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What's the matter with Parra? Stats underline dramatic decline

Parramatta's recent form slide has generated plenty of debate this week with the blame game well and truly in full swing. 

Brad Arthur's men have struggled to maintain their early-season form in the run home to the finals and Eels fans can be forgiven for thinking they've been down this road too many times before.

Because, as recent as last year, they have.

The blue and gold army can split their season into two once again this year, and in recent weeks there were fears Clint Gutherson's contract negotiations may have proved a distraction in the run home but on Thursday the Eels released a statement saying discussions were being put on hold to allow the skipper to focus on football.

"The club and Clint’s management have agreed to put contract discussions on hold until the conclusion of the season," the statement read.

An opening 10 rounds of dominance that included nine wins had the Eels sitting comfortably in the top four to start the year, but since then they've backed it up with a 4-6 win-loss record that threatens to derail their season.

It was a similar story last year. 

In their first 10 games in a reduced 20-round format in 2020, the Eels managed eight wins early to sit atop the NRL ladder for two months before their form dipped to later crash out of premiership contention in the opening two weeks of the finals.

Parramatta's premiership credibility has been questioned before but in recent weeks Arthur and Gutherson have been in the firing line after the team slumped to three losses in a row following last week's loss to the Rabbitohs.

They've also lost six of their past seven games against top-eight opposition.

"After any loss, people are trying to point fingers to pinpoint what's going wrong but Brad's been here for eight years now and we're going in the right direction," Gutherson said this week. 

"We're going through a rough patch at the moment and are the only ones who can get ourselves out of it.

"It's just about getting a win on the board and it will probably all go away."

NRL.com crunched the numbers in a couple of key statistical areas to see where the Eels have struggled to maintain the dominance they had back earlier this season.

In the opening 10 rounds of the season the Eels ranked third behind Penrith and Melbourne for piling on points with ease at an average of 29.4 per game.

In the recent 10 rounds since that has dipped to 20.2 per game, ranking them 11th in attack alongside teams who are struggling to reach the finals.

Gutherson bemused by contract talk

Meanwhile defensively there has been a six-point increase in points conceded per game, meaning in total they have been almost 16 points per game worse off in the second half of the season than they were in the first half.

"We're missing that start and the jump and when there are too many points scored against us that's when we kind of fall apart," Eels forward Ryan Matterson said.

"It's about staying staunch in the middle and we'll take control. We back ourselves [to finish in the top four], we know we're not too far off from playing our best football."

Incredibly, their 19.3 points conceded per outing was still the fourth-best defensive record between rounds 11-21, with scoring at an all-time high across the competition.

However, the Eels' biggest concern defensively is a massive jump in break causes between the first period of the season and the second.

The Eels were ranked a healthy third in this defensive area with 48 between rounds 1-10, but have dropped to being the worst in the competition with a whopping 115 breaks conceded between rounds 11-21.

Try causes through 'lazy' defensive efforts have also increased from seven to 16 while the team has allowed an additional 400 post-contact metres to opposition sides during their run of struggles.

Penalties conceded are slightly up, but overall they remain disciplined for ruck infringements.

It's perhaps why Arthur wasn't so sure Mitchell Moses' return from a back fracture in last week's heavy loss to the Rabbitohs was instantly going to solve all the team's problems last week. 

The Eels have maintained solid numbers in the most common attacking areas with other sides in the competition but have suffered a small dip in common stats like metres per game, tackle breaks and line breaks.

Their usually reliable kicking game has also been not as consistent as the start of the season despite more kick metres than any other side between rounds 11-21. 

The team has reduced their forced dropout tally in the last 10 games while they've kicked eight balls dead compared to four earlier this season.

They've also gone from the best at conceding 20-metre restarts with nine in the first half of the season to the back of the pack with 23.

Gutherson however remains confident about his team's title chances despite the form slump that has come since moving to Queensland from their Bankwest Stadium fortress in western Sydney.

Sea Eagles v Eels - Round 22

"It could be a number of things but we've lost three in a row and are focused about getting back on track," Gutherson said.

"When we're on our day and playing the footy we can we believe we can [win the competition]. We're all in it together, we're a team here.

"We're not too far away. We've just got to get back into the winner's circle."

The Eels face a tough test this weekend with the Sea Eagles pushing towards a top-four finish when the two sides meet on Saturday.