Eels coach Brad Arthur defended his bench tactics after their 30-26 loss to Cronulla at home as a worrying trend emerged in the opening two rounds.
A brilliant Will Kennedy hat-trick saw the Sharks clinch a thrilling win as the lead changed seven times throughout the course of the match, with the Eels edge defence proving to be a glaring weakness for Arthur’s team.
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Parramatta starts the season 0-2 and face a daunting task over the next few weeks when they head to Brookvale to play Manly, before a grand final rematch and then a showdown at Allianz Stadium against the Roosters.
Speaking after the match, Arthur was asked about his bench rotation against the Sharks, which seemed to mirror the approach he took the week before.
As a result two players failed to take the field in the club’s opening two rounds, leaving the team’s props on the field for extended periods on the field.
NRL Highlights: Eels v Sharks – Round 2
Against the Sharks, front rowers Junior Paulo played 57 minutes and Reagan Campbell-Gillard played 65 minutes.
Substitute Wiremu Greig played didn’t take the field and Makahesi Makatoa was in the action for only 13 minutes. Jirah Momoisea played 23 minutes.
In Round 1, Makatoa stayed on the bench the entire match and the golden point period, while Greig and Momoisea combined for only 40 minutes.
It’s the not the first time Arthur’s bench tactics have come under the microscope, with the Eels coach carrying his son Jake on the bench for most of the season in 2022, despite the 20-year-old holding no utility value outside of playing in the halves.
When asked why he had Paulo and Campbell-Gillard on the field for almost an hour against the Sharks, Arthur said:
“We’ve got a lot of good players that start for us in Junior and Reg and I think they’re pretty important to the team,” he told reporters in the post-match press conference.
“I think we need them, especially in tight games like tonight, we need them on the field for long periods.
Sharks burn Eels with long-range stunner
“They’re our match-winners and that’s why we need them out there.”
Eels skipper Clint Gutherson said it was “disappointing” to come off for an HIA with his side in complete control, following a heavy shot from Jesse Ramien. The Sharks scored twice in the 15 minutes when Gutherson was pulled off by the independent doctor and the Eels struggled to continue their early dominance.
Parramatta raced to a 10-0 lead but by the time Gutherson came back on the field, the Eels faced a two-point deficit and failed to adapt defensively.
“It’s part of the game. We just have to deal with it and we have to deal with it better,” Arthur said.
“Whether he’s out there or not, he obviously helps with our defensive structures, but some of the tries that they scored throughout the whole period of the game were soft. They didn’t have to work too hard for a lot of them.”
Gutherson was cleared to return after passing the tests in the sheds and felt frustrated by the chain of events.
“(It was) disappointing because you obviously don’t want to go off. I wasn’t concussed or anything like that. It’s disappointing, but it’s the way the game is. That’s the rule,” he said.
“You don’t want to come off, but it’s out of our control.”
As for the Eels’ prospects, Gutherson did not sugarcoat their predicament, which has them staring down an 0-5 start to the year.
“It’s going to be tough so we’ve got to dig deep and work hard for those next three weeks,” he said.
“We’ve just got to take it a week at a time now. We’ve got a short turnaround into Manly and we just have to believe in what we’re doing and that what we’re doing will work. It’s a long, long season so we don’t need to start stressing now.”
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