Clint Gutherson played plenty of good hands for Parramatta – but it’s possible he put in his best ever performance in the Eels’ epic 22-20 win over the Panthers in the Battle of the West on Friday night.
Few gave the Eels a chance at Fortress Penrith after their dismal display against the Cowboys in Darwin last week.
I’m told Gutherson gave his troops a rocket during the week in a desperate bid to lift the team – and he led by example to end Penrith’s long winning streak at home.
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The stats show how good Gutherson was – one try, 164 yards, one line break, one line break assist, one try assist and nine tackles made down the back line without a miss.
More than that, Gutherson led his team tirelessly from the back, inspiring them and convincing them that the Panthers could be beaten.
It was a great all-around effort by the Eels and changed the narrative that this year’s competition is a two-horse race.
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So what was wrong with the Panthers?
They started well, came back to the Eels several times and had Parra battling for 80 minutes.
It largely comes down to just being one of those nights – the penalty try against them (good decision), a few bad rebounds that led to tries, a couple tries disallowed… those things are going to happen over a long season .
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But when Coach Ivan Cleary comes out of the hospital and thinks about the video, he’ll know that the 31 missed tackles the Panthers found are what killed them.
That’s probably the most his side have missed in the last three seasons – and it could be a return to tackle sacks this week.
Four in a row for the Cowboys
Rugby league teams and fans love to believe in omens – and here’s a good one for Cowboys fans. The 36-16 win over lowly Newcastle on Saturday night was their fourth win in a row.
The last time the Cowboys won four games in a row was in 2017 – and they made it to the grand finale!
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Todd Payten’s men have been one of the great success stories of 2022. Touted as a big chance for the wooden spoon before a ball is kicked, they play great football and deserve their place at the top of the ladder .
They were out of their first-half game against the Knights, trailing 16-12 at halftime, but propelled to a big second-half win.
Yet another Bellamy win
Note winger Nick Meaney as Craig Bellamy’s latest achievement.
Meaney joined the Storm this season after spells at Newcastle and Canterbury and was quick to make his mark in Melbourne.
The big winger had six tries in eight games and was outstanding in the big win against the Dragons yesterday.
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As well as scoring a sizzling solo try, the 24-year-old ran for more yards than any player on the pitch and created another try.
Bellamy has a knack for making good players better and you get the feeling that Meaney has a lot more tries in him on the Storm’s left flank in the years to come.
The Titans hit rock bottom
With just two wins in nine rounds, the Titans are shaping up to be one of the big flops of 2022.
Many pundits were advising the Titans to repeat their performance of reaching the Finals last season, but the team was a bitter disappointment in the first two months of the season.
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Justin Holbrook’s men hit rock bottom against the previously struggling Roosters, putting them back in shape.
Although they still looked a bit rusty, the Roosters finished convincing the 44-16 winners, with some of their tries scored with embarrassing ease.
Defense is clearly a major problem for Holbrook – his troops have missed 36 tackles in 80 minutes.
The Raiders finally back on track
The Raiders finally snapped a worrying five-game losing streak on Friday night – but they still have a long way to go to show they are a team capable of making it to the Finals.
In a game filled with mistakes, the Green Machine outlasted the unfortunate Bulldogs 14-4 to finally get to sing their victory song.
In the absence of Jack Wighton, the Raiders found an unlikely hero in Matt Frawley, whose solo try turned the game around.
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A truer test of the Raiders’ chances in the Finals will come next weekend in Magic Round when they face the strong Sharks side.
The Bulldogs hung on for much of the game, but their inability to score was again a major issue.
Harper is fine
One of the players I felt really good about in the ninth round was Manly center Morgan Harper.
Harper was hooked at halftime against Cronulla a few weeks ago after suffering a 40-minute torture session from runaway Sharks center Siosifa Talakai.
Trolls were quick to tear into Harper on social media and there’s no doubt he struggled.
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While rookie Ben Trbojevic grabbed headlines for his two-try performance in the win over the Tigers, that game was a game-changer as far as Harper’s career was concerned.
On his return from being dropped, Harper was not sensational but put on an error-free performance and – crucially – made 19 tackles while missing just three.
It was enough for Des Hasler to regain his confidence in the fast center – and Harper will now live to fight another day.
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Defense – the Broncos’ Achilles’ heel in recent seasons – has suddenly become one of the team’s strengths as they seek an unlikely Finals berth.
Kevin Walters’ men have won three games in a row – which is almost a ticket to the final in football these days.
But the most striking aspect of the hat-trick of victories was defense – the Broncos conceded an average of just 11 points in those three games.
Souths, one of the best offensive teams in the NRL in their era, could only manage two tries against the Broncos in a stunning 32-12 loss.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider that the Broncos were without their two best forwards – Payne Haas and Kurt Capewell.
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The Bunnies, on the other hand, are looking at a team in crisis after another lackluster display against the Broncos.
The Rabbitohs have now lost five matches this season – more than they lost in the whole of 2021.
Wayne Bennett’s mantra of error-free football seems to have disappeared after his departure.
The Suds were dismal against a depleted Broncos team, missing 22 tackles and making 12 errors.
Their offense was clunky and hesitant – just as it has been all season – and coach Jason Demetriou has a host of headaches.
I won’t mention the demolition work Adam Reynolds did on his old club – because I’m sure it’s been giving JD nightmares for the past four nights!
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