Bulldogs v Eels: Five key points
The Eels did their best to hang on but were overrun by the Bulldogs after suffering several injuries and getting through a mountain of defence. Here are five key points to take from the Bulldogs' 32-12 victory.
Defence-minded Eels have come to play
Parramatta were the punching bags of the NRL for two years, winning just 11 games across two seasons in back-to-back wooden spoon efforts in 2012 and 2013, leaking the most points in the NRL in each season at almost 30 per game. Those days are gone now.
And it may sound strange to say, given the 32 points they let in against Canterbury is technically higher than they averaged in that stretch, but look at how the game panned out. They were starved of possession with just 45 per cent for the game (yes, often it was their own doing), and ravaged by injuries which took their toll as two late tries – one of them against a 12-man defensive line with stricken centre Beau Champion sitting helplessly on the ground nursing a bung knee – blew out the score.
Most crucially they were able to defend their line for long stretches, and not only that, seemingly relished the challenge, urging each other on and growing in confidence each time they turned their opponents away. This is what Brad Arthur brings to a side. And while we're not getting carried away and tipping the Eels for the top four, under Arthur's watch they have come a long way from the rabble of recent seasons.
Brett Morris can play fullback
He's only played two games there, and only two games total in the past six months, but the former Dragons winger looks right at home at the back. He'll never be the ball-player that Jarryd Hayne or Billy Slater were and are, or even one-time five-eighth Greg Inglis is. He's probably more in the Anthony Minichiello mould – a brilliant support player and evasive runner who is at his most dangerous lurking around the back of an attacking raid or returning the ball in broken play. We're not going to go down the Des Hasler path of putting him in the NSW No.1 jersey just yet but he has started well and he's getting better. It will be interesting to see where this trend ends up.
Backline injuries are shaping up as match-enders
Parramatta have been on both sides of it now. Last week they ran riot against a Manly side that lost a bench player and had to move a forward to the centres when Clint Gutherson went down with an ACL injury early on. On Friday it was their turn, as centre Brad Takairangi shifted to the wing and back-rower Manu Ma'u to the centres following an untimely injury to winger Semi Radradra. The problem was exacerbated by halfback Chris Sandow needing to spend time off the field managing an ankle injury, and Arthur had run out of interchanges by the time Beau Champion broke down five minutes before full-time. Both Manly last week and the Eels on Friday hung in valiantly to be in front shortly before or after half-time but got blown off the park late. With just 10 interchanges and no luxury for coaches to carry a spare outside back on the bench, a match-ending injury to any of the back five is likely to prove pivotal in most games in which they occur this year.
Danny Wicks will be an asset
There had been plenty of speculation around how ex-Knight Danny Wicks would fare in his attempted NRL return after five years out of the game due to drugs offences. Wicks spent more time on field than planned due to the Eels injuries, but he looked far fitter than at any previous point in his NRL career. Wicks has shed around 20kg from his previous playing weight and showed incredible athleticism. He was tough to tackle and ran the ball ferociously. With Junior Paulo suspended and Richie Fa'aoso still no guarantee to get clearance to return, Wicks could prove a seriously astute signing for the Eels in 2015.
Corey Norman ready to lead
Fresh off a man-of-the-match effort last week, Eels five eighth Corey Norman was brilliant again in a losing cause. Norman was steady at best for the Eels last year; he provided much-needed stability alongside livewire Chris Sandow and had some good moments and good games. He was quite good, without being amazing. Not so this year, when he has been best on field for Parramatta in the first two games, setting up all three of his side's tries on Friday. First, an utterly pinpoint no-look catch-and-pass with Tim Lafai sprinting up at him set up Semi Radradra for the side's first try. After half-time a decision one-two helped makeshift centre Manu Ma'u to two tries in three minutes on almost the same blade of grade. For the first, running to the left, he held up the ball then delivered a short late pass to send Ma'u crashing over. The second was set to be an action replay until he dropped it on the toe at the last instant and the Bulldogs were unable to adapt, handing Ma'u a double. As the man seemingly most in danger from the club's possible recruitment of Kieran Foran, Norman is quickly making himself indispensable.