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Eels power past clapped out Raiders in first half blitz

Parramatta march on to a Preliminary Final after a conclusive win over the Canberra Raiders, who will limp back to the nation’s capital with the sound of an ironic Viking Clap in their ears.

This was a pretty easy win for the Eels in the end, but borne out by a willingness to go hard through the middle, win collisions and generate second phase. In short, they played like Parra play and the Raiders had no answer.

It sets up next week in North Queensland very nicely indeed. Turn up with this kind of attitude and they’re more than a chance.

52% of the time, Parra are good every time

Parra aren’t that difficult a side to predict. They a power game, based around offloads from the forwards and winning offensive collisions. Conversely, they also struggle to contain opposition forward packs and thus concede a lot of metres.

Given this obvious strength and weakeness dichotomy, whether ‘good Parra’ or ‘bad Parra’ comes out is largely a question of who has the ball. If they get 52% of it, they tend to win. If they don’t, they’re highly vulnerable.

Lucky for Brad Arthur, then, because his managed to do all the things that they needed to do, and to do them early on. Arthur is obsessed with how his team starts and they started great.

Parra will grind with anyone, and found Canberra unable to keep up intensity. By the time that the Eels usually wobble – when their starting front-rowers are off – they were already 22-0 up.

By the end of the first half, they had enjoyed 62% of possession. Partly this was due to errors from the Raiders, but mostly it was because they were able to win penalties, force three drop outs and (of course) score, which gets you the ball back.

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Collisions? Of course

Parramatta are basically as good as their offloading game. It’s the main symptom of their success. When they play well, they’re offloading a lot.

They generated six in the first ten minutes, which shows the kind of mood they showed up in. The final count was 20, double that of the Raiders, who are also very fond of second phase play.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat in terms of stopping the offload, but the simple method – wrapping up the ball – seemed beyond Canberra.

Then again, so many of Parra’s successful offloads were off the back of their willingness to hit the floor and get their play the ball fast, which creates a situation in which second phase is possible.

The post-contact metre battle was won comprehensively, by around 150m, so even averaging for possession differences, the Eels were simply getting more go-forward from their blokes.

Feet on the paint

Parra are rightly praised for their strength through the middle, but tonight, they were just as impressive out wide. Not because their wingers were superb, but because they managed to maximise the amount of width available to them.

Plenty of observers have noticed that the Eels love a drop off pass, changing the angle of attack with a crash runner on the inside.

One of the methods to create that angle is by having your wingers stand so wide that their feet are on the chalk, making the opposition winger choose between jamming in and hanging out with his man.

Mitchell Moses’ try (see below) might have been the best example: Waqa Blake was so wide that the Raiders defence isn’t even in shot when a midfield offload opens up a huge hole that the halfback runs straight through.

They don’t keep a stat on ‘harbour bridge’ tries, but I’m going to guess that Parra are right up there, because if a defence holds and doesn’t follow the winger wide, then that pass is on. Maika Sivo failed to ground the one he took tonight, but the plan worked there too.

No go for Joe (and Josh)

The best thing about the Raiders in their late season surge has been the form of their best players. Yes, I know: obviously when a team goes well, it’s players tend to play well.

But Canberra’s style is very dependent on a certain few players being exceptional, most notably Joseph Tapine, Josh Papali’i and Jack Wighton.

It’s hard to say that any of the three covered themselves in glory. Papali’i and Tapine had just seven and ten hit ups respectively, well down on their average, and a negligible influence of the game.

Part of that is a function of the Eels’ domination the ball, but also because of the lack of effectiveness of the Raiders pack in slowing the momentum coming the other way.

They lost offensive collisions, which enabled Parramatta’s line speed, which blunted their ability to ball-play through the big boppers, and you know the rest.

Wighton, for his part, did attempt to wrest some control back via his kicking and running, but was unable to turn the tide. Both him and Jamal Fogarty failed to target Blake enough, either.

Blake’s Heaven

Blake was likely to be a storyline all night. The nature of his performance last weekend dictated that all eyes would be on the winger, if he made it to the field in the first place.

Though he will be much happier with how his evening went this time around, it will be another tough week in the video analysis room for the winger.

Canberra failed to kick to him, but they certainly spotted his wing up in attack: from an early foray during one of their only good ball opportunities in the first half to repeated raids in the second, Blake was continually asked to make decisions and, politely, didn’t get every answer right.

Perhaps this just who he is as a winger. He’s never been that great a defender, third in the NRL for line break causes, largely because of his reads and can be shaky under the high ball.

Conversely, he’s a solid ball runner, an excellent finisher and clearly follows instructions well, which is likely to go down very well with Arthur.

It does beg the question of why the Raiders never thought it sensible to test him with kicks though. Canberra are one of the best teams in the comp on an analytics level, but either missed last week’s game or couldn’t enact a plan.

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