On Saturday night the Eels began life as a full-time tenant at ANZ Stadium, as their spiritual home on O’Connell Street is transformed into a state of the art facility for Sydney’s west. The last time they found themselves in this situation, the day Parramatta Stadium was opened in 1986, the Eels set their new home alight with a 36-6 victory over the Dragons. The lethargic way that Parramatta went about their task meant there was no possible chance of a repeat performance on this night.
After setting the competition alight in the opening two rounds on the back of effort and execution, the Eels have spent the last two weeks seemingly unwilling to pay the necessary price. Where against Manly and St George they were energetic, patient and precise, against Gold Coast and Cronulla they’ve seemed to be inert, impatient and have handled the ball about as well as someone attempting to control a wet bar of soap.
Perhaps most galling is the fact that, with the Sharks’ completion rate also below 70%, Parramatta had the perfect opportunity to take this match right up to the defending premiers. After a listless first 40 minutes the Eels were trailing 12-6, but in a contest where they hadn’t asked any serious questions of the Sharks defence it was a scoreline that gave hope. A hope evident in Corey Norman’s half-time interview where he expressed that his team needed to “Just put that first half behind us, it was awful. Our completion rate was rubbish and we hurt ourselves there.” Identifying the problem is one thing, finding a solution is something completely different.
Having scored right before the half-time break, it was perhaps no surprise that the Eels began the second stanza with a renewed sense of energy and discipline. Frank Pritchard was extremely strong making big yards with every carry, but it was in defence that he provided the Eels’ highlight of the night with his massive bell-ringer he put on Paul Gallen in the first half. It didn’t last long though, Cronulla taking advantage of an early penalty to extend their lead and take a little wind out of the Eels’ hurriedly cast sails.
We at The Sportress do make a point of not questioning the officiating in matches. So, instead I would like to take this opportunity to praise Cronulla’s defensive line speed. If Usain Bolt wasn’t retiring from sprinting, I’m sure the pace with which the Sharks could get up and pressure Parramatta’s attack would have him seeking sprint training tips from Cronulla’s coaches. I also have to commend the referee for not letting the NRL’s crackdown on head injuries get in the way of him officiating James Maloney’s high shot on Bevan French. Lesser men would have been sucked in and penalised Maloney for his breaking of the NRL’s rules, not this referee, who instead told French to get to his feet and penalised the Sharks two tackles later.
Petty pot shots aside, Parramatta were their own worst enemy on this night. They suffered a comprehensive defeat but it was not as if their opponents had considerably more chances across the 80 minutes. But when the Eels had opportunity they invariably found ways to cough up the advantage. Early in the second half they secured back to back sets, on the back of a dubious situation where a toed ahead ball ended up back in the hands of Clint Gutherson who had been lying on the ground in front of the kicker, French. Only two tackles later they coughed up their ill-gotten gain and another opportunity was lost.
Minutes later the coup de grace came on the back of another Parramatta error within the red zone. Again, leaving the ball on the turf with tackles left in the set, the Eels piggy backed the Sharks down the field with back to back penalties. Unlike their wasteful opponents, the Sharks did not let miss their gift of an opportunity and made the Eels pay for their ill-discipline.
For the second week in a row Parramatta’s opponents have left their clash with the blue and golds with a relief filled victory. In both matches the Eels were given the opportunity to continue their golden start to the season. Against Gold Coast they were unable to taken advantage of their understrength opponent and against Cronulla they managed to be more wasteful than an opponent that was more than profligate themselves.
Things don’t get any easier for them either in coming weeks. Next week they make their way to the nation’s capital before having to make a trip across the ditch. Unless they can rediscover the discipline and energy of the early rounds in a hurry they may soon find themselves with a big gap between them and the leading teams.