The NRL semi-finals have turned in a convincing semi-final performance, beating the Parramatta Eels 32-0 to set up a grand final re-match a week early. Here are my talking points from Saturday evening’s game.
Disclaimer before we go any further – I’m not talking about the referees today. Cameron Smith got sin binned, but unless I want to simply copy and paste my first talking points from yesterday regarding rules needing to be looked at, I have nothing knew to add.
The decision was correct with regards to the current rules.
Right, time for the actual talking points.
Did anyone really write the Storm off after losing?
This is not to say questions surrounding the Storm after their loss to the Raiders last week, weren’t valid, but this team didn’t win the minor premiership by six points for no reason.
They had the best regular season in recent history, and to write them off after one finals loss was madness by some.
The Storm are going to have a tough test next week – that there is no doubt about.
It’ll be infinitely tougher than the one they had against the Eels last night when they head to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the first time in club history to tackle the Roosters, but last night should give Craig Bellamy’s side plenty of confidence moving forward.
The Storm may not have gotten what could be considered a real test last night, but it doesn’t matter.
You can only play what is put on the park in front of you, and given just how confident the Eels would have been heading into the game, it was important for the Storm to shut them out early and be clinical.
Melbourne were exactly that. With the exception of their goal kicking (more on that later), they were perfect.
19 out of 20 completions in the first half, leading to five tries, on the back of hard-running forwards and a strong kicking game, as well as valuable contributions from the spine and outside backs.
Everyone did the job required of them, and it worked a treat with the game already over by halftime.
Parramatta shouldn’t let the ending be their 2019 memory
There is no disputing that being held scoreless and rolled out of the NRL finals wasn’t the way the Eels wanted to finish the season.
It isn’t the way any club would want to finish the season, to be fair.
And while the Eels need to learn from last night if they are going to improve into next year, they should also be able to look back on 2019 fondly.
For a season which started with the lowest of expectations from most fans and followers of the NRL, to finish in fifth spot, have a new home ground, and a new record for the biggest finals win in the history of Australian top-grade rugby league is an outstanding achievement.
They have unearthed some talented players for the future – guys like Reed Mahoney – have one of the most talented wingers in the competition in Maika Sivo, a good youthfulness to their forward pack, and the form of Mitchell Moses returning.
There are areas to work on, of course, but they have given the fan base a reason to believe again after some tough years.
Like the Manly Sea Eagles, who got bounced out on Friday by the Rabbitohs, the Eels have had a season which they can build on moving forward, and unlike this year, they aren’t going to be an underrated force heading into 2020.
Ryan Papenhuyzen might be the best young talent in the game
Big call, I know, because there are plenty of them floating around at the moment, but Papenhuyzen was sensational last night.
And frankly, he has been every time he has taken to the field this year.
Papenhuyzen is a player with a mountain of natural talent, a vision and high rugby league knowledge base to perform the right plays and be well-positioned defensively, but he also has the things you can’t coach.
Great acceleration off the mark, a strong top speed and strength for someone of his size.
His other great attribute is that, despite limited game time and opportunity earlier in the season, and his youth, he has taken to the NRL like a duck to water.
Not once has Papenhuyzen looked out of place, or like he doesn’t belong at NRL level, which is just another admirable quality in his first season of first grade.
There is no question that he is going to have first crack at the fullback role in the Victorian capital next season, and the opportunity will be there for him to make it his own long-term.
It’s even more insane to remember he was the third-choice fullback at the Storm before this season started, behind Scott Drinkwater and Jahrome Hughes.
He got his opportunity through injuries, but hasn’t let anyone down, and has made a name for himself.
Cameron Smith had better find his kicking boots
It was never going to cost them last night, but Cameron Smith completely lost the radar last night with his kicking, and it seemed to get to him.
In fact, Smith wasn’t his usual self at all last night. Outside of his goal kicking, there were a couple of other strange decisions from the captain, including the one to slap Reed Mahoney and find himself in the bin for ten minutes.
The match against the Roosters, with a spot in the grand final on the line next week, isn’t going se to be so forgiving for Smith and the Storm.
He needs to be at his absolute best, leading his side from the front in general play, getting his in match decision making right, and picking the right options.
In a season where the focus on goal kicking seems to have, at times, taken on a life of its own though, the Storm can’t afford to be throwing away points in a big match situation.
It could cost them a spot in the decider.
This hasn’t been a regular occurrence in 2019 though, it should be noted. Smith has been pretty good with his goal kicking, so the Storm will be hoping it’s a one-off.
Still, something wasn’t right last night, and it’s a concern nonetheless.
What do the Eels need to fix for 2020?
The Parramatta Eels, as I mentioned in an earlier point, should be mighty impressed with their 2019 season, but as I also made note, they need to learn plenty ahead of the 2020 campaign.
What will be promising for the club, and what should have fans feeling pretty buoyant, is the fact that all of their young forwards, and indeed backs, will have another year of footy under the belt.
There is no substitute for experience in the NRL, and it was evident at times last night that they needed someone with just that – experience – to stand up and take charge of the side.
It’s something they didn’t have though, and while the loss of Manu Ma’u heading into next year isn’t going to help their cause, the addition of Reagan Campbell-Gillard won’t be a bad thing for the club.
His experience is one thing, but the potential of the moustached Panthers forward could bode well for Parramatta if he can be anywhere near his best on a consistent basis – but that’s a tall order given the inconsistency he has shown over the last 18 months.
Around Campbell-Gillard though, the pressure on Mitchell Moses to play consistently away from home will be immense, while the rest of their young forwards – Reed Mahoney included – are going to be in the same boat.
Their nine and two record at home suggests they have that down pat, but an improvement on the road could make all the difference.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona gives the Storm a huge advantage next week
When he is at his best and heavily involved in games, especially during the first 20 minutes of a contest, Melbourne have no greater weapon than Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
The Kiwi forward might not be at the top of his game every week, but a player like him, an impact guy, isn’t always going to be punching out 100 per cent efficiency.
He topped all run metres last night, making 146, which also came with a healthy number of tackle breaks and dangerous creation for others, whether through offloads of drawing numbers in defence, followed by reasonably sharp play the ball speeds.
His start to the game was one of the key reasons the Storm were able to hold the wood over Parramatta during the early going, and he needs to be similar next week.
Where he holds the advantage over the Roosters, is that the tri-colours biggest impact player, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, will be out with suspension.
It means the Roosters will lack the punch in the middle third that Asofa-Solomona provides, while they also lose the guy who can stop Asofa-Solomona, and it messes with their bench rotation.
Of course, Asofa-Solomona isn’t the only reason to be concerned – Dale Finucane and Jesse Bromwich complete a menacing middle third rotation – but the Roosters had better find a way to shut him down, because if they don’t, Melbourne will find a way to score points.
Roarers, what did you make of the game? Drop a comment below and let us know.