R8 v Manly: The Rise and Fall of the Eels

 

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The free-falling Eels are staring down the barrel of another nail in their season’s coffin. They sit like ducks in the target arrow of the public's microscope just waiting to dissect their ANZAC performance.

Despite the Eagles superior position and form, both the Eels and Eagles have struggled for consistency this year.

The Eagles have only won back-to-back games once (R1-R2) this year, whilst the Eels have not won back-to-back games yet and are facing two straight losses.

The Eels defence has fallen off a cliff, now 14th (conceding 25.7 per game)whilst the Eagles aren’t much better at 13th (conceding 22.3 per game). 

The Eels attack is also disintegrating, now 11th (19.9 per game), whilst the Eagles are 5th best (25.9 per game).

Essentially, the Eels are taking off from the 2023 season and regressing further.  

Since the R18, 2023 bye the Eels have been conceding over 36 points a game outside Commbank. 

Since then, Eels have only won 6 of 15 (40%). In this period, at Commbank, they have won 5 of 8 (63%) at an average score of 21.3 - 24.1 per game. But, outside Commbank, they have only won 1 of  7 (14.3%) at an average score of 16.6 - 36.1 per game.

With Sportsbet, the Eagles are 6th ($15) in the pecking order of title favourites, whilst the Eels are 11th ($51) have slipped to mid-tier, in the also-ran log-jam. The Eels are just behind the Dolphins (9th, $41) and Raiders (10th, $46), and just ahead of the Dragons (12th, $56) and the Dogs and Rabbits (both equal 13th, $61). For the top-tier teams, the Panthers (1st, $3.25) are still the premiership favourites followed by the Broncos (2nd, $4.5), Storm (3rd, $.650), Roosters (4th, $10), Sharks (5th, $13), Eagles (6th, $15), Warriors (7th, $15), and yo-yoing Cowboys (8th, $23) who round out the top eight. The bottom-tier, bottom-three wooden spoon candidates are between the Ponga-less Knights (15th, $81), fledgling Tigers (16th, 151) and Tino-less Titans (17th, $501).

Teams

Sea Eagles: 1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jason Saab 3. Tolutau Koula 4. Reuben Garrick 5. Tommy Talau 6. Luke Brooks 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Taniela Paseka 9. Lachlan Croker 10. Josh Aloiai 11. Haumole Olakau’atu 12. Corey Waddell 13. Jake Trbojevic 14. Karl Lawton 15. Ethan Bullemor 16. Matthew Lodge 17. Nathan Brown 18. Aaron Woods 19. Jakob Arthur 20. Jaxson Paulo 21. Dean Matterson 22. Gordon Chan Kum Tong

Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Morgan Harper 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Ethan Sanders 7. Dylan Brown 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Joey Lussick 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. J’maine Hopgood 14. Brendan Hands 15. Makahesi Makatoa 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Kelma Tuilagi 18. Sean Russell 19. Luca Moretti 20. Daejarn Asi 21. Wiremu Greig 22. Blaize Talagi

The big news for the Eels is Sanders coming in at six to partner Brown. With Sanders taking over from Talagi’s old position, it seems it’s an admittance that the Blaize-Brown halves combination failed. But, it's bitter sweet for the Eels as Sanders' three-year deal with the Raiders has also been announced today; exquisite timing. Sivo also comes in for Russell on the wing, whilst Hands comes in for Moretti who drops out of the 17. Eels fullback Clint Gutherson has scored 40 points in his past four games against the Sea Eagles.

The speed and skills of Saab, Koula, Tom Trbojevic and even Garrick could cause all sorts of headaches for the Eels out wide. Tom Trbojevic has scored four tries in his past five games. Meanwhile, Reuben Garrick has scored 11 tries in 11 games against the Eels.

 

The Eels' 4 Pines Park Struggles

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Though the Eels have won 4 of the last 5 (80%) against Manly, the Eels have struggled at 4 Pines Park. 

The Eels have only won once at Four Pines in the last five outings (20%) over six years, since 2018, with an average losing score of  21.6 - 33.2 per game; regardless of whether Moses has played or not.

The TIO Titanic

In round six, Manly only just pipped the Titans 34-30, a symptom of their defensive woes, so are looking for their second back-to-back win.

However, the Eels are staring at back-to-back losses after imploding beyond old testament proportions, in the humiliating 16-44 upset loss at the hands of the Dolphins at sultry TIO, Darwin.

It was the Eels third-straight loss there since 2022, at an average losing score of 12 - 35 points per game in that period.

James Graham, on The Monday scrum, hit out against the Eels’ continued use of home games in Darwin.

“You know what used to irk me? When the Bulldogs used to take some of our home games and play the Warriors in New Zealand. Just not in Auckland, cheers."

"They’re great for numbers, but for us the players, it made our jobs significantly harder.”

Obviously, the financial returns are lucrative. An offer too good for our board to turn down, besides all the hooplah about promoting the game in the NT.

Billy Slater, on his Monday (22/4) podcast also pointed out that the conditions meant that the Eels were more likely to collapse quicker.

"When the heat really came on, pardon the pun because it was hot up there... But when you're in those conditions and you play football it just puts you under pressure quicker and they couldn't handle the pressure."

12434512079?profile=RESIZE_710xThe Eels imploded at TIO, Darwin, 16-44 against the Dolphins for their 3rd-straight loss there | Getty Images

And collapse quickly, quicker than the Titanic, they did.

The Eels were leading 10-4 at the 49th minute and seemingly in some control of a mundane, error-riddled encounter.

But 25 minutes later the Dolphins piled on 40 unanswered points, eight unanswered tries, to make it 10-44 by the 74th.

0-40 in 25 minutes.

Arthur was scathing after the game, fortunate not to swallow a few water bottles whole.

So, what's the matter with us?

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 A frustrated Dylan Brown, against the Dolphins, after yet another belting | Getty Images

Arthur: The players need to fix it, don’t they?

Brad Arthur was scathing in round seven press conference calling them "part-time footy players" who "gave up" in the second half when the pressure got too much.

The players have to fix it. We can only talk about it so many times. The players have to fix it don’t they?

Arthur asks a rhetorical question at the R7 post-game presser

Today, facing the media, the senior players co-captains Clint Gutherson and Junior Paulo as well as Campbell-Gillard. all were on board with what Arthur said, taking responsibility for their performance.

 “It’s not panic stations, but it’s a bit of a wake-up call for the whole team", Campbell-Gillard added.

It's “a little embarrassing” adding the "onus is on us (the players)" not Arthur.

"Everyone respects what he (Arthur) says and what he does." Gutherson said.

"We’re letting him, the coaching staff, the club and the fans down at the moment. It’s on us."

"It shouldn't take this long to get a reaction, but it is what it is."

Gutherson also pointed out that "the truth hurts" but “It's not the end of the world".

That was a far cry from his mid-game hype against the Cowboys (a R6, 27-20win), "I hate losing. I want to win every moment" and a game he was cheering for every small win the Eels had. 

It's not the first time Arthur question the players’ desire and physicality.

One only needs to go back to R22, 2022, Arthur's best year, after being belted 26-0 by Souths. An honesty session followed that game, too, which resulted in a late season month-long or so surge and the journey to the grand final with Arthur “seeing a difference in their eyes”.

Will we see a similar response this time round?  We should see some bounceback, right?

At least for a while.

Is it merely fixable attitude issues or is it something more terminal? 

The week has seen a plethora of opinions. Arthur simply puts it down to the players' soft attitude. Many put it down to the coach, and his limitations, with the need for a "new voice". Others due to culture and even an inept R & R committee and footy board devoid of footy IQ and nous. In all likelihood, it is probably a combination of all factors. An interconnected circle without a quick fix.

 

Along with the usual suspects like Brent Reed,  Braith Anasta, and James Hooper wrote a blog yesterday entitled Eels face the ultimate question; Is it time for a change? It’s working for others. Most of the media, except for Paul Kent, were singing the same tune: Arthur is “good coach” but with an “old voice”.

It’s the coaches' job to get the players to play well.

Brent Read, Monday Scrum, 23 April 2024, with James Graham 

 

Billy Slater, on his Monday podcast pointed out the obvious.

There are certainly some issues at Parramatta and alarming issues.

Billy Slater, Monday Podcast, R7 review, 22 April 2024

“Absolutely there are some issues because Nathan Cleary who is arguably the best player in the competition, he hasn't been at the Penrith Panthers for the best part of a month and they seem to be doing okay.”

 

Cameron Smith in Monday Round Seven Review (22/4), his utlined the major problem with the Eels issues, (from 16:30-19:00)

It’s all about their attitude. If you concede 44 points in a match, clearly, your mind wasn’t where it needs to be.

Cameron Smith, Monday Podcast, R7 review, 22 April 2024

 

“Now, what was it? Because you went to Darwin? It’s a bit of a holiday for us. We’re playing outside our norm. The mind is a little more relaxed," Smith continued.

“Was it because we’re playing against the Dolphins and there’s no Hammer, there’s no Felise Kaufusi, there’s no Fledgler, there’s no Herbie Farnworth - and they thought well this is a team that only joined last year, we’ve got a better footy side, we’ll just turn up and it’ll happen for us. It’s all attitude. That’s all it is. Take away the fact there’s no Mitch Moses. It’s a purely an attitude thing. They didn’t want to roll up their sleeves. The Dolphins compete, even if they don’t play their best."

However, despite the heavy criticism, Smith shows his optimistic streak.

With a line up like Parramatta’s, I’m not writing Parramatta off yet. They’ve still got enough good players (to comeback).

Cameron Smith, 22 April 2024

 

"I can’t say they’re gone. It’s only round seven. It can be done. I’m not writing off Parramatta yet."

 

On 100% Footy, Gus Gould (at 18:30) explains that the Eels' woes are due to a big-picture lack of planning, pathways and culture are the problem - not the coach. 

Gus puts the blowout disintegration down to a build up of frustration over the last few weeks bubbling over.

"You and I were covering that game on Friday night. And Parramatta were leading 8-4 just after half-time and I turned to you and said, if the Dolphins score next, they'll win this. You can just see it in the body language. The first half was terrible. It was one of the worst games of football you could imagine. Both sides were struggling."

"But the Dolphins did enough to keep themselves in it. And showed far more spark after half-time."

"After they scored the first one (after halftime), Parramatta just totally disintegrated.  Look at the work here of the Parramatta side.  Not getting back on onside. Not chasing kicks. Not working for each other."

"Brad Arthur is not the trouble with why Parramatta are where they are now."

"In all the time that I have followed Parramatta, and I was a Parramatta junior, they have never really set up their pathways properly."

"They've never produced a culture, a character of their own, that's brought through the grades with young fellas wanting to be there and a part of the club. And that in the end becomes the problem of the head coach."

"In the end, that becomes the problem for the head coach, who is trying to win games today when no one has really planned adequately for the future."

"Someone has got to take that responsibility - that's not Brad Arthur's responsibility."

"They have great sides in the junior representative fields but it doesn't transition through to a culture or stream of players coming through in the club."

"It's become exhausting for him now."

 

Dr Jauncey's Big Four

Dr Phil Jauncey, Bennett’s long-time trusted right-hand lieutenant who has something to do with the fight and spirit shown at the Dolphins as well as Bennett's former premiership winning teams from Broncos and Saints, puts poor performances down to four factors where players:

1. don’t know what to do; and what their role is

2. don’t know how to do something; how to do what they’re supposed to do

3. don’t have the talent or resources to perform (obviously fitness, strength, speed, skill and father time are factors)

4. choose to not perform, often unknowingly, all to do with the processes before and during a game including players’ personal lives in both their emotional and mental spheres. Here, mentally they switch their winner’s “computer” brain off switches off from winner’s “A” to loser’s “Z” mode. They’re not focused on their processes - but other things. 

Jauncey, largely the extroverted optimist, generally concludes the fourth reason is the most common reason why elite sports people fail to perform.

Essentially, he re-frames the idea of “poor attitude” and “motivation”, seeing them as largely useless conceptions and judgements, preferring to see the solution in terms of “actions” and “processes”, loosely related to habit patterns.

I relate this to a Vincent Lombardian notion of collective habit patterns of players, like the mantra, “you don’t decide your future, you decide your habits, and your habits decide the future.”

Putting apart the damning stats, which we will explore soon, my eye test suggests it could be a combination of more than the fourth factor.

For instance, their systems to do with roles without Moses seem lost and headless and even worse without Asi, concernedly. It’s almost as if they’re headless without a steering wheel. Arthur can’t escape responsibility, here, too, as he sets up the systems.

However, as suggested a few weeks ago in the review there are other more fundamental issues beneath the surface.

It was a question raised a few weeks ago - with the rebuild question - in the round five preview.

Actually, the Eels have had warning signs surrounding their culture throughout the Arthurian era.

But, it's now the drums are beating louder.

 

Approaching the half-century of blowout losses

Considering it’s Arthur’s 49th NRL blowout loss of an 18-point margin or more as Eels’ coach, in eleven seasons at the helm, you would think he’d be used to it somewhat.

It was only two weeks ago, the Eels were once again smashed 41-8 against the Raiders at GIO in round five. 

Against the odds, they found a way to win the following week to upset the Cowboys 27-20 at Commbank - although the Cowboys were just demolished 42-6 by the Sharks in round seven. It's typical of the Eels' off-on week-on-week-off Sybilian culture.

2024 is the first time in the Arthurian era that the team has conceded two 20-point plus margin blowout losses - by round seven. That last happened in the double spoon-winning years of 2012-13 under the disastrous Kearney-Stuart epoch.

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You can see during Arthur's era there has been a constant supply of blowout losses even when the Eels were at their peak during 2019-2022.

Three of the last four years have seen between 20%-29% ratio of blowout losses. That's about one every four to five weeks on average.

To put that in perspective: the Eels are closer to the worse end of the spectrum. Since 2020, Penrith has experienced four 18+ blowouts at 3.6% (4 / 111) to date. Over the same period, Arthur's squad has had twenty in total including all finals appearances. The Tigers were the worst team in the competition over 2022-23, winning two wooden spoons and only 16.7% of games (won 8 / 48), and during that time they had a blowout loss ratio of 37.5% (18 / 48).

 

Can't perform week-to-week

Another concern during the Arthur era is the inability to win week-to-week. The Eels' are consistently inconsistent, and always have been. They are Sybil.

Arthur has had one six-straight win in his tenure which happened in 2017, seven years ago.

Compare that to Brian's Smith's era where the Eels were able to achieve up to 11-straight win sequences.

This is more evidence of cultural issues not being able to perform for too long.

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Another major concern, and perhaps the most alarming, is the regression of the Eels.

 

The Rise and Fall of the Eels

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The 2019-20 rebuild saw the rise of the Eels’ that reached its zenith in the 2022 grand final. 

But, since 2022 we have seen a regressive cycle of decline on many levels from a falling ladder position to disintegrating defence.

In 2019-2020 we saw a massive player changeover. Dylan Brown (debuted in 2019), Junior Paulo (returned from Canberra in 2019-now), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (2020-now), Shaun Lane (2019-now), Blake Ferguson, (2019-2021), Waqa Blake (2019-2023), and Maiko Sivo (2019-now). They all came in to compliment the pre-existing core of Gutherson (2016-now), Moses (2017-now), Nathan Brown (2017-2022), and Reed Mahoney (debuted 2018-2022). Out went Corey Norman, Jarryd Hayne, Beven French, Kenny Edwards (all left in 2018), Beau Scott (lasted 2 games in 2018) and a little later Manu Ma'u (left in 2019). Following that, key new recruits and juniors were strewed over the team over the next few years: Will Penisini (2021-now), Bryce Cartwright (2021-now), J'maine Hopgood (2023-now), and Isaiah Papali'i (2021-2022).

There was a lot of influx of talent and skill that saw the rise of the Eels and four years of consecutive finals, staying in the top eight.

2024 is the worst start to an Eels season in seven years since 2018 (when we were running 16th at round seven and ended last).

This time round a rebuild could revolve around a core of the likes of Moses, Dylan, Hopgood, Penisini, Lomax, and perhaps Cartwright who might last for a while longer and play a role. There's at least 600 NRL games of experience there to offset the 1200 lost. Obviously, fullback, the middles bookends and hooker and a few some "sore loser" tough nuts to steel the defence will be in the more urgent folder soon enough. Tick tock.

Oddly enough, during the Brian Smith era the Eels never hit as low as 14th at round seven mark. 13th at round seven was the lowest, and it happened in Smith’s final year which he didn’t finish.

One interesting difference between the Arthurian and Smith era, referring to the table above, is Arthur's teams seem to rely more on fast starts to the season and not falling off too much, whereas Smith's had solid starts and improved as the season wore on.

In the NRL era the Eels have only made the finals once when ranked 14th or lower: in 2009. But, that was on the back of Hayne, a once in a generation Eels’ player, in a once in a lifetime run - never repeated before or since. The current Eels don’t have that kind of luxury this time. So, there's much work to be done.

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There were warning signs in 2022 when we were 8th ranked defence and the worst defensively of all finalists.

If we use the axiom, defence is a barometer of “attitude” or the Jauncey “doing” and “processes” mindset - then the Eels’ headspace is as close to rock bottom as you want to get.

For the season to date, the Eels defence (14th, fourth-worst, conceding almost 26 points per game) is worse than the spoon year of 2018.

That's the worse in the Arthurian era from 2014.

It the Eels’ worse since 2012-2013 (conceded 28.04 ppg and 30.83ppg respectively).

This season, to date, the Eels concede the most linebreaks in the competitions (6.7 per game) according to current Fox Stats. That's more than the Titans (6.3) and  Souths (5,8) who are in struggle city.

The Eels have conceded 35 points per game on average for the last three weeks. 

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The regression has also co-incided with the aging of senior members of the squad that were instrumental in the Eels’ rise from 2019.

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Gutherson has been a warrior for the Eels, battling along despite knee issues being drained of fluid | Getty Images

Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paolo, Sivo are a few months shy of 31. Matto, Lane, Gutherson, Cartwright are a few months shy of 30. All are closer to the end of their careers than the middle and playing less consistently than through the peak of their careers. They battle signs are showing. Gutherson is on his last legs and there’s talk of saving some mileage in his legs moving him to the halves. Cartwright seems to have more mileage left, though.

Between those seven and there are around 1200 NRL games of experience, then throw in Big Joe’s 170 odd games into the mix.

Even without Moses there should be plenty of NRL experience to overcome excuses and poor attitude or mindset and to uphold the systems. So, something is very amiss.

12435014286?profile=RESIZE_710x Josh Kerr easily busting through the Eels' middle | Getty Images

When facing young, hungry lions even far less experienced in the ranks of the Tigers, Raiders, and Dolphins, they were beaten to the punch in all the fundamentals. They ran faster and harder than us. They tackled harder than us. They chased harder than us. Like an ageing heavyweight that is a fraction of a second too slow, leading to more regular knockout losses and an eventual demise. Sometimes, a car’s engine and gaskets start to give way. It starts overheating. A rebuild and some new engine parts are needed. 

The Crossroads

Despite all that mammoth NRL experience of our senior leaders and an eleven-year 261 NRL game coach who helped shape and build the team, the Eels have been imploding over the past month and could not stay in the fight against younger lions.

Coupled with all the statistics outlined in this blog, and the poor Cup and lower grades, it suggests there are some serious cultural issues in the club -  top-to-toe.

Arthur though has simplified it, and shifted all the blame on the players’ soft attitude to which the players have given the thumbs up on. Not for the first or last time. 

But, it's also the team he built. If the cattle are soft, he and the R&R committee, board, and pathways  either are incapable of or don't have the nous to recruit, retain or ability to get promising juniors into NRL readiness. 

So, if the coach can’t fix the problems and the senior players' leadership aren’t able to or can’t, who will?

The board have taken the slow and steady, non-knee-jerk reactive approach. Apparently, according to media reports Eels' club officials are looking very closely at how the Eels respond this Friday night; it's supposedly a "big week". Time will tell.

Overall, the stats and eye tests suggest we are in a regressive cycle requiring some form of rebuild - not just more speed, x-factor and athleticism in the backline in the not-too-distant future. 

We could get away with it during the 2019-2022,  offsetting the teams' "off-on" culture of blowouts and inconsistency, as the team was making the finals. There was enough talent recruited and developed to offset the inherent vulnerabilites.

The vulnerabilities could be hidden, then, and we could tolerate the blowouts and Sybilian nature of the Eels. It kept the drums quieter. But, the regression has opened all the floodgates and exposed the ever-present soft underbelly of the Eels to an acute microscope.

Maybe, a new head coaching voice would help. It has helped the Dragons, so far, and the Tigers to an extent. For how long, though, it remains to be seen.

But the board have not shown a willingness to act swiftly on coaching failures. Probably, in part because there isn't a heap of footy based nous in R&R besides Arthur and O'Neil, a fear of the devil you don't know, and a resting on one's laurels in relation to 2019-22 and their financial successes appeasing their strong financial background. They seem to have a "the turtle wins the race not the hare" mentality - hoping or expecting the Eels should make the finals - and get the Arthurian train back on track.

Realistically, the Eels still have too much class and enough powder left to get out of this hole - especially once Moses returns. Incredibly, they are only two points out of the eight. So, the competition's instability helps. And it may help plaster over the cracks when or if the Eels improve.

But the drums are beating. And the clock is ticking - not just on this season.

On Friday night, if history and form guides count, then Manly will be looking to make good on their threats fired in round three, when they shot off to a 14-0 lead after 12 minutes and looked set for a cricket score against our vulnerable defence. And that was against a stronger Moses-led Eels team. 

It’s also likely to be high-scoring as both team’s defence is vulnerable, both collectively conceding almost 50 points per game.

We could see another heavy loss for the Eels if they’re “off” for a while.

But there should be a bounceback from the Eels. Whether it will be enough remains to be seen. Knowing the Eels Jeckle-Hyde persona they may pull off an unlikely win, temporarily getting themselves up for redemption of sorts,  plastering over the craters in their systems and culture.

Either way, history shows we will be returning to all the more serious questions raised here. It is a matter of when, not if. The clock is ticking.

 

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  • I don't think we can make the 8

    • Well the 5 weeks before the bye without Moses was crucial in the sense that winning 2 or 3 of those games helped us enough for when Moses is back. Wests Tigers was winnable and if we won that we would be sitting a lot better. But now 1 from 5 seems logical and then Brisbane off a bye could be 1 from 6.

  • great blog HOE. 
    Our aging roster is a massive concern, especially when we need to replace aging front rowers at a time our backline is bog average.

    I love RCG but he's 31 this year, there's a bloke from St Helen's that's not as big as him but plays similar in Matty Lees , their off contract the same time.

    Both clubs would be open to a swap ,and Lees is 5 years younger.

    The club has to make some roster moves, these moves won't be popular with many but are a necessity.

    The time is now.

    • Excellent points, Bup. Agree. And thanks for the kind words, mate. 

      Spot on. We've got a bit of time up our sleeve, but not a hell of a lot. Our front row and fullback will be in the critical basket in the not too distant future. 

      I suspect some of the greater inconsistencies we're seeing week to week now, are due to frustrations of a headless Moses less team, the usual Eels off-on mental switches, and ageing factors for key senior foundation players losing those fractions of a second that count in a game of inches.

      The point Gus made about last week being in part a result of weeks of frustration building up I suspect is true. But, it could be worse.

      Darwin was probably the straw that broke the camel's back. Hence, explaining, 0-40 in 25 minutes.

      They look a tired team.

      If you go back to mid last year,  from R17, 2023 and from the R18 bye it helps provide context. 6 wins from 15. 1 from 7 away.

      Since then, other than the good R26  Panthers win last year at Bluebet -  the Eels only away win since R17 last year - and a decent R1, 2024 win against the Dogs - the Eels have struggled to win games by much.

      They've had to fight hard for their wins, grinding them out. But in the interim, they've had some heavy losses since that time. 

      • L 10-46 Warriors, CommBank (R19, 2023)
      • L 16-46 Storm, Melbourne (R22, 2023)
      • L 10 - 54 Brisbane, Brisbane (R24, 2023)
      • L 12 - 34 Roosters, CommBank (R25, 2023)
      • L 8 - 41 Canberra, Canberra (R5, 2024)
      • L 16 - 44 Dolphins, Darwin (R7, 2024)

      It's akin to a boxer slaving away to win the odd match on the unanimous scorecard on points in a slugfest. But most other mstches losing by getting belted up badly and knocked out one too many times.

      It doesn't do much for your confidence either; the proof being in the pudding.

      There's probably some frustration as well that the long, hard off season doesn't seem to be paying off as well. That "proud" tough talk has died down. It doesn't seem to have changed the big picture trajectory, a regressive cycle, the Eels are on.

      Knowing the Eels we should see some bounce back this week and more "on" switches with the fundamentals. Will it be enough to win is the question. 

      • Hi Hoey,

        Great write up and the stats are quiet compelling. That said I want to make some point's about a few issues.

        Firstly I think too much is being made of our "aging players"....they really are not the issue, in the right balanced team they have huge beneficil roles to play.

        I said in the "orf seezun" that our problem was always going to be speed! Everyone sort of understands our short comings but you alerted to the fact that we need to grind our wins out!  now that is the real problem.

        I was rabid about getting JAC and anyone else that could run....the main reason being is it is very hard to break hearts when you cannot put a big score on quickly. JAC and a centre with attacking ability .....yes in hindsight that is now Lomax, that means we are only a JAC away. So why is this so important?

        We only have to go back to Friday nights game and it falls out in front of you! We lead 8-4 at oranges and most would agree it should have been 20-4 or plus..... the missing ingredient was not getting lost in their/phins red zone, Phins have every right to tackle and did so against an attack that had nothing. i.e if we had Sivo and Moses we know that Sivo would have scored Russell's try attempt, if we had a JAC we would have had another attacking force, if we had Lomac we would have out jumped them......well what does this mean, we would have broken their hearts as against them breaking ours.....go back to last years game against Phins and see the second half scores after we put 40 on them in the first half?

        The situation was worse because we were also outsmarted in Darwin by their little fast player and a very good hooker who tore us apart from dummy half. Our defence crumbled through the exhaustion in the heat and the grind to not achieve the half time score we should have had......dont worry put 20 on a side in that heat and your heart is broken.

        This leads me to the wrist cutting, sacking, clean out mentality that has been happening since 11pm last friday night.

        In the cold hard light of day analysis, you come back to what you said about grinding!

        The stats become meaningless in the shape of the team and yes it is time for BA to go and the Head of Football as well.....they have both done good jobs but this season has exposed our limitations and the problems we have with recruitment i.e. apparently our offer to JAC was 450k and that is rediculous because some group of 5 came up with an Algorithm that said we don't pay any more for a winger.....find out internally who came up with the Algorithm and sack him on the spot! If the board members are responsible we are back in the dark old days when they picked sides.

        So before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, make sure that those babies are not the problem.....coach and hof have to go and we need to build a team with a backline to exploit opportunities, our reserve grade could defend against our current lot.

        Finally there is nothing really wrong with the forwards that a kick up the arse could not fix, they are rooted because they are doing the "grinding" the backs are not capable of scoring points.

        You will find that a smart man like Bennett will add those couple of missing ingredients and keep the basis of the team, he will prune from there by making his own judgements, you don't need a HOF with Bennett, just recruit a pathways coach who is the next smartest person in the system (outside of Parra). 

        PS you won't need a 5 man committee, benevolent dictatorship always works the best!..... if we cannot get Bennett get some one with the balls to be that Dictator.....we have a very active Lynch Mob on here who will delight in telling him everything he is doing wrong.

         

        • Yeah well said Poppa. The issue with our club is everyone is comfortable. They might be doing a competent job in the sense that the place is not a basket case and we have done ok in the past. But since the times are getting more difficult they are not smart enough in terms of knowing the game to how to get us out of the decline. 

          Paul Kent said BA needed to rustle a few cages, i agree with him but not in regard to BA. Someone needs to rustle a few cages and that person is Bennett. With Bennett you get someone who you do not need to monitor or even check to see how they are going. No issues will come out off-field and keeping/signing players will be a hell of a lot easier. Though Bennett will come in with an iron fist and demand excellence and his way only. That is rustling cages but are the club (everyone involved) ready for that after years of being comfortable. If not Bennett get someone who is not afraid to give it a go and call it like it is. Not saying to hire him, but Madge would do the same. Not saying hire him simply an example.

          It is the concern further where if we have a decent middle part of the year and finish say 4-6 points out the 8, Moses being out will be the blame, BA is here in 2025 and nothing in terms of structure, tactics and preparation will change and everyone will believe if Moses was here all year we go onto bigger and better things.

        • Pops, great post & points.
           
          Part of that lack of belief / confidence in the group could also be stemming from the Eels inability to finish inside red zones, due to missing those outside backs (and attacking strategies) you speak of who turn opportunities into points.
           
          Points bring confidence, momentum, a chance to rest & force the opposition to defend, score chase, make errors.
           
          Opportunities missed, heads drop, confidence falls, opposition confidence grows & momentum shifts.
           
          Definitely metrics that aren't guaged in statistics, unfortunately, but are vital.
           
          Its undeniable that our forwards are having to work far too hard.
           
          As you said, Lomax will be huge here & in many areas, but we might need 1-2 more yet & definitely a winger.
           
           
          • Nos, I think it is the balance of the side, shape if you like. We really miss the "new" Carty he gives the pack a shape of penetration, likewise we obviously miss Moses for all the reasons we understand. We can at some point put a very competetive team on the field with the exception of that missing ingredient of "speed".

            The forwards are so much more effective with a ball running second rower and we really don't know if Hopwood can play that role. I would start with Matto at lock and Hoppy on an edge to give us some shape back, at least until Cartright comes back. Hoppy has played a lot of edge and he is smart enough to put himself there, I just worry if BA is lateral enough in his thinking to do it. 

            If we are fair in our judgement of BA is that he does not appear to have any lateral thinking ability and this probably emphasises his lack of management experience. If you are in charge of a process, the first thing you do is get someone smarter than you to implement it! Then you can sack him if it doesn't work, better than falling on your sword!

            You know he could be a real top line coach, a legend if only he understood those principles of management. Try and think back did BA ever have a mentor. Bellamey has been a bit of a failure with his understudy's as has Hasler and was Toovey in charge when BA was at Manly?

            Interesting thoughts with the right leadership.....needless to say the two headed leadership of the board suffers from the same principles and that is surprising until you stop and think, Accountants are not usually lateral in the sense of dealing with dysfunction and banking is in its worst stage of evolution in history, not since Shylock realised he could not spill a drop in grasping his pound of flesh has banking been at such a low.

            Maybe asking too much for a NRL management team.

        • Poppa, thanks mate. You make plenty of valid points. We need more speed for sure. Lomax will help, but we probably need some more.

          Yep, absolutely, we haven't really had a really large, dominant win since R17, 2023 (beating the Dolphins 48-20 with a team that wasn't all that different from Friday night). But, we've had six huge losses since then. 

          • The six blowout losing margins since R17, 2023:  -22, -28, -30, -33, -36, -44
          • All the winning margins in that time, mostly griding affairs:  +1 +4, +6, +7, +14 (Panthers, R26, 2023), +18 (R1, Dogs our biggest win); all were Commbank except the Panthers game

          The lack of speed is also a problem for our defence. If the likes of Saab, Koula, Turbo, even Garrick get in the clear on Friday it's lights out. They can get 16-20 points off their speed men if given a chance. If we play like last Friday, we could see an even bigger cricket score but we should bounceback.

          We miss Moses' speed badly for both our attack and cover defence (helping Dylan and Gutho) - not just his organisational skills, defence and dominant voice - as the most dominant voice in the team.

          So, yes, I am agreeing with you. 

          Yet, I also suspect our problems are far deeper than just speed which I've outlined in the blog.

          You'll note the big wins since 2019 have largely had similar cattle - besides Ice, Nuikoire, Reed's (and Waqa's) absence from 2023 and they're not speed demons beside Waqa who became a liability.

          On our defensive woes: if you review the 40 points the Dolphins scored in 25 minutes it was more due to our inability to do the fundamentals and some old habits. It's a bigger issue than speed.

          The first try the Dolphins scored to level the score 10-10 that set off the snowball was in part due to an long-standing issue - our compressed defence around the rucks and lazy inside men - which causes our edges to be vulnerable is a common issues. It meant Penisini and Russell were hopelessly outnumbered and easy pickings for a fast-sweeping, direct running Dolphins. People always say oh the outside defence should have slided or jammed in, but this issue just stuffs us up either way. It's like a broken record player this issue. 

          Then, we were like butter in the rucks. Marshall, on numerous occasions went through some sloppy, hopeless defenders through the ruck: our forwards. The likes of Paolo and Cartwright. When John Kerr busted through in support (off a Marshall offload) he looked like Usain Bolt compared to our middle men.

          The Dolphins basically ran harder, tackled harder, chased harder, and wanted the game more. We wilted under the heat of both the Dolphins and Darwin. That's basically why they won. The issue is deeper than a lack of speed.

          The forwards and the team has had plenty of kicks up the arse, but they revert to the usual habits and switch off. 

          I think that alone hints at cultural issues.

          Then, when you look at the lower grades and the regression overall, the drums are getting louder.

           

          • No arguments on any of that Phil but the issue I was trying to emphasise was that the "grind" is our problem and that comes back to the points I made about our attack. I am also less worried about the aging issue as much as the shape of our pack on any day we don't have Carty. ie we dont have that running style backrower that you point out when Kerr got in the clear last week.

            I would go for Angus Crichton if he becomes available.

            Finally our depth has just seemingly disappeared, we seemed to have had a formidable pack, that has just melted.I believe this is the "grind" I keep referring to. The backs and the lack of speed was always going to be our achillies.....too think we could have got JAC for an extra 100k is something I find unfathomable.

             

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