If the question is how the Parramatta Eels win the competition in 2020 and break the longest drought in their history, then surely Thursday’s win over the Tigers leaves no doubt the answer is Mitchell Moses.
It’s almost beyond argument that the Eels have looked well off their best in the last fortnight – like they were missing their leader.
Sure, they murdered the Cowboys in their first game without Moses, but that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence given how poor the men from Townsville have been.
Over the next fortnight a scratchy win over the Knights and a shocking loss to the Tom Trbojevic-less Manly showed more about where the Eels have been at and what sort of rugby league team they are without Moses.
Recovering from a calf injury is never an easy thing to do for a half, particularly when the first game back brings with it physicality and a slippery Bankwest Stadium turf, but after a slow start where Parramatta’s forwards kept them in the game against the Tigers, Moses all but took over on their way to an eventual 26-16 victory.
It was hard-fought and scratchy at times, but the class of Moses shone through.
And the forwards, particularly Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who has found a new lease on life this year, do deserve more credit than I’m giving them here. Without their tremendous work Moses simply wouldn’t have had a platform to lead the Eels through their come-from-behind victory.
But once the Eels had recovered from a fairly slow start against the Tigers, Moses took over the game. The men in blue and gold ran on 22 unanswered points, and Moses seemed to have a hand in most of them, even if he didn’t register an official try assist on the stats sheet.
While the Tigers are building something and were in the game for various patches, they lost their way big time in the second half, and the pressure, to go with the weight of possession, allowed Moses to control the game with his kicking and creativity.
Don’t get me wrong, Michael Maguire’s side were great in the early going, but they don’t yet have the experience to contend with a side like Parramatta for the full 80 minutes. In some ways it reminds you of where the Eels were themselves two years ago, only now blossoming into a premiership contender.
Dylan Brown also had his best game in a couple of weeks, and there is no small coincidence between that event and the return of his experienced halves partner.
By the time it was all said and done in Sydney’s west Moses ended up with a try, nine runs of the ball (some of them fairly dangerous), a line break assist, a forced dropout and well north of 300 kicking metres.
It’s that control when under the pump matched with the creativity when on the front foot that Parramatta have been lacking in the last fortnight. It shows on the scoreboard too.
The game to kick off Round 11 was arguably played in tougher conditions than the last two and against a far more physical rugby league team. The derby that has built up in the west of Sydney was felt in full force between the Eels and Tigers, and yet Moses was able to ensure his side went about their business methodically to score 26 points, just two fewer than they have had across the last fortnight combined.
It wasn’t only the physicality of the contest; the slippery nature of the ground played havoc too. Moses slipped twice on regulation kicks, while others were going head over turkey all night.
It makes Moses ball-handling and his splendid chip and chase effort for a solo try all the better, with the Eels half looking calm and composed.
It’s almost a shame Moses won’t rate a mention for Origin behind Luke Keary and Nathan Cleary, so good is his form, but he proved last night the difference he makes to the Eels.
One of the big problems Parramatta faced last year was the way they slumped as soon as they were away from their new fortress, and while that hasn’t been tested yet, falling behind to the Tigers have them a sort of litmus test.
Premierships aren’t won by an individual player, but they are won by tough teams who know how to fight back into contests, and that was just another perceived issue of the Eels last year – that once they were behind, the inexperienced squad found the going tough.
Now, with Moses directing traffic and another year of experience under the belt, their forwards manned up and got the job done.
As mentioned, Campbell-Gillard has been on another planet this year, but his 236 metres from 22 runs against the Tigers took him to a new level. His starting front row combination with Junior Paulo is among the best in the competition, while Nathan Brown also added plenty of starch in the middle third.
With the Eels clicking and Moses at the fore, this looks a side that can win the competition. While they can’t afford to start the way they did on Thursday against the big guns – think what the Roosters or Storm would have done to them – they can afford the odd slip-up, and if nothing else, it’s character-building to come back and win games like that.
No matter what the Tigers are building on their side of town, there was one team last night who will be there when the whips are cracking, and they were wearing blue and gold.