Resurgence of Parramatta Eels

The idea behind these pieces early in the season is to identify numbers or trends that might be something while filtering out those that mean nothing.

When it came to Kalyn Ponga in the halves, the numbers showed us something: he's more effective at fullback. Two weeks later and he's back wearing the number one jersey.

While they are the 2018 wooden spooners and it's easy to get excited about three wins against mediocre teams to start a season, there's something behind the opening four rounds for the Eels.

The 75% winning rate isn't going to stick. Chances are, it falls well below 50% by the end of Round 25. However, we can still take something away from this opening month.

The Parramatta back three is really good.

This time last year, the Eels were 0-4. The Blue and Gold faithful were mourning the loss of Semi Radradra to rugby union in what ended up being a season-long wake.

Most didn't realise when Radradra boarded his place to France at the end of 2017, but his carries, the terrorising of opposition defences, and the tries that came from nothing were the heart and soul of Parramatta's 4th-place finish that year.

Radradra ran for 148.9 metres per game in 2017. He finished second in the NRL in tries scored with 22 and only Josh Addo-Carr broke the line more than the Fijian (24 total).

Without a replacement for him in 2018, the Eels were a shambles. They finished dead last in tries and linebreaks while running for 150 fewer metres per game than the year prior.

While it's early days and the numbers they have produced so far are unlikely to be sustainable, the Eels appear to have bottomed out post-Radradra. And it's largely due to the back three that has replaced Radradra's output, and then some.

Fully recovered from the ACL injury he sustained in Round 20 in 2017, Clint Gutherson is back to his best. He's run for 826 metres over the first four rounds while handing out five try assists and scoring two himself. As frustrating as it may have been to be shuffled through four different positions in three seasons, the 20 games Gutho spent in the halves are now paying dividends.

This pass to send Michael Jennings over seems simple enough, but to recognise that taking one more step would force the defender to turn his shoulders before he makes the pass is where Gutherson really creates the try.

In his first reason with the Eels, Blake Ferguson is the only player in the competition that has run for more metres than Gutherson. Backing up the NRL-leading 200 metres he ran per game with the Roosters in 2018, Ferguson has found 880 through four at 220 metres per game to start 2019. Playing the Radradra role early in the tackle count, Ferguson earns his keep at the beginning of sets. He gets the Eels on the front foot, and from there, the forward pack gets to work.

It's not a number that will hold all season, but the Eels are running for 1,705 metres per game in 2019 which is up from 1,420 metres in 2018.

Much of that is down to Ferguson and the impact he has on a set in the first one or two tackles.

Making his debut this season, Maika Sivo was a little slow to start. However, his two tries in Round 3 and 194 running metres in Round 4 give us a better idea of what the 25-year-old might offer this season. Giving the Eels the Fijian feel in Radradra's absence, Sivo shows glimpses of his predecessors strength and lightness on his feet.

In the first try of his NRL career, he receives a handy pass from Gutherson, but there's not a lot for Sivo to work with. Leaving Matt Ikuvalu on his backside following a quick step before receiving the ball, Sivo runs straight through Joseph Manu and James Tedesco.

It's the sort of try - from nothing - that Radradra regularly created in 2017.

Yes, it's early in the season.

Yes, the Eels haven't beaten a side of note yet.

But these numbers are something. They are, at worst, a sign of improvement.

Should this back three keep their form and remain one of the best in the competition, they'll find Parramatta enough wins to avoid adding another piece to the cutlery drawer.

The average number of wins for the last-placed team over the last ten years is 5.2 wins. Already halfway there, the Eels can sign off on the commencement of the rebuild. This back three can provide them with a strong base to work from.


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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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