The Parramatta Eels took a giant step forward towards a top eight finish in season 2017, with a determined 24-10 win over the St George Illawarra Dragons.
I use the word “determined” to describe their hard-fought victory, rather than words like “brilliant”, “comprehensive”, “dominant”, “complete”, or “classy”. Despite the fact they were never going to lose at any stage of the match, the Eels were none of these things. The main reason the Parramatta Eels won, was because they were determined to do so. They were just prepared to do whatever it took to secure a valuable two competition points.
It was a strange sort of game. It was certainly entertaining. I enjoyed it.
Credit must go to referee Grant Atkins, who only blew six penalties for the entire match, which is always pleasing to see. Unlike many of the games we witness in the NRL these days, this referee did not deliberately go looking for penalties. Atkins simply kept the game fair and equitable between both teams and allowed the players to decide the result. I wish all games were refereed in this manner. Rugby league would be a far better spectacle. We may even start to attract better crowds to the football.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, with only one sporting event of note being conducted in all of Sydney, for the Eels and Dragons to play before such a paltry crowd, in the huge ANZ Stadium, was in many ways quite depressing. Forget the spin, rugby league has huge issues. Our leaders remain silent on the subject. Unfortunately, job preservation is the most pressing matter on their agenda, at this time.
Anyway, I digress. Perhaps we can discuss this matter another time.
Back to the football.
It would be wrong to say the Dragons were poor. There is no denying they weren’t quite at their best, but they were anything but poor. Statistically, they actually dominated many aspects of the match.
They made six line-breaks to Parramatta’s one. Their discipline was exemplary winning the penalty count 5 to 1. They only missed 24 tackles to Parramatta’s 45. They dominated field position for most of the contest.
In fact, whilst Parramatta scored four tries throughout the afternoon, not one of them came from a Dragon’s player missing a tackle or a brilliant manoeuvre by the Parramatta attacking structure.
The Eels scored their first try after a fortunate ricochet pass landed in the hands of Parramatta fullback Clint Gutherson. Their second try came from a Dragons kick that rebounded off the legs of Gutherson, who then picked up the ball and ran 80 metres to score again. Parramatta’s third try was also a runaway after Dragons forward Joel Thompson knocked himself unconscious on the turf, courtesy of a heavy tackle, and dropped the ball in front of Parramatta’s flying centre Michael Jennings who ran 60 metres to put it down under the posts. The final try came off a gentle chip-kick by Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses, that was brilliantly retrieved by winger Bevan French.
Parramatta centre Michael Jennings played a key role for the Eels against the Dragons. (Getty)
When you look at it, the Dragons never missed a tackle to concede a try. All of Parramatta’s tries were opportunistic, rather than any brilliant attacking play.
Now, before you think I’m suggesting there was an element of luck about Parramatta’s win, let me say that was far from the case. They were never going to lose.
Parramatta’s victory came in the back of an outstanding defensive effort. After being humbled by the North Queensland Cowboys 32-6 last weekend in Darwin, it was obvious the Eels brought a huge defensive focus to this contest.
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur pulled off a masterstroke, by moving representative class centre Michael Jennings from his regular left side position, over to the right side of the defensive line. The experienced Jennings was able to offer tremendous support to halfback Mitchell Moses who defended inside him, and winger Bevan French who defends immediately to his outside.
Both Moses and French would’ve been identified by the Dragons as possible weaknesses in defence. In fact, most of the Dragons attacking plays were directed at Moses on the edge of the field. However, the Dragon certainly didn’t take into account that Jennings would be there to protect them. Jennings was brilliant in defence, ensuring all players on his side of the field were organised and knew exactly what they were doing. It certainly frustrated the Dragons.
The disappointing part about the Dragons attacking game was that they were unable to reassess the situation and change tact during the contest. They kept running the same plays, over and over again, each time hoping for a different result. We all know what that means.
Parramatta five-eighth Corey Norman tormented St George Illawarra with his kicking game. (Getty)
The other feature of the Parramatta performance was the brilliantly accurate kicking game of their halfback Corey Norman. The one statistic that the Eels dominated throughout the 80 minutes was the metres gained through their kicking game. Off the back of Norman’s accurate long kicks, the eels gained 783 metres, compared to only 471 metres gained off the back of the Dragons kicking game. This sort of statistic is rarely publicised, yet for the last four decades it has always proven to be one of the most significant statistics when assessing the winning and losing of football matches.
Norman’s kicking game was superb. He regularly found the ground with his long kicks dissecting the spaces between fullback and wingers. His high kicks were accurate. His short kicks were a torment to the Dragons defence. Honestly, that left foot of his could open a safe.
By comparison the Dragons kicking game was rather tame and applied little pressure to their opposition. The Dragons also looked a little lacklustre in attack. As the game wore on they seem to lose confidence. No doubt they will be better when their New South Wales State of Origin players return.
The Dragons are still well-placed to play finals football. They probably only need to win 4 of the remaining 10 games to qualify in the top eight. They play the Knights at home, Titans away, Raiders away, Manly at home, Knights away, Rabbitohs at home, Titans at home, Broncos away, Panthers away, and finish with the Bulldogs at home.
There are at least four or five wins on offer for them, if they want them badly enough. I’m confident they will qualify.
The Eels have been very inconsistent so far this season. The confusing part is that their wins look so good, yet their losses look so bad.
The most impressive parts of their performance yesterday was their relentless attitude and determination. Their defence was outstanding. Their kicking game was superb. Their speedy and dangerous outside backs were on hand to score four opportunistic tries.
Like I said, it was a determined win.