The Cumberland Throw

The Preview – Round 3, 2024: Eels vs Sea Eagles

You know the drill, Parramatta fans. Sunday afternoon, Sea Eagles on the way. It’s thump ‘em, bump ‘em, pick ‘em up and dump ‘em time! How do you feel?

I don’t quite feel like a Tooheys (despite being an Eels fan I do have some self respect), but I am bloody excited for another cracking afternoon of footy, at home against another traditional rival. The NRL draw is an absolute mess; to call it poorly balanced would imply some sense of balance is attempted at all, but delivering the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles for daytime footy to start season 2024 is a real treat. Let’s get into it!

Game Info

Date: Sunday, March 24, 2024
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Parramatta
Kick-off: 4:05PM AEDT
Referee: Peter Gough
Bunker: Chris Butler
Weather: Hot, dry
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo

Sixties Speculates (Odds quoted are NSW TAB)

Forget about last week. From the moment that Luai threw a stiff arm at the head of Bailey Simonsson, the match ceased to be played on an even field.

I’m going to avoid logic this week and look at past seasons.

Recent matches between Parra and Manly have produced high scoring results. In three of the last five clashes, the total match points has been 56 or more.

Therefore, I’ll be heading to the total match points market and taking 51 points or more at the sweet, sweet odds of $3.90.

Imagine that, you don’t even have to pick a winner or a try scorer. Just hope for lots of them

Happy, responsible punting.




Parramatta Eels

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Morgan Harper 3. Will Penisini 4. Blaize Talagi 5. Sean Russell 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Joey Lussick 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. J’maine Hopgood.14. Luca Moretti 15. Ryan Matterson 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Kelma Tuilagi.

18. Ofahiki Ogden 19. Wiremu Greig 20. Brendan Hands 21. Makahesi Makatoa 22. Daejarn Asi.

Welcome to first grade, Blaize Talagi!

The signs were all there for Blaize Talagi, he has been the only outside back on the extended bench for several weeks, and was even 18th man in round one, but it was still a surprise to see Brad Arthur hand a debut to the hyped youngster to cover for the concussion stand-down of Bailey Simonsson. Some of that incredulity may be that it also gives Morgan Harper another round on the wing, he didn’t have a happy performance out there last week, but he also had to deal with back rowers playing centre next to him. If he struggles again this week, I won’t be so kind.

Brendan Hands has been demoted from the bench, BA giving pre-season standout Luca Moretti his first taste of the top grade for 2024. Time will tell if this is an opponent based shuffle or a permanent move, but it adds more steel to a bench matchup that already looks fairly one sided. Kelma Tuilagi is named but feels like little chance after his injury last week, if he isn’t good to go I’d expect Wiremu Greig or Ofahiki Ogden to come in. Notably, Arthur hasn’t felt the need to put backs coverage on the bench after last weekend, though that might be because he’d be digging deep into the reserve grade ranks to find one.

Manly Sea Eagles

1.Tom Trbojevic 2. Raymond Tuaimalo Vaega 3. Tolutau Koula 4. Reuben Garrick 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Luke Brooks 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Josh Aloiai 11. Haumole Olakau’atu 12. Ben Trbojevic 13. Jake Trbojevic. 14. Karl Lawton 15. Corey Waddell 16. Ethan Bullemor 17. Nathan Brown.

18. Jake Arthur 19. Tommy Talau 20. Aaron Woods 21. Brad Parker 22. Gordon Chan Kum Tong.

Just like the Eels, Manly are down two outside backs to injury and down to selecting from the fumes, handing Raymond Tuaimalo Vaega his tenth grade jersey and first of 2024. All I know about him is that I’d be running at him; he was ‘credited’ 12 try concedes by Fox Stats in his 7 appearances in 2023. I think the Sea Eagles biography of him might be telling porkies in calling him a “strong defender”.

Ben Trbojevic continues to keep Josh Schuster out of the side. I don’t know how Schuster is playing in reserve grade but I know he loves to lift against us and I’m happy to see the back of him. Former Eel Nathan Brown has roamed out of the wilderness and into a Sea Eagles jersey, he was decent last weekend but the guy who looked like the game has passed him by in his last months in Blue and Gold can’t be far from emerging. Sadly for the Sea Eagles, he might be the best player on their bench. Things look bleak over there.

Brushing it Off

Last week is an easy game to put behind you, copping an early injury that gave the best halfback in the game 77 minutes to exploit what was a bit of a mismatch even before a lumbering back rower was moved into the centres. If anything, the expansive early-set passing that the Panthers used to march downfield at the expense of the makeshift Parramatta left edge was a good primer for how Manly is attacking in 2024.

Mitch has been playing within himself for a couple of weeks, he needs to be healthy here

Anthony Seibold has massive questions over his abilities as a coach, but he’s certainly not afraid of tactical innovation. Manly are attempting to overcome a middle disadvantage against almost all fellow contenders by going around instead of through. Centres roam across the field (Seibold talking about taking inspiration from rugby union in this regard was amusing, because that game is so well known for attacking brilliance) and they are unafraid to go wide on tackle two and test the edges. The Eels need to be wise to the moves, and the inside defenders more vigilant than usual in pursuing the play. Looking at you Matto and Carty.

It has worked well for Manly so far, helped by the Roosters last week making a whopping 20 errors and conceding 9 penalties on the way to a 58/42 possession share in favour of Manly. The Sea Eagles rode that advantage to a 500 metre advantage in yardage gained, similar to the Penrith/Parramatta numbers but crucially, it was made through the middle: where the Panthers and Eels were basically even in post-contact metres, Manly outgained the Roosters in post-contact by a frankly ridiculous 250 metres.

Haumole Olakau’atu made half of his 162 metres post contact, and that was before he got close to the line and picked on Luke Keary like the teacher wasn’t on duty at lunchtime. He’ll be targeting the Talagi/Dylan Brown edge, and Shaun Lane had best have his tackling boots on to assist there. The Sea Eagles are throwing a lot of different shapes on that side of the field, but the end result is the same: trying to isolate Olakau’atu on a smaller man (i.e. probably 11 of the 13 men on the field). Dylan is up to the task, but it won’t be easy and limiting those opportunities better than the Roosters and Rabbitohs did will be crucial.

Parramatta’s handling and discipline has been strong in two matches, and that streak needs to extend to three if they are to have any chance here. That will limit the chances for Tom Trbojevic and Olakau’atu to exploit size mismatches close to the line. On the other side Jake Trbojevic is linking well with Luke Brooks, and that edge defensive combination had best be doing a lot of trust falls this week at training, they need complete faith in each other.

A good kick chase and fitness across the defensive line will be crucial to stopping the early spreads, designed to catch teams in their “rest” moments at the start of a set. I don’t know what the Roosters and Rabbitohs fitness was like, but Manly won’t be able to run over the Eels purely through a cardio advantage, this is a fit team. It may also explain the four forward bench the Eels are bringing to this contest. It wouldn’t surprise to see Parramatta try and slow play down, kicking for the sideline instead of depth and facing a set line at restarts. What you lose on kicking distance is easily gained back by avoiding players like Trbojevic and Garrick running against staggered lines.

Arm Wrestling Classic

Junior Paulo has been near the best front rower in the competition over two rounds

An arm wrestle is exactly what the Sea Eagles want to avoid, so it is naturally where the Eels should take this game. The aforementioned limiting of kick returns combined with discipline will limit the chances for a Manly side that is least comfortable working out of their own end through the centre of the field. It won’t take long from there for Luke Brooks to try and do too much and make mistakes, or the error-prone Manly backs to give chances. Parramatta proved adept at taking the few chances given by Penrith (at least in the first half) last week, and need to be clinical in conversion here as well.

It also takes Manly’s speed advantage out of the game. Nobody is going to accuse the Eels backline of being speed demons, but pace needs space to get going and the best way to shut down speed is never let it get started. Seibold’s team is engineering ways to use that advantage, but with two weeks of tape on this way of play, Brad Arthur needs to come up with a counter. It’ll be clear and hot on Sunday so the weather won’t help the team, they’ll just need to dig in, defend hard and be there every time the Sea Eagles try to stretch them.

Mitchell Moses is built for these games. His long kicking is unmatched, and while I suggest he stray from it in this game by going to the sideline, if he is putting most of his clearing kicks in from halfway we can get the best of both worlds: a kick chase that has ample time to get down field under the height of his boot, and a kick landing ten metres out in the corner every time.

He also needs to be healthy. He’s barely ventured down the short side in 2024, somewhere he regularly finds success. It has limited the opportunities of our attacking players down that edge, and is likely because he’s carrying some sort of groin complaint. Dylan Brown has been strong in picking up the slack, but his off the mark speed doesn’t rival Mitch’s, nor does his timing. Brown runs against any kind of defensive line, set or staggered, and makes it work with his strength and speed. Moses picks his moment and ruthlessly exploits brief defensive lapses. We need that Moses this week. He’s had ten days to rest, hopefully that is enough.

The Game

After going all 2023 without getting a profile photo, welcome to the preview Luca Moretti!

Manly is going to be a tough out, but the Eels have the tools to get this one done. Yes there are some concerns on the edge defence, but the Sea Eagles should be just as worried about the prospect of Ryan Matterson and Junior Paulo coming on and running at Corey Waddell, Ethan Bullemor and Nathan Brown. If the Eels can keep the wrestle close, those last 10-15 minutes of the first half will be the time to pounce.

If Manly are to win, it will come off some freak early plays. The scoreboard could read 12-0, or worse, very early, simply off a few backline shifts and some speed. Parramatta has to dominate from the very start, yet not overcommit to the middle of the field and give easy passage to a quick shift wider. That means winning one-on-one matchups and first contact. The “chase the collision” jar is going to be stuffed full of gold coins after Brad Arthur finishes his pre-game speech in this one.

It’s round three, you have to have confidence that the Eels can get it done. There are worries, oh there are the worries, but this was a game the Eels should win before Bailey Simonsson got injured and Maika Sivo suspended, and it is a game they should win even without those two. I expect the middle to come out fired up and put Manly on the back foot from the first minute, and mistakes to be forced from players like Brooks, Koula and their wingers, both of whom were deep in reserve grade last year. How do you feel? I feel like a win.

Go you Eels!

Prediction: Parramatta 28 d Manly 22

Man of the Match: Mitchell Moses


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8 thoughts on “The Preview – Round 3, 2024: Eels vs Sea Eagles

  1. greg okladnikov

    Great preview!! Parra vs Manly on a Sunday afternoon – should be a cracking game. Play controlled, stay tough in defence, use the much better bench well, and we should be able to get it done

  2. Wilhelmina

    Should I point out that Sixties is tipping 51+ points, and Gol is tipping exactly 50? 😂

    Hopefully it won’t be as hot as the first game at Commbank, where I was melting into a little puddle while watching reggies. I daresay I’ll still be cursing that sun in my eyes until it drops below the stadium roof, but fingers crossed some Eels magic is shining brighter than the autumn sun.

    While I’m concerned about the Talagi/Harper combon, I’ve been impressed with Russell the past two weeks. I still have distinct memories of Turbo plucking the ball out of Gutho’s arms to score, and hoping to avoid that scenario repeating. If our left edge can hold, I think our depth is better than theirs, and with the home ground advantage to back us up, we take the win.

  3. McFersie

    Interesting read. Hope you are right about Manly’s bench. Their starting six were impressive against the Roosters. That big bopper they were running at Keary. Sheesh. Brutal. They have found some real speeders in their outside backs. So it looks like our grunt against their flair. Let’s hope we overpower them and Talagi gets some space to show his skills.

  4. Brett Allen

    Into his 11th season as Head Coach, and BA simply can’t fix our terminal lack of resilience when defending our own line. It is no longer acceptable. It doesn’t matter who’s in the team, we simply are soft as melted butter when defending our line. BA is the common denominator in all this. Here we are in his 257th game as coach and we are as brittle defensively as we were when he was first appointed. At what point have we had enough ? How much longer are we expected to tolerate this rubbish ?

      1. John Eel

        At the 30 minute mark Manly had received 73% possession. Once possession evened out Eels got on top and ultimately came out deserved victors.

  5. Wilhelmina

    Geez Gol, how accurate were your predictions under “The Game”???

    So long as you keep predicting us to come out ok in the end, keep being Nostradamus 🙂

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