the season, but they have to be kept separate from the failings. What I mean by that is, it’s far too negative to not acknowledge or build on them (eg the young emerging players, the development of Wiremu Greig, J’Maine Hopgood’s talent etc), however they can’t paper over the things we got wrong.

      1. N.Senada

        Sixties, any of the things that were self-inflicted (Matterson taking a 3 week suspension over a paltry fine, to make a point, Dylan Brown suspension, to name two) I think, if we did not do that to ourselves, we make the 8. All the injuries, unfair draw situations, that would have been covered if we did not self-inflict, and we would have at least made the 8. Because at the end of the day, it looks like we miss the 8 by one lousy game. We did it to ourselves. And that is a crying shame. I feel sick in the stomach thinking about “what could have been”. Finals footie is such a thrill. I’m bummed we can’t be a part of it. Unless Roosters beat Souths by 60 or something next week

        1. sixties

          Even that won’t help now after the Roosters beat the Tigers. And as you say, we can talk bad luck but ultimately suspensions and an incomplete roster is on us.

      2. N.Senada

        …I am pretty excited about the second coming of Cartwright and the aggression and willingness of Moretti i regard to next season. and Hopgood, what a future that guy has

  15. John Eel

    Clearly all season the NRL has trouble with consistency when it comes to suspensions, 10 in the bin and send off’s.

    It raised its head again yesterday. If ever I have seen a send off this year it was JWH in the Roosters game. That was as blatant a swinging arm as you will see. Players have been sent off for less. Instead sent to the bin but suspended for 6 weeks.

    In the Raiders Broncos game, Rapana sent to the bin for a trip. Really, at worst penalty and on report. Then the penalty for escorting against Broncos with the game in the balance. That is the worst penalty I have seen all year. It was merely a contested ball. Instead of the Broncos defending their own line they get a relieving penalty.

    It would be easy to think after both of those penalties to the Broncos that the NRL is very keen to see the Broncos in the GF against a Sydney team. Brisbane verse Sydney is maximum eye balls for the NRL on the GF.

    Maybe that is a bit cynical on my part.

    1. BDon

      Rapana’s was a reflexive tap with his foot, but he’s had a few ‘escapes’ this year,maybe karma caught up with him.
      Hudson Young is another who pushes his luck, but Cobbo was in no way disadvantaged and had a clear shot at a tap back, penalty was harsh.

      1. Ron

        It’s infuriating how Ricky stir art has contacts in media to peddle his agenda. That press conference with softballs from his lapdog hooper was embarrasing. Then Crawley comes out with dribble to do Ricky’s bidding distract from fact raiders are Simply not good enough. Then buzz jumps on aswell for Ricky. The nrl is too scared to do anything about his antics after each game but bloke is the biggest whinger in recent memory who uses media contacts to protect himself from scrutiny I.e when we pumped then by 40 in a final last year

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