Where did it go wrong for the Eels? You can trace it back to the start
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When we have a season like this with such a logjam for spots in the bottom half of the top eight, a lot of clubs will look back at the year and wonder where it all went wrong.
Parramatta’s campaign was almost over just after it started. Most years, it is the close games that determine where you finish on the ladder at the end of the regular season. The Eels lost each of their first three games against the Storm, Sharks and Sea Eagles by four points. They went on a run midway through the season and got themselves back into the top eight, but it’s a hard road back from such a cluster of close losses.
Suspensions have hurt them this year, with Ryan Matterson, Dylan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Maika Sivo all spending significant time on the sideline. Throw in the recent injury to Mitchell Moses, and it was just about season done.
There seemed to be a lot of frustration last week from Clint Gutherson, and the scoreline probably flattered the Eels even though the Roosters were comfortable winners.
How do they get up for their final match of the season knowing their campaign is done? I don’t think they can. The Panthers should blow them away on Thursday night.
Having said that, I thought Penrith were a little wobbly against the Titans last week, but as soon as they get in their groove, they’re so hard to stop.
The Eels have gone from grand finalists to missing the top eight in 12 months.Credit: Getty
Liam Martin will play his 100th NRL game this week. He’s everything you want in a back-rower: footwork, speed off the mark, running hard lines and he’s incredibly tough. On top of that, he’s mad. But he also has a special connection with his playmakers, and the number of tries he scores from Nathan Cleary kicks is extraordinary.
Fellow back-rower Zac Hosking has been an extraordinary story this year. I’d imagine he would be earning minimal money and he hasn’t let the team down once. He just adds something to them every week. He’s a great tale of perseverance for players who thought their chance might have passed them by.
If there is a battle to look forward to, it should be in the middle with James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota against Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo.
Brian To’o is back on the wing for Penrith and I just can’t see how they are beaten back home. They’ve got the best back five in the competition for bringing the ball out of their own end, and this should be a big victory for the premiers.
Joey’s tip: Panthers by 30
First try-scorer: Liam Martin
Man of the match: Nathan Cleary
Class field squeezes out electric Dylan
Several recent racehorses would have been champions in another era if they hadn’t had to tussle with Black Caviar and Winx every time they stepped onto a track. I reckon Dylan Edwards knows how they feel.
Every time I see him play, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. If he had been born in any other NRL generation, he would have been a huge chance of playing representative football.
But he’s up against James Tedesco, and if Tedesco is not fit, then there’s Tom Trbojevic. If Trbojevic is not fit, there’s Latrell Mitchell or Scott Drinkwater. Ryan Papenhuyzen and Clint Gutherson are also in the mix. There are just so many good fullbacks for NSW to choose from. And when you talk about Australia’s options, Reece Walsh and Kalyn Ponga are contenders.
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards.Credit: Getty
Last week, Edwards ran for more than 300 metres again, and not a game goes by when he’s not at least an eight out of 10. He’s one of the biggest reasons why this Penrith team is just so hard to toss.
I’d love to see him play representative footy one day.
Knights in seventh heaven
Gorden Tallis was in Newcastle last week for the Knights’ win over the Rabbitohs, and said the atmosphere felt like being back in the glory days. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up and it’s enough to make a Knights Old Boy feel 10-feet tall.
Bradman Best and the Knights are on a seven-game winning streak.Credit: NRL Photos
My phone lit up straight after the Knights won their seventh match in a row. It was mostly former teammates excited to see how the team is performing. We’re just proud of the club, coaching staff and everything they’ve done this year.
Why are they playing so well? I think a lot of it comes down to heart. Bradman Best came up with a play when he saved a try against South Sydney, and you could see what it meant to not only his teammates, but the crowd. It was a play the Knights have been built on for many decades.
They’ve found a style that suits them, and Ponga’s decision not to feature in State of Origin is reaping huge rewards for his club. He’s on another planet to everyone else on the field at the moment.
I’ll be up there this week broadcasting the game against the Sharks on Sunday. It’s Old Boys day and the only atmosphere better than last week will be this week.
Make or break
It’s a huge weekend for several teams but, in particular, a number of individuals.
I’ve made no secret of the fact I’m a huge supporter of Sam Walker, and I believe the Roosters need to build their future around him. He can make a difference as they make a late surge to squeeze into the finals.
If Walker’s return is big news, then how about Papenhuyzen? He’s had more than a year out of the NRL, but with three Queensland Cup games under his belt, it is now or never. He has to come back in for their clash against the Titans, and it should give the Storm a huge boost before the finals.
There are two teams who I think face season-defining matches this weekend: the Raiders and Cowboys.
The Raiders have been very indifferent the past couple of months and need to show something against a Broncos team without Adam Reynolds.
And I’m tipping the Dolphins to cause an upset and end North Queensland’s season in Brisbane.
Jeremiah Nanai’s absence will be a big blow for the Cowboys, and the thing about the Dolphins is they never beat themselves. They’ve been well beaten in a couple of games, but for the majority of the season they’ve been competitive, and this is a game where they can end the finals chances of a more fancied rival.
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