Michael Ennis and James Graham have blasted the Eels for forgetting their identity as the struggling club risks having their once promising season go up in smoke.
The Eels’ 56-10 thrashing at the hands of Manly in Round 22 was their fourth straight loss where they failed to score more than 12 points and they are now out of the top four after slipping to sixth place.
“They have forgotten who they are,” Ennis said on The Big League Wrap.
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“They have lost their physicality. They look tired. And the players need to ask themselves a question.
“Irrelevant of the coach’s position. The coach’s position isn’t going to be made on that nor should it be made because they are sitting in the top eight and it has been a hell of a tough year and he’s head them in the top four for the majority of it.
“They have proven at the start of the year that they can be a competitive footy side in the competition but the players’ attitude at the moment is wilting.
“It comes down to the leadership of the group and they need to take some ownership of it.
“They young players last night were their best players and that is a huge concern.
“The fact that they have lost that physicality and that hunt mentality to bash the opposition that comes down to players’ attitude. Brad Arthur can’t do that.
“Brad Arthur can lead them to the field on a Saturday night and then it comes down to those individual attitudes and whether they get enjoyment out of doing that with the bloke next to them.
“They did that at the start of the year and now the blowtorch is on them and they don’t want to do it.”
Ennis singled the halves and key outside backs for their lack of effort and involvement against Manly.
“Their halves have completely retracted from the competition,” Ennis said.
“Dylan Brown hasn’t had a great season, but he has got enormous ability.
“I might be getting old school, but he comes out last night with bleach blonde hair and adds a spotlight to him. I don’t know maybe I’m an old fossil but that to me when your side is not travelling well. I wouldn’t have done that.
“Mitchell Moses hasn’t been in the contest since State of Origin. I’m not sure if that third game of State of Origin has had a huge impact on his confidence, but he is out there to kick the footy at the moment. He is not going after the game. That’s a massive concern.
“The other area for Parramatta is their ability to carry the footy. Maika Sivo carried the footy for 60 metres last night. That is absolutely nowhere near being in the contest.
“Gutherson carried it for 40 and Oldfield wasn’t sighted.”
James Graham believes the Eels have been guilty of looking what other sides are doing and not sticking to their strengths that served them so well earlier in the year.
“I think they have gone away from their identity and what works for them,” Graham said.
“The outside noise has got to them. They played the power game better than anybody and it is a really tough way to play continuously week to week and your petrol tank doesn’t quite refuel as much.”
“But do you throw your hands in the air and say we are gone or do you stand and fight?” Ennis interjected.
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“Exactly, you stick to what you do best,” Graham said.
“That’s the power game and play with offloads. They never had any trouble getting up the field.
“Mitchell Moses was high on the try assists, but they were all from kicks. What I would like to see Parramatta do is not try and play like anybody else. There are lots of examples when you look at how the Storm play and Penrith play and how Manly play.
“If Parramatta are to get their season back on track, go back to doing what they do well. That short interchange of passing instead of trying to go the long pass. Go through the middle.
“They have got players that can have a good interchange of passing but it is different to the traditional style of No.13. Brown likes it closer off the ruck. You get Campbell-Gillard and Paulo with that late offload.
“Just charge through the middle. If that is their best attribute say this is what we’ve got to the opposition. If you can beat us well fair enough, but this is our way of playing.
“It looks like they have listened to what external people are saying and they are trying to duplicate their style.”
Ennis called on the senior members of the side and the representative stars to lead the way.
“Junior Paulo is a representative front-rower and he carried the ball for 40 metres last night,” Ennis said.
“Isaiah Papali’i we have sat here in glowing praise of what he has delivered because he was averaging nearly 150 metres a game and upwards of 35 to 40 tackles. He carried the ball for 45 metres.
“Nathan Brown is one of their most energetic and we say he is the heartbeat of the side and he carried the ball for under 50 metres last night.
“Clearly the attitude is not there. They may be cooked but you can find it. That’s a cop-out.
“They have proven they can compete with the top sides. They have proven that at the start of the season. They know what works for them.
“The senior players need to stand up.”
Ennis highlighted a lack of premiership experience as the reason for the Eels’ late season fade-outs.
“We lost four of our last five games at Cronulla in 2016 and the leadership got us together and spoke about how important winning a premiership is,” Ennis said.
“Guys like Chris Heighington and Luke Lewis that won one in their first season playing and went year after year after year never getting back there, spoke of the importance and the memories and how special it is to get there. And the tracksuits that sit in your cupboard for all those other years count for nothing.
“That’s what the Parramatta leaders in the side need to stand up and grab their young blokes and explain to them do we want tracksuits in the cupboard or do we want to do something with this roster?
“I went through their roster today and that is my concern that they don’t have a player that has won a premiership.”
All the talk has been around Tom Trbojevic storming to the Dally M Medal and rightly so, but Cody Walker reminded everyone he also a leading candidate to take out the game’s highest individual honour.
Walker became the first player to bring up 50 linebreak assists in a single season since record have been kept, while he extended his lead in the try assists category to 34 with three games still remaining in the season plus finals.
Cooper Cronk believes Walker will give Tom Trbojevic a huge challenge for the NRL’s top gong at the Dally M Awards at the end of the season following his record breaking showing against the Titans in a 36-6 win.
“He’s an absolute elite talent out of the competition,” Cronk said.
“I think he is an absolute smoky to win the Dally M.
“I think he’s going to give Tom Trbojevic a big run considering what he’s done over the last eight or nine wins that South Sydney have had.”
Walker is on track to better future Immortal Johnathan Thurston’s marks of 37 try assists in 2015 and 36 in 2014 when he took out the Dally M Medal in both seasons.
Given how well the Rabbitohs are playing and the fact Walker had three try assists against the Titans, he is odds on to break the all-time mark of 40 set by Eels halfback Tim Smith in 2005.
Michael Ennis lauded Walker’s impact and combination with Latrell Mitchell as the reason for Souths’ stunning 10 straight wins.
“Cody was unbelievable,” Ennis said on The Big League Wrap.
“What he is doing on both sides of the field but particularly on the left-hand side. Some of the numbers that he has produced in this season alone is just amazing.
“Most halves in the competition would love that over three or four seasons. He does it with ease. What he did to young Sexton on that right side with Herbert and Marzhew it was men playing boys. He just gave them an absolute lesson down there.”
Trbojevic has been superb for Manly, but he has played eight less games than Walker with gives the Souths superstar a fair headstart.
Given South Sydney’s star-studded line-up and Latrell Mitchell’s form, Walker would have had to give up a few points to his teammates, which gives Trbojevic a chance of catching him.
However Walker has to be one of the leading candidates to take out the players’ highest honour given his incredible body of work over the course of the entire season and Trbojevic’s latest injury could even give him the edge.
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STORM STRUGGLING DESPITE 18TH STRAIGHT WIN
It is hard to criticise a team that has won 18 games in a row dating back to Round 3 in March, but the Storm’s form in the last month has been on the slide.
The Raiders pushed the Storm all the way in a 26-16 loss in Round 23 and Matty Johns believes Craig Bellamy would be privately concerned with his side’s form slump.
“I tell you what the last month I don’t think Craig Bellamy will be too pleased with the way they have been going,” Johns said on The Late Show with Matty Johns.
“Melbourne are locked into that top four position we know and are almost certainties to become minor premiers, but they just look like at the moment that they are treading water. That’s always a little dangerous.”
Johns believes the Storm need to address their ill-discipline or risk finding themselves losing momentum at the wrong end of the season.
“Those little pieces of ill-discipline have just crept into their game in the last month,” Johns said.
“There is no doubt about it that it is a wide open competition.
“They have won 18 in a row, but in the last month there is no doubt about it from the Cowboys game forward there has been just a little bit of a dip.
“The concern is . . . and I think this is why Craig would be starting to crack the whip soon because at this point of the year if other sides really start to pick momentum up sometimes when you lose momentum it is hard to get going again.”
The Storm won the minor premiership in 2018, but went on to lose the grand final to the Roosters, so winning the regular season is no guarantee of success in the finals no matter how many consecutive wins they rack up.
Melbourne will be looking to rediscover their best in the final three rounds against the Titans, Eels and Sharks and it may be time to bring Ryan Papenhuyzen and Harry Grant into the starting team to give the side an energy boost.
YOUNG GUN COULD END NORMAN’S DRAGONS CAREER PREMATURELY
The Dragons will part ways with Corey Norman at the end of the season, but given his poor showing against the Panthers and the emergence of Talatau Amone it may come sooner.
Norman was poor against the Panthers producing two intercepts that led to tries, while Amone finished with 34 run metres, a linebreak, two linebreak assists, a try assist and a try off the bench in a brilliant cameo that drew comparisons to Benji Marshall.
Michael Ennis and Andrew Voss questioned whether Amone could have brought about the end of Norman’s time in the Red V with three games to go in the season and the top eight all but out of reach for the Dragons.
“Hasn’t he looked confident since coming on,” Ennis said of Amone on Fox League.
“With Corey Norman departing the club, Talatau Amone looks brilliant.”
“Has he just ended the Dragons career of Corey Norman tonight with his second half?” Voss asked.
“You would be hard-pressed not to pick him in the starting side next week.”
“Absolutely,” Ennis replied.
“Looking ahead they need to look at the future. Norman won’t be there, Amone is a great prospect.
“He was a part of their successful winning SG ball side a couple of years ago. He has great combinations with guys like Tyrell Sloan.
“I’d love to see Jack Bird go back to centre and give Sloan the fullback role with Amone at five-eighth for the final three games. Let them build some combinations.
“What Amone has shown in this second half since coming on against one of the best defences in the league has been brilliant.”
WHY PAYNE WAS PULLED BACK
Payne Haas was easily Brisbane’s best player on Friday night as his side lost a thriller to the Roosters at Suncorp Stadium.
But the hulking prop played less minutes than normal, being benched midway through the first half and not returning until midway through the second.
In that time he still scored a great try, saved one with a desperate tackle on James Tedesco, and had five tackle busts and two linebreaks against the Chooks.
Coach Kevin Walters later revealed Haas didn’t even train during the week, as the club tries to limit the workload of the player who’s about to sign a $1 million-a-year contract.
“He’s our leader of the forward pack, they are all following him. We gave him the week off from training,” Walters said.
“And we pulled his minutes back a bit tonight as well, which gave the other guys an opportunity to support Payne more than let him do all the work all the time.
“Kobe Hetherington tonight, (Thomas) Flegler certainly picked up where he left off a couple of weeks ago with his work through the middle, he played big minutes which is good for his development.”
TIGERS UNEARTH NEXT GEN OF LEADERS
With captain James Tamou sidelined, Wests Tigers coach has had a good look at who is capable and willing of stepping up to fill that leadership void.
The Tigers bagged back-to-back wins for just the second time this season when they downed the Cowboys on Saturday and Maguire was particularly impressed with his halves Adam Doueihi and Luke Brooks for leading the way.
“I thought Brooks and Adam really controlled the game,” Maguire said.
“Adam had a strong performance and I thought ‘Brooksy’ was strong with his voice out there. You could really see him barking orders. He could feel the fact that we were putting pressure on ourselves. So I thought those two really took control.
“The tackle that Brooksy made (in the 77th minute), I know he ended up getting sent off there but they are massive moments.
“That is the stuff there is sometimes the stuff you need to do. Sometimes you have a bumbling game but those sorts of plays are the big ones that allow you to get the two points.”
“(Doueihi) has definitely been playing well for us and I thought tonight was one of his stronger games and we needed that.”
NRL fans have been given a great insight into the team thanks to Fox League’s documentary ‘Wild Wests: Tales from Tiger Town’ and Doueihi has emerged as the star of the show with many tipping him to be the future captain of the club.
Maguire was pressed on whether Doueihi could be a future leader and while he agreed he was also impressed but several others.
“Yep,” he answered.
“I thought Brooksy lead, Adam lead.
“Alex Twal was strong, Alex played nearly 70 minutes of the game so I’ve got some characters out there.
“I thought young Jake Simpkin for his first time back, he came on and put on some really good plays around the ruck.”
A ‘PLAN B’ FOR KNIGHTS WOULD BE BEST
The Knights may have escaped with a win on Sunday but a number of experts noticed a worrying trend that Adam O’Brien will need to fix before finals.
Enari Tuala was Newcastle’s only try scorer on Sunday with the winger bagging a double. One of those came off a perfectly timed Bradman Best pass.
The Knights kept turning to their left-edge combination of Best and Tuala but couldn’t come up with any more points.
Braith Anasta called for the Knights to find a “Plan B” that doesn’t involve the superstar centre.
“The Knights are just struggling with their attack. They keep going left to Bradman Best but the defence of the Sharks on that right-hand side, with (Jesse) Ramien, is doing a fantastic job in shutting the Knights down and they haven’t got Plan B,” he said at half time.
“They keep going there, then they’re going sideways and they’ve just lost their way a little bit and there’s a big expectations for the Knights to win.
“They’ve found themselves in a position to make finals, they’ve hit form in the last couple of weeks and maybe that expectation is too much for them.”
Premiership-winning coach Shane Flanagan agreed that the Knights can’t just always rely on Best.
“You just can’t keep going to Bradman Best. He’s been in form over the last couple of weeks but you’ve got to have more tricks,” he said.