This Saturday night the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels will clash in a top-four.
Placing second and third, you would think this would be a close match-up, but upon further inspection there’s little reason to believe this won’t be a blowout.
Parramatta have no chance. This is a battle between the benchmark the gold standard of the NRL against one the most inconsistent teams, against a team that’s won the most wooden spoons in the last ten years. They’re up against Melbourne, who have won multiple minor premierships and two premierships and have made the top four in all but two years of their existence.
The Storm have a winning culture embedded in them. The Eels have one of only occasional success. An average year for Melbourne would be considered an incredible accomplishment for the Eels.
The Eels have the longest active grand final drought and most wooden spoons of any current team. The most successful team isn’t losing a big game to one of the NRL’s great underachievers.
Yes, the Eels did beat the Storm this year 14-0, but Melbourne were missing eight starters, including Cameron Smith, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Jesse Bromwich – and even then the Eels only just won. If they can score only 14 on a reserve-grade Storm side, how much can they score against them at full strength?
The most recent Eels form guide against Melbourne with their main players in is ominous. Last year the Storm obliterated the Eels 32-0 in the finals and 64-10 in the regular season, which happened to be at Suncorp Stadium, the same ground that will host them again this weekend.
That’s 96-10 over two games. It’s the type of scoreline you’d see if a first-grade side played and under-16s team.
The Eels form of late reads poorly. They just beat a Tigers team without Benji Marshall, lost 38-0 to the Souths, lost to the Dragons, only just beat the Bulldogs, and barely beat the Sharks, who nonetheless scored more tries. They chalked up a win against the last-placed Broncos but were completely dominated by Penrith.
I read an article on The Roar claiming the Eels to be the worst top-four team of the year, and I have to agree. Fifth-placed Canberra and sixth-placed Souths are a much better teams with far better prospects this finals series.
Melbourne haven’t lost in 14 weeks with Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster in the team – in fact the Eels haven’t beaten the Storm with Cameron Smith playing in the side since 2012. I don’t see that changing on Saturday.
The Eels right-edge defence is off the mark. Their attack, especially in execution, is way off. The clinical and methodical Storm will surgically filet these Eels. Unagi, anyone?
Parramatta’s best aren’t going to cut it against the Storm and all have their limitations. The side currently has no Australian or New Zealand national players and only one State of Origin player, that being Blake Ferguson, who arguably owes his place to Nick Cotric’s injury
Mitchell Moses is great as a frontrunner and has confidence but can’t rally his troops and play weekly when trailing. Clint Gutherson is a great leader who shows effort and passion that can’t be questioned but lacks pace for a fullback. He also can’t kick, as we saw last week when the Eels played the Tigers, and he’s not a great passer.
Or Reagan Campbell-Gillard, their star forward who admitted he kind of gave up while at Penrith. Or Ryan Matterson, who left the Tigers in part because he was upset that training sessions lasted a bit longer then he expected. You wouldn’t hear that from Storm players.
But the main reason the Eels stand no chance is that they Eels lack mental toughness. They were up 24-12 against the Raiders with five minutes left and almost lost it. They were up 10-8 against Roosters late in the second half and were beaten 24-10 with James Tedesco leaving the field. They were up 16-0 on the Bulldogs and only just hung on against the team running second last who were disallowed a fair try. They were up 18-2 against Manly but only one of the worst refereeing calls for a non-existent forward pass stopped the Sea Eagles from winning.
This is a team that, when it matters most, can’t seal the deal.
When you look at it, the Eels are going not on the same planet as the Storm. The cream will rise to the top.
If Parramatta win I will apologise for my mistake here, but I see more chance of catching smoke with a net then the Eels getting up over the Storm.