There was a lot for the Parramatta faithful to like in the Blue and Golds’ 20-12 round one victory over arch-rivals Manly at Lottloland. Before we discuss any of them it would be negligent of me if I did not pass comment on the ridiculousness of Brookvale Oval’s new moniker. While the Sea Eagles didn’t sell their beloved home ground’s naming rights cheaply, it has been reported that the gambling agency paid over a million dollars for the opportunity, I’m not actually sure there is a dollar amount worthy of the indignity they have brought upon the storied venue.
Unlike the clientele that Lottoland is attempting to attract through their transaction with Manly, the Brad Arthur coached Eels refuse to take any unnecessary risks. That was the case again on Sunday afternoon as Parramatta methodically took care of business against the Sea-Eagles. Disciplined in defence and with ball in hand they gave their opponent little opportunity to hurt them.
The high price that Parramatta put on ball retention was evident in their 82% completion rate. This discipline, combined with the go forward of Tim Mannah, Suaia Matagi and Nathan Brown, meant Parramatta’s backline had the perfect platform for the creativity and flair that Messrs Norman, Radradra, Jennings and French are renowned for.
The 2016 season was a disastrous one for the Eels, one of the biggest disappointments was the loss of captain and halfback Kieran Foran. The massive hole left by the departure of world class half is one that many pundits have pointed to as a reason to doubt Parramatta’s credentials as a potential 2017 finalist. Understanding that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, the combination of Corey Norman and Clint Gutherson against the Sea-Eagles would have to silence some of these doubts.
Gutherson had worn the number 6 jersey at the back end of 2016 season, but this outing at Lottoland was the first time he had partnered Norman. With the added responsibility of goal kicking duties too, he went a long way to proving his off-season assertions that he wasn’t a stop-gap playmaker.
Norman picked up from where he left off before his suspension at the back end of 2016. Whether it was creating repeat sets, rescuing last tackle plays with 40-20s, or getting across the stripe for a four pointer, the enigmatic Queenslander was simply sensational. It was the kind of display that would have Queensland coach Kevin Walters a little less concerned about the impending retirement from rep footy of Jonathan Thurston.
As dominant as Parramatta was, it might still be a little too early to be booking tickets for the first Sunday in October. Of concern for Arthur and Eels fans would be that despite having 62% of possession in the match, the team was only able to breach Manly’s tryline three times and were only able to record an eight-point victory. For this, the defensive performance by the Sea Eagles deserves high praise. After conceding early in the second half, Manly weathered a relentless Parramatta onslaught. On the back of Gutherson’s four-pointer, the next twenty minutes of the contest were almost exclusively played in the Parramatta’s attacking quarter.
The Eels complete control of the game is evident in the fact that from minute 50 to 70, Manly possessed the ball for less than 6 minutes. At one point the Eels forced four line dropouts as they set up camp on Manly’s line. For 22 consecutive tackles, Parramatta was quelled in their attempts to breach the Sea Eagles line. It will be a section of tape coach Trent Barrett will no doubt show his charges again throughout the season as they stood firm and conceded a solitary penalty goal despite the glut of ball and territory their opponents enjoyed.
It will be something coach Arthur will no doubt look at, but the positives far exceed the negatives from this encounter. The Eels will be happy to bank the two points but will know that the NRL season is a marathon and not a sprint. Three of the last five NRL Premiers have lost their first round engagements, so it is important to remember that March results are quickly forgotten if the form doesn’t continue or improve as Autumn becomes Winter and Winter becomes Spring. All things being equal though, there is no reason Parramatta can’t challenge for a position in the top 8.