The Eels got the job done but still have plenty to prove. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
The Eels got the job done but still have plenty to prove. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

What Dogs clash revealed about Parra

If a match is tryless for long enough, it crosses a line where the lack of points becomes the most entertaining thing about it.

It's usually around the 50th minute or so when a 2-all scoreline stops becoming dull and starts becoming wildly entertaining because the possibility of a 3-2, soccer-style score is in the offing. The lack of points becomes the point, if you get me.

It's all very post-modern - or as post-modern as rugby league is capable of being - and we looked set for it on Thursday night until Reed Mahoney had to ruin the day by scoring a try.

With no 3-2 scoreline - or a 2-all golden point draw, wouldn't that have been something? - to salivate over, let's take a deeper look at Parramatta's 8-2 win over Canterbury and what it can teach us about the season to come.

 

 

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CAN PARRA LEARN TO LOVE THE GRIND?

Premierships are not won in the early rounds of a season - just ask a Dragons fan - but when a team carries championship expectations into a season, like Parramatta do in 2020, it's not something that ever really disappears.

What stopped the Eels from ever truly hitting that level in 2019 was an inability to win matches in the arm wrestle. That's a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but what it means is quite simple - the best teams in the competition are able to trade sets with the opposition, earning incremental gains over the course of several sets until they break the opposition down.

The Storm are incredible at this, so are the Roosters and so are the Raiders. Every premiership team of the last 15 years has been able to do it and do it well.

 

Mitchell Moses and the Eels need to match it with teams in the arm wrestle. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Mitchell Moses and the Eels need to match it with teams in the arm wrestle. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

Such play does not come easily for Parramatta - they are a team made for sunny days and expansive ball movement and wild, loose attacking movements. But a season is made up of many a cold, grim evening where those things aren't weapons anymore, and a team needs to work their way out of trouble with the strength of their backs and the sweat of their brows.

Doing that to Canterbury is not easy, but with due respect it's easier than doing it to the premiership heavyweights, and even getting over the top of the Bulldogs required a fortunate bounce from a dropped kick.

The Eels don't need to be perfect at grinding out wins right now, but they do need to get better at it and the way to do that is winning games like this. They are not yet what they can be, and they're the sort of team that can grow in the telling.

"Some wins are going to be ugly, some wins are going to be pretty, we're just trying to change the difference between our best and worst games," star winger Blake Ferguson said after the match.

"A victory is a victory, and it doesn't matter how you get them."

 

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Blake Ferguson and the Eels won the grind against the Bulldogs, just. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images
Blake Ferguson and the Eels won the grind against the Bulldogs, just. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

 

 

 

THE DOGS ARE WHAT WE THOUGHT THEY WERE

Where Parramatta are not natural at the grind, the Bulldogs are nothing but. Canterbury's effort is so sincere and their willingness to the battle so endearing it's impossible not to respect them.

They might still be a few star players away from truly contending for the finals or the premiership, but the fight they show every week is a solid foundation for something greater.

"I'm just proud of them. I knew they'd come and play well," Dean Pay said post-match.

"The guts and the heart and the ticker they showed, and they kept turning up for each other.

"Some of it you can't coach - it's just in them. They either want to do it or they don't, and they want to do it."

As commendable as the Bulldogs effort is and has been, effort is not always enough. Points win games and it doesn't have to be many, but it has to be more than a couple.

Canterbury defended very well against their old rivals - once again, an unlucky bounce was the difference - but because they simply can't reply with many of their own it makes the margin for error so, so thin. It's a tightrope they can't walk every week, no matter how hard they try.

 

The Bulldogs can’t be accused of lacking effort, but it’s not always enough. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
The Bulldogs can’t be accused of lacking effort, but it’s not always enough. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

Having said that, the Bulldogs will not be an easy out at any stage this season, and their willingness to fight and fight again will earn them plenty of respect. Whatever Pay was building at the end of last year has stuck around.

"We're really happy with our defence. Other than that they didn't go through us," said club debutant Dean Britt.

"It's not a bad first performance, there's things to build on. They completed more than us, that's what got them home.

"They (Canterbury) were a tough team to play against (last year), and I feel like we picked up where it left off."

CHN A MASSIVE LOSS FOR CANTERBURY

There are far more troubling things about Corey Harawira-Naera's present situation than how the Bulldogs got by without him, but they did miss the Kiwi international badly.

As above, or as anyone who sat through this one will know, Canterbury have trouble scoring points, or even creating chances for those points. Harawira-Naera is one of the few players at their disposal who can beat a man, or break the line, or create space for his outside men by drawing in defenders.

Joe Stimson is an honest player, but he does not have the same attacking dimension, and more than once he and Lachlan Lewis got their timing wrong.

That's to be expected that Harawira-Naera was set to line up on that edge until a few days ago. Stimson and Lewis just don't have the chemistry yet but given Harawira-Naera will likely be on the sidelines for some time they'll have the chance to develop it at the very least. Dean Pay was complimentary of Stimson's efforts post-match, and the Temora product could be set for a long stint in first grade.

JURY STILL OUT ON PARRA PAIR

Brad Arthur was complimentary of Parramatta's star recruits, Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, after the match but the jury is still out on the new forwards.

Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown are Parramatta's two most important big men, and they were both strong in the first half amid a torrid physical battle with Canterbury. Dylan Napa played one of his best games for the Bulldogs since joining from the Roosters, and Adam Elliott was typically wholehearted with his efforts.

Arthur singled out Campbell-Gillard's enthusiasm for contact, which should be greeted as a welcome sign given the former Penrith man's struggles since his twin broken jaws.

"They were solid. Reg's intent is really good, we've just got to harness that to make sure he's effective all the time," said Arthur.

 

Ryan Matterson made his debut for the Eels. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
Ryan Matterson made his debut for the Eels. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

 

Matterson rose to the verge of Origin selection last year, but he is not a horses for courses replacement for the departed Manu Ma'u, who was such an attacking force down the Eels right edge last season.

The former Tigers has his own attacking skills, but Ma'u's footwork and offloads were a huge part of Parramatta's success in 2019, and his combination with Waqa Blake grew rapidly the more they played together.

Matterson will likely find his feet, and Arthur praised his calming influence after the match, but he doesn't offer what Ma'u did. He might in time, but not right now.


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