Just when you thought the Eels were getting back on track, they turned out their worst performance of the season in a 38-0 beatdown at the hands of the Rabbitohs.
The Round 16 opener was a clash of one team coming into form and one team falling out of it in a hurry, and it proves once and for all that timing a run is everything in the NRL.
It’s why clubs like the Roosters and Storm have been so successful for years in this competition, and why Wayne Bennett has had so much success. They understand premiership aren’t won in the first half of the season.
You merely set up for them during that time period. Premierships are won during the second half of the season, and while the Eels are going to need a major turnaround over the next month to stand a snowball’s chance in hell, the Rabbitohs might just be starting to sneak up as an outsider.
If you rewind to the end of Round 8, they had just beaten the Cowboys 42 points to 4 and had won seven of their first eight. They were strutting around like they owned the place, and frankly, they did. They looked unbeatable to the point they were being installed as premiership favourites by many.
But then things started to go pear-shaped. They squeaked past the Newcastle Knights, lost to the Tom Trbojevic-less Sea Eagles and then only just beat the Tigers. The sub-standard performances continued, despite winning a majority of games until they suffered a shock loss to the Dragons at home in Round 14.
That seemed to be a wake-up call though, because last week, they beat an undermanned Melbourne Storm – and not only beat them. They held their opponents to zero.
A blip on a pretty average radar it turned out to be though, because Parramatta then failed to turn up to Bankwest Stadium last night as the Rabbitohs ran 38 points up on them.
Flip to the Rabbitohs, and the story is virtually the opposite. They hadn’t beaten a top-six team all season before last night, but all of a sudden, look like world-beaters. And a go-steady approach should still be applied, because not only were Parramatta woeful, but the cardinal and myrtle play Melbourne next weekend.
But, as the old saying goes, you can only play what’s in front of you, and the Rabbitohs have done that over the last fortnight. To the tune of 56-16 over the Sea Eagles last week, and 38-0 last night.
They have more than secured their place in the top eight, and while it’s still hard to be convinced they will be in with a shot at winning the premiership, the finals, particularly for those teams in the top four, is a different ball game. That is not a result completely beyond Wayne Bennett’s side at this point.
If they run through to the end of the season, they could well leapfrog the Eels, who are now only four points ahead.
This team in the top four could do some damage playing as they did last night. It was the intent on offer which was startling to watch, allowing Damien Cook and Cody Walker to run amuck, while Cameron Murray also had a superb game.
The win was certainly soured by Latrell Mitchell’s injury, but with a capable replacement in Alex Johnston waiting in the wings, it may not be the death knell some will make it out to be.
Even if a premiership appears to still be out of the question for the Rabbitohs, they are probably closer to it than the Eels.
As mentioned, their form has been woeful, but it’s not just the form line or results sheet which should have fans of the blue and gold worried.
It’s the way they lost. They got absolutely picked apart last night, and Brad Arthur could well spring mass change on his side in an attempt to get them playing at their best then. Ferguson and Blake could be among those potentially making way.
Statistics will indicate Parramatta defended far better during the first eight weeks than they have been recently, and that was plain for all to see against the Rabbitohs. They got destroyed on both edges, particularly where Blake Ferguson and Waqa Blake got beaten time and time again while some of the attempted defence in the middle was lazy at best.
Missing 43 tackles in anyone’s book is unacceptable.
From that far superior defence, the Eels were then able to build an attacking game plan off high possession and territory percentages. That hasn’t been the case, and last night they looked lost in attack with passes going every which way, but nothing of any substance actually looking likely to happen.
Not only has their attack been a mess, but Mitchell Moses never recovered his form from before he was forced out with injury.
While fullback Clint Gutherson’s form had been keeping them ticking, even he couldn’t do anything for the blue and gold as the Rabbitohs handed out a beatdown.
While in normal circumstances, an individual loss wouldn’t spell the end of a premiership run, it looks very much like it for Parramatta. No team winning a premiership gets beaten like they did just five rounds from the end of the season.
There simply isn’t enough time to turn that around, and the last two months of performances to put them back up alongside the Storm, Roosters and Panthers as genuine contenders to take out this year’s crown.
Unless their forwards can rediscover their mojo to put the side in dominating positions, the defence can recover and Moses can get back to his best, the Eels won’t go within coo-ee of a title.
The blue and gold are falling apart, and the wait for a premiership at Parramatta may well go on as once again the NRL strikes those without appropriate planning and management of one of professional sport’s toughest seasons.
Because timing is everything in this competition. 20 weeks is a long time in footy.
The Eels just found out one week is long enough.