With rugby league returning last weekend we got our first look at the new refereeing system with the six again call used pretty regularly in the Parramatta vs Brisbane clash.

Winning the middle has now become more important than ever as a team on the back foot can easily end up defending for an extra two or three sets.

Parramatta's team seems well set up for this shift in playing style.

The Eels have always preferred a faster game. Playing off the back of offloads, quick shifts of the ball and dummy half runs have all been synonymous with Eels teams that have won the comp or gone deep into the finals.

Props Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard provide plenty of starch defensively but carry the ball strongly in attack. They require three sometimes four defenders to bring them down and Paulo's ball playing skills mean defences can't just number up on him.

Reed Mahoney is proving himself a crafty player around the ruck and his quick passes out in front of the halves give the Eels immediate width they can exploit with their backrowers.

But the real ace in the hole for Parramatta is their backline. The size of their wingers means they get their sets off to good starts while Jennings and Blake will often beat their opponent one on one. Clint Gutherson suits a high tempo game with his superior fitness and support through the middle.

In terms of support players, there are almost none better than Gutho. Whether there is a line break in minute one or minute 80, he'll be there pushing through the middle.

A key improvement in the Eels halves so far this season has been how direct they've played.

Dylan Brown and Mitch Moses both look to attack the line as soon as they get the ball, opening up their support players to exploit gaps and panicking defenders.

Take Maika Sivo's try in the first half against the Broncos as an example.

The first time Brown got the ball in the match he took the line on and threatened to break through.

Then later in the first half, Brown gets the ball at second receiver 10 metres from the Brisbane line.

All three outside defenders turn as soon as he catches, waiting for him to step. Instead, Brown fires a pass to Jennings who uses some neat footwork to give Sivo enough room to put the ball down.

While Jennings' footwork gave Sivo the room he needed, it was Brown's straight running earlier in the match that forced the Brisbane defenders to stop when he got the ball. If Brown doesn't run earlier in the match then it's highly likely the Broncos defenders are just waiting for him to pass and kick and they easily shut Jennings down.

This newer style of play does mean halves have to play more direct, and judging by the way both Brown and Moses have attacked the line so far this season, they will benefit the most from it.

We are only one round into the six again rules and it's likely defensive patterns will adapt as players get more match fitness. But Parramatta's directness in attack coupled with an ability to play at a high tempo and promote the football means they are well placed to take full advantage of defensive lapses.

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  • Super, Superbly written as usual. Journalist quality,  following in Phil's footsteps.

    I agree the battle of the ruck is now on steroids: even more critical to win, quicker. You can gain ascendancy and momentum quicker. 

    But, as good as we've played and the progress we've made, I'm going to wait until we are against the wall before I can ascertain how much progress: how much our defence has improved.

    We've had astronomical amounts of possession and had low tackle counts. We haven't been tested and knocked to the canvas yet. When teams like Manly, Storm, or Roosters get a roll on in the middle, and put us to the sword, we'll get a better idea if we still have a glass jaw when we get hit. 

    Time will tell. I'm cautiously optimistic. 

    • Like like like !!!!

      • Lol. Thanks Carlo. Is that directed to me, in which case I'm honoured, or Super hahaha?

        • Both of you !!! 

          Loved all of it lol

  • I think it's really too early to say if the new rules suit the Eels. As the refs settle into these are new rules and sides actually figure out how to exploit the rules things may change. It also depends on the individual  referee. 

  • Nice write up, Super. Some good points. I agree that a big factor in the Eels' favour is Moses and Brown continuing to challenge the line and thus straighten up the attack. 

    I felt the Broncos had not corrected a flaw in their game that was evident last year in the 58-0 flogging. The Broncos halves did not run straight enough and thus their own halves nullified an otherwise big and mobile pack. 

    The challenge for the Eels will be sustained repeat sets by the opposition, especially in our quarter. In 2019 the Eels often faltered in defense in those circumstances. We have not yet faced a glut of possession against us yet in 2020. Will our defense, which has been noticeably good so far, absorb the pressure? To be decided. 

  • It's no coincidence that our halves are playing more direct now that the 8th is on our halves coaching roster.  Andrew  Johns was a master at having retreating defenses in two minds.  They talked about this exact topic on NRL 360 tonight. 

  • The rules changes suit us in attack,  there is no doubt about that. However,  we have barely defended yet to know whether we can grind out a win under these new rules. 

    Time will tell. Hopefully Manly tests our defence and we pull through with another Win.  

  • Good read.

    Key for us is Dylan Brown running the ball early and threatening the line. This will open up space for Lane and the outside backs. 

    Nice write up Super. 

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