Last night the Parramatta Eels validated the performances with which they had teased the NRL competition over the opening two rounds in a 32-18 loss to the Roosters at ANZ Stadium.
That scoreline tells a tale far from the reality of the contest – a match the Eels had in their palm for most of the night. Sure, the two points slipped away to the NRL champions in the last ten minutes, but this was a different Parramatta.
After nine years of ridicule, three wooden spoons and just one finals appearance, the Eels have changed. There is starch in the forwards and confidence and control in the backs, and Mitchell Moses is finally providing the ball-playing poise for which the blue and gold has patiently waited.
The competition benefits when powerful and well-supported clubs like the Eels are in full flight, and a chance now presents itself for the club to ride the wave and re-establish itself as a perennial contender. Exciting youngsters like Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown loom as ten-year players blessed with skill and smarts beyond their years.
With potentially the most dynamic wing combination in the NRL in the form of Maika Sivo and Blake Ferguson and a young and aggressive pack hungry for work, the Eels have nothing but upswing in terms of their future performance.
Of course the history books will say that the Roosters got the job done against the odds and skipped clear late in the game despite injury concerns. However, for 60 minutes the Eels looked like winners and a team capable of beating any NRL opposition.
Few forwards play 80 minutes of football each week in the NRL. Some hookers do and most teams have a backrower capable of the feat, depending on the needs of the coach and the state of the contest. However, the rotational approach taken in the modern game sees many starting forwards playing around 50 minutes on an average weekend.
Canberra’s Elliott Whitehead played each and every minute against the Knights on Friday night, and play well he did. However, his performance paled in comparison to the numbers accumulated by his English compatriot John Bateman.
It was quite possibly the most dominant performance by a mid-sized forward that I have seen in recent years. Take a peek at NRL.com and you will get a feel for what I am suggesting. Navigating to the Match Centre, you will be greeted with four key statistical categories that feature above the table that contains all the data on the 34 players involved in the game.
The four categories in question feature headshots of the players topping the charts, and Canberra’s side of the ledger has something of a pattern to it.
Most tackles? Bateman with 41. Most run metres? Bateman with 190. Most line breaks? Bateman with two. Most fantasy points? Bateman with 93. Toss in his 50 post-contact metres and the magnitude of his performance can begin to be understood.
With something of an old-school style, the 25-year-old from Bradford looms as the buy of the season, and Ricky Stuart will be grinning like a Cheshire cat with his new recruit in such brilliant form. With four Poms on the books, the Raiders have tapped into a potentially profitable resource – one that has paid less frequent dividends over the last 20 years thanks to the lucrative nature of the English Super League.
It was a performance to remember. Each of Bateman’s 16 runs threatened the defensive line, his tackles were purposeful and his ability to break tackles and create second phase play will be a telling weapon for the Raiders this season.
The Englishman broke a total of ten tackles and missed just four with a pair of effective offloads that kept the Raiders rolling through the middle. It was reminiscent of a certain Raiders backrower of years gone by.
Bradley Clyde, at one stage arguably the best footballer in the world, had a similar quality. The ability to maintain leg drive and surge forward amidst countless defensive bodies is a rare one and Bateman must surely have reminded a large portion of the Raiders faithful just how good Clyde was with his performance last night.
Good luck to opposition packs when they take Bateman on in 2019. He may look a little like a Datsun 180B or a Toyota Corolla, yet I can assure you he plays like a Ferrari.