Five things we learned from the Eels' win
Ok, so it's only Round 1, and they won the corresponding fixture by a wider margin last season before collecting the wooden spoon completely uncontested. But without getting carried away, here are five things – good, bad or indifferent – we learned based on the Eels' showing against the Warriors.
1. Brad Arthur is the man for the job
The man who last season was largely responsible for the often-impregnable Manly defence appears to have instilled a new defensive resolve in his side. Probably the best example took place in the first forty, when the Eels repelled repeat set after repeat set as the Warriors earned penalty after penalty, absorbed all that pressure and came away with the ball and not having had their line breached. The dominant attacking side of the pre-season – who admittedly were not even close to clicking on Sunday night – were regularly frustrated. It's an effort we really can't envisage the 2013 Eels pulling off. After the match Arthur was not interested in discussing the wingers' hat-tricks or the 36 points his side scored, preferring to focus on the newfound defensive resolve. He also stressed it is too early to get carried away.
2. Nathan Peats is an 80-minute, NRL-calibre hooker
Stuck behind Issac Luke at Souths, often playing 20-odd minutes, one got the feeling Peats was capable of more. But with one of the game's best hookers in front of him for the dummy-half role as well as one of the NRL's most potent forward packs, including four Burgesses and Origin star Chris McQueen, Peats simply did not get the chance to show what he is capable of. He went into his debut Eels game without any back-up (there were four forwards on the bench and of them, only occasional five-eighth Joe Paulo seemed any chance of playing anywhere other than the pack) and responded with [a team-high 46] tackles, and around 100 running metres – many of which came via sharp (dare we say Issac Luke-esque?) dummy-half darts. His reading of the play seemed top notch and he barely set a foot wrong. He wasn't the star of the show but he did a lot of the nitty gritty and the signs for the Eels were all good.
3. Manu Ma'u fills a gaping void
What have the Eels lacked over the past three years of underperformance? Um... where do we start? What they don't lack is a genuine game breaker with match-winning X-factor (Hayne) or sting up front (Moimoi, Mannah, Lussick, etc). What they did lack was a top-tier halves combination (and the jury is still out on Kelly and Norman, although the early signs are encouraging), serious strike power out wide (and the early signs from Radradra and Hopoate, in particular, are encouraging), and a damaging back row ball runner. Season 2013 saw promising debuts from Kelepi Tanginoa and Peni Terepo in that kind of role, but little-known Aucklander Manu Ma'u brought some serious spark to the Eels' left edge. He formed a destructive combination with Radradra, and with the experienced, calm heads of Jarryd Hayne and Willie Tonga controlling proceedings, he was allowed to play what seems to be his natural game – running hard and fast at awkward angles at centres and halves who aren't equipped to handle him. Opposition coaches will no doubt go scurrying for footage of Ma'u; he won't be able to ambush sides every week like he seemed to do to the Warriors and it will be a different story against the elite defensive teams. But you can't help but feel Ma'u, as much as any of their new recruits, is exactly what Parramatta have been crying out for.
4. They were right about Hopoate
All season Arthur and the Eels players insisted people not expect miracles of Hopoate in his return following two years out of the game. And Hopoate kind of played like you'd expect a supremely talented 21-year-old to play if he'd had two years off – a bit rusty with some great touches. A sublime catch and pass – which looked easy but definitely wasn't – resulted in Toutai going over unmarked. When he found himself in space with only empty paddock in front of him he was comfortably run down by Shaun Johnson (who is, admittedly, one of the fastest men in the NRL). Essentially: Hopoate should be a great acquisition for Parramatta, but, as warned, fans will need to be patient. Remember, this is a 21-year old who hasn't played for two years, who joined the club with a total of 22 first grade NRL games (mostly on the wing) under his belt. He'll get there, but not overnight.
5. The Eels need to find a goal-kicker
While Chris Sandow was booting five from seven for Wentworthville against the Vulcans, new Eels kicker Corey Norman managed just two from five in very unconvincing fashion against the Warriors before being hooked in favour of Joe Paulo. Paulo's first effort from the sideline was comically bad but a repeat effort from the same spot scythed between the posts and he finished with two from three. However Paulo started from the bench – where he spent close to half an hour of the match – and using him for 80 minutes purely for goal kicking purposes would require Arthur to significantly change his game plan, particularly around how he plans to use Paulo. Short of recalling Sandow the short term answer seems to be a lot more practice for Norman but it will be a major issue in closer games if they can't get it right.