Whenever I have the good fortune to share my thoughts and opinions on the NRL with The Locker Room on RPPFM, perhaps unsurprisingly the conversation turns towards the fortunes of Parramatta. Panellist Michael Voss usually takes this opportunity to express his long-held rule to never tip the Eels. It is a position he came to out of having no trust in Parramatta being able to consistently deliver, and one that he would hold even more strongly after the Eels 22-10 loss to the New Zealand Warriors in Auckland.
Having begun the season so well with impressive victories over Manly and St George, Parramatta have now fallen to four successive defeats. With only the West Tigers, Gold Coast Titans and Newcastle beneath them on the competition ladder, the fall from Penthouse to Outhouse has been swift and alarming. For all that 2016 threw at the team they could rarely, if ever, be accused of attacking the contest with anything less than vigorous intensity. I know it is dangerous to make broad comments about the efforts of those on the field from the comfort of your lounge room but the 2017 Eels seem to lack this vigour and desire.
Much of the funk can be laid at the feet of the group’s stuttering leadership. Co-Captains Tim Mannah and Beau Scott, while being serviceable, can provide much more than they have the last few weeks. Corey Norman, electric in the opening round, has also been below his best for the past few weeks. While displaying glimpses of what he can produce, it’s no coincidence that his fall from Dally M contender to something less is reflected in the team’s performances.
The club has gone some way towards helping to strengthen their halves situation for 2018 and beyond with the signing of Mitchell Moses. Club and player are actively trying to fast track the process, but the good news was tempered a little when the reason for the salary cap space came back to haunt them at Mt Smart Stadium. Kieran Foran, who was proudly proclaimed as the club’s biggest recruiting coup in 30 years, faced off against the Eels in what should have been the second year of four in blue and gold.
Semi Radradra has been another who been below his best in the past few weeks, at the moment he is a shadow of the player who helped himself to 64 tries in 73 NRL games. The Eels are a different team with a fit and firing Radradra. Coach Brad Arthur would be hoping to somehow find the magic formula that saw the Fijian Flyer torment the competition leading Dragons in Round 2. Efforts that were perhaps thwarted in Auckland by a high shot from David Fusitu’a.
The malaise that has followed Parramatta in recent weeks seemed to also plague the Warriors early in their Round 6 match. For the first 20 minutes of the contest, neither side really challenged the other until back to back penalties gave the Eels the first opportunity of the match that Nathan Brown happily took advantage of with a strong inside run towards the line. Brown has been a terrific acquisition for Parramatta. Described last year as the ‘dirtiest player in the game’ he has been able to challenge this aggression into much needed go forward for a pack lacking impetus at times. It has also seen the former Rabbitoh replace captain Beau Scott in the starting side in recent weeks.
As was the case against the Raiders the week before, Parramatta saw the match turn away from them in the blink of an eye. Unable to control the ruck, the Eels were continually on the back foot in the latter stages of the first half. Perhaps a little unlucky to concede the Warriors first try, with a ricochet wrong footing Clint Gutherson to allow a simple pick up and finish for Bodene Thompson. The misfortune was compounded with a poor defensive read allowing Simon Mannering to take the lead for the Warriors minutes later.
The oft stated superstition is that bad things come threes. While not always true, for the second week in a row a poor ten-minute period for the Eels was punished with three tries. Almost completely deprived of the ball, the Eels were very much like a boxer on the ropes desperately wishing for the bell when the half time siren sounded.
Having drawn within a converted try early in the second half, the Eels came agonisingly close to levelling the scores only to be thwarted by the video referee twice. Parramatta were made to pay for not taking advantage of their opportunities. The sense of what might have been a little compounded by the fact that former captain Kieran Foran was prominent in putting Ken Maumolo over for the decisive Warriors try.
Now it is the Easter Monday clash with the Tigers that awaits the Eels. Despite having lost four in a row, there is more than enough time to turn this ship around, the Eels still only sit a game behind the sixth-place Raiders. Wests won’t readily let this happen though. Seemingly in disarray only a fortnight ago when they dismissed coach Jason Taylor, the Tigers proved there is no easy match in the NRL when they accounted for the Cowboys in Townsville.
For the Eels, the recovery can only come one contest at a time. It is important that they rediscover the urgency they had each and every time they ran the ball or tackled an opponent in 2016. If they can do this, the building blocks at their disposal will give them the opportunity to rebuild the foundations for a long-awaited return to finals footy. If they can do this, perhaps then I might also no longer hear Vossy’s long held rule when it comes to tipping Parramatta games.
New Zealand 22 (Thompson 2, Mannering, Maumolo tries; Johnson 3 goals) def
Parramatta 10 (Brown, Hoffman, tries; Gutherson goal)
Match Officials: Henry Perenara, Matt Noyen.
Sideline Officials: Anthony Elliott, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski.
Video Referee: Ashley Klein, Ben Galea.
Official Crowd: 13,526 at Mt Smart Stadium.