The Parramatta Eels will have to do without livewire halfback Mitchell Moses after he succumbed to a calf injury midway through his side's match against the Canberra Raiders. Head coach Brad Arthur has revealed it's a recurrence of a previous calf injury and is hoping to have the number seven back in the side within 2-3 weeks.
With Moses injured, young gun Dylan Brown will be looked upon to fill the halfback spot, a position he played during his junior years and throughout the Parramatta system.
The Eels though are without a truly recognised backup half given the lack of a NSW Cup season which would normally provide a testing ground for replacement halves.
The squad does have a range of options to choose from.
- Ryan Matterson: A half in the junior system at Parramatta, his size meant he shifted to the back row when he hit first grade. He's got exceptional ball skills for a big man and runs the ball hard. The man himself said he shifted into the halves when Moses went down. Brad Arthur is unlikely to shift him from his second row position given his current form and not wanting to destabilise a suspect defensive edge. Matto does possess an extra ball-playing option if the Eels do need to add another point of attack while Moses is out.
- Brad Takairangi: The most experienced of all Parramatta's options, he's played 173 games in his career, although only eight of them in the halves (games where he has switched aren't counted). A creative player with a good offload and short kicking game, he may be Brad Arthur's first choice. Him playing on the right edge could stiffen the side defensively as he won't need a bodyguard while his size means he's hard to tackle one-on-one. He needs some work on his long kicking game and Arthur's instructions to him should be to keep it simple. Whenever Taka tries to play as a ball player he tends to overplay his hand. The Eels very direct playing style at the moment could also suit him given the amount of space the middle is offering the halves and outside backs.
- Rhys Davies: Parramatta's back-up half and hooker over the last year led the Wenty Magpies to the NSW Cup grand final in 2019. He was upgraded to the full time squad this season and could be the choice if Arthur decides to go with bonafide halfback, even if he is untried at NRL level. At 90kg and with experience playing in the middle, he also provides some defensive solidity with more mobility than Taka.
- Will Smith: He's been with the club since 2017 but only ever operated as a fill in, covering fullback, five-eighth and hooker. Bit of a rocks and diamonds player and fell out of favour last year despite Dylan Brown being injured. Lack of a threatening kicking game likely hurts his chances here, although he is reportedly one of Parramatta's fastest players and would be threat with ball in hand.
- Jai Field: Only joining the squad late in the 2020 pre-season, Field played the one trial for the Eels against the Rabbitohs. Similar to Will Smith in being quick and a tough player to nail down, again the concern is over his kicking game. He's a similar size to Mitchell Moses but it's unclear how tough he is defensively. He may be close to a first grade debut in Blue and Gold given he's featured in a number of top 21 squads, although it's unclear if he's simply there due to this ability to cover fullback and the halves.
- Jaeman Salmon: Signed as a talented half from Cronulla in 2018, he was the first cab off the rank in 2019 when Dylan Brown went down injured. He hasn't really shown the form that had him eagerly recruited and much of his time in first grade has been spent in the centres. He is a bigger body at 96kg and his experience defending on an edge may mean he's an option to fill the half role.
Brad Arthur did explain in interviews with Nine's The Sunday Footy Show and Fox's NRL 360 that Parramatta's playing will remain largely unchanged. The impact of Junior Paulo can't be underestimated as he's often popping up on an edge to deliver a pass or two and his sheer size means defenders go to him whenever the ball is near him. Arthur may also look at how the team will function once Nathan Brown returns to the side. Brown offers valuable ball skills through the middle and is often used to get set plays moving.
The other consideration is the impact of Clint Gutherson who stepped up to fill in a large chunk of the general play kicking when Moses went down.