French and Gutherson future of Eels
In Bevan French’s first official game named in the fullback position showed that the hype surrounding him as the future of the club has merit to it as he scored a hat-trick to take his career tally to 16 tries from 12 games. He showed very astute attacking instincts and fantastic positioning as he pounced on offloads from Semi Radradra and Clint Gutherson for two of his tries while his third try came from being in precisely the right place to catch a Brad Takarangi kick back in-field. His ability to defend and make cover tackles is still very questionable but it’s a weakness in his game which he has a chance to work on in the off-season.
Clint Gutherson has also had a rather outstanding season in a year of disaster for the Eels. Covering just about every position in the backline possible Gutherson has put his best foot forward each time with his new venture into the halves a surprising success. His willingness to take the line on often makes him a dangerous runner of the ball and he has a good offload in the tackle which has produced a few line breaks. With his determination and efforts in the last few weeks it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to stay in the halves next year. The Eels have freed up space in their cap to make a play for a superstar half but with no real stand-out options off-contract this year they have unearthed a very capable fill-in.
Eels send off Parramatta Stadium with a good win
30 years after their first game at Parramatta Stadium the Eels played their last game there and gave it a fitting farewell with a solid victory over St George Illawarra. Coincidentally the Dragons were also the first team they faced when the ground opened and the scoreline was 36-6 which looked like repeating itself midway through the 2nd half.
It was a contest very much befitting of two teams with little more to play for than pride. The handling was atrocious as the Eels made 12 errors to the Dragons 10. However the Eels found plenty of points through unstructured footy and were easily able to out-enthuse the Dragons. Brad Takairangi’s return was beneficial as he set up two tries and kept the Eels right side defence safe for all but the last 5 minutes of the game. Michael ‘Flash’ Gordon had a good outing as well, having a perfect night with the boot and scoring a try in his last home game as an Eel.
Dragons limp into last round
It would seem whatever got into the Dragons in their game against the Sharks was a one off. The Dragons put in another average showing with poor goal-line attack and attitude in defence. The Dragons forced consecutive repeat sets on the Eels goal-line for no reward while they simply stood and watched as Kenny Edwards took a quick tap on a penalty to run in under the posts untouched. Two late tries to Kurt Mann helped inflate the scoreline and make it look more respectable but by then the Eels had switched off.
The Dragons lacklustre performance wasn’t helped by some mid-game injuries to some of their key forwards. They will be without Tariq Sims for Round 26 as he re-aggravated an ankle injury while Tyson Frizell suffered a knee injury who tried in vain to play on but couldn’t, putting him in some doubt for next week. It was hardly an excuse for what the Dragons cooked up which will once again have fans concerned about the direction their club is headed.
Do the Dragons have an answer to the future?
With club announcing that Benji Marshall would not be at the Dragons next year they gave Drew Hutchison his first game of NRL for 2016. He was solid without being remarkable. He scored a good solo try just before half-time using his strength to power over the line as he ran it himself on a backline play. However any hope he might be the miraculous answer to the Dragons problems went unanswered. His kicking game was serviceable but it didn’t really change how the Dragons attacked all that much. One game doesn’t tell a whole story but rather it exposed the fact that the halves aren’t the only thing wrong with the Dragons.
Their game plan mostly seems to revolve around set plays and structure but they don’t have the right players to execute it as well as a team like the Storm do. Their forwards often lack the power to bash and barge up the middle while the direction from Rein out of dummy half can sometimes stifle their attack. This in turns lead to a team that gives their halves nothing to work with and it’s what made Marshall and Widdop overplay their hand throughout the year.
While Rein will also not be at the Dragons next year they have no real replacements lined up and haven’t made any signings to bolster their forward stocks. The Dragons need a change in their coaching structure as far as developing their attack goes and buying or retaining the right players to play to a rejuvenated game plan. None of these problems are likely to find solutions until the off-season in what should be an intense period of planning a re-build of the club.
Parramatta Eels– 30
Tries: Bevan French (17m, 49m, 63m), Kenny Edwards (30m), Michael Gordon (69m)
Goals: Michael Gordon 5/5
St George Dragons– 18
Tries: Drew Hutchison (39m), Kurt Mann (76m, 79m)
Goals: Gareth Widdop 3/3