A week after a disappointing result against North Queensland, round 15 saw the roller-coaster that is Parramatta’s 2017 season continue with a 24-10 victory over St George. It is somewhat surprising that a team designed to thrive on a platform built upon consistency of effort can suffer such fluctuation of results. If nature hadn’t done the job for him already, the vast chasm between the Eels best and worst would no doubt have driven Coach Brad Arthur to pull his hair out himself.
It was clear early on against the Dragons that it was the Hyde, rather than Jekyll, version of the Eels that had reported for duty. Arthur, having made sweeping changes to the backline to accommodate the returning Michael Jennings would have been pleased to see the versatile Clint Gutherson and electrifying Bevan French settle into new roles at fullback and on the wing respectively.
Seemingly the modern day Alan Wilson, the former Cronulla Shark who played every position except prop forward in the 1980’s, Gutherson shifted to the custodian role and didn’t miss a beat. In an extraordinary first half, the 22-year-old scored a double and set the Eels on the path to victory, his second showcasing a surprising turn of pace as he returned a Dragon grubber kick 80m to score.
A dominant first half was spoiled by the distressing sight of Kaysa Pritchard with what appears to be a season-ending ACL injury. Pritchard was in such pain that an ambulance was required to rush the hooker to hospital for immediate treatment. It is a devastating blow for a man who had found his feet in the team in recent weeks after a horrid run with injuries throughout his NRL career.
Expected to join Pritchard on the sidelines is co-captain Beau Scott, who was forced from the field with an apparent elbow injury. Scott had laid nearly a tackle a minute in a busy 35-minute stint on the paddock, before pulling up sore. “I don’t think he’s likely to be playing straight away,” Coach Arthur said in the post-match press conference. It is sure to continue the test to Parra’s playing stocks with Isaac De Gois, David Gower, Josh Hoffman, Frank Pritchard, Kirisome Auva’a and Peni Terepo already on the injury list.
Unlike the selection difficulties the injury epidemic has caused, one headache Brad Arthur is glad to have is the one he has in the halves. The selection gymnastics required to find a home for Gutherson has been caused by the return from injury of Corey Norman and the early arrival to the club of Mitchell Moses. Moses’ form, especially his defence, has been the subject of much conjecture in recent weeks. The maelstrom of noise also included the voice of club legend Peter Sterling, who suggested that Moses should make way for Gutherson. Against the Dragon’s the twin kicking games of Moses and Norman, in only their second game in partnership, illustrated why Arthur has been so keen to persevere with the young half.
It was fitting then that it was a Moses kick that led to the decisive try in the middle stages of the second half. Dragon’s winger Jason Nightingale was left stranded by a vicious bounce and could only watch on despairingly as Bevan French capitalized upon the opportunity to score. At this point the Eels appeared poised to run up a big score in the remaining minutes of the contest. Ultimately this was not to be the case but it should not take the gloss off a comprehensive victory over a top-eight rival.
It wouldn’t be a Parra Post-Mortem if we didn’t marvel at the efforts of Nathan Brown and the hard-working back-rower didn’t let us down. Brown again played the entire 80 minutes, laid 33 tackles and ran for a whopping 200-metres. What the figures don’t illustrate is the contagious intent that the 24-year-old attacks the defensive line. When this venom in the forwards is combined with the kind of ball security that was on display against the Dragons, the Eels are an irrepressible force.
If Brown is close to unstoppable, it could be said that Michael Jennings in open space is almost uncatchable. In his first game back from a quadricep injury, Jennings again reminded the Rugby League world of this very fact. In a sight that would have please Parramatta fans, the veteran centre swooped upon a loose ball on the defensive side of half way and left defenders in his wake as he sprinted away to the line.
The Eels’ first bye of the season awaits in Round 16, the topsy-turvy nature of their season evident in the teams’ 8 & 7 win-loss record. Despite the inconsistencies, Parramatta’s hopes rest in their own hands. Sitting just outside the Top 8 on for and against, and only two games outside the Top 4, the season is very much alive for them if they can finish the season strong.