Parramatta Eels secured the first points of the 2020 NRL season with a trenches battle against the Canterbury Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium on Thursday. It was a tight defensive affair that the Sydney club won 8-2 with the only try coming from Reed Mahoney in the second-half.
So what did we learn from the opening game of the opening weekend of NRL 2020?
Parramatta were lacking in ideas
Despite the presence of the likes of Blake Ferguson and Mika Sivo the Eels failed to generate much of anything going forward. Early domination was focussed on the middle of the field, and they really didn’t push the ball wide at all.
Failing to bring the outside backs into the game played into the hands of a Canterbury team built on their defensive solidity. It was a similar pattern to some games last season where the Eels lacked width and ended up plodding through the middle of the field.
Now clearly you can be expansive on every tackle of every position, but getting Maika Sivo only 11 runs is a problem in execution. Ferguson will always get his runs as teams continue to kick his side of the field, but those runs aren’t in the areas of the field that the Eels really need them.
When they let the shackles off, Parramatta are one of the most exciting teams in the NRL, but when they play like this they look like a bottom four team.
However, their defense did look more robust than last season, but that has to be balanced by the fact they were playing last seasons’ least potent offense. Definitely something to keep an eye on.
Bulldogs struggles extend onto the field
Canterbury continued where they left off last season with a stout defense, and no creativity on offense. All of their penetration came through the middle of the field, allowing Parramatta to load up and stop every attack that came their way.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak led the dogs with 195 metres on 16 runs, but the only real spark came from Will Hopoate at full-back. But as soon as Canterbury made it into the final 10 metres their attacks petered out.
Very much as you are for the doggies, as they scored just 326 points in 2019 to finish dead last in the NRL. Once again their defense was stout and was the only reason they didn’t win the wooden spoon last season. When you consider Gold Coast won the wooden spoon whilst scoring 44 more points, it highlights just how big their Bulldogs troubles are.
After a tough week with Corey Harawira-Naera and Jayden Okunbor facing the sack for their part in a sex scandal, the Bulldogs had a win there for the taking. It could prove to be a long season for Canterbury fans.
Captains challenges got a rough start
The introduction of captains challenges was a hotly debated topic this offseason, and this game highlighted the main issue with it. Players never think they’ve done anything wrong. It will make challenges very hard to win if teams can not address this inherent bias in people.
We have similar systems in other sports, most notably cricket. The reason it works quite well in cricket is you have a quick gathering of a number of players who had a view of the incident. In league that is almost impossible to have.
Things that happen in a tackle are very difficult for those on the field not in the tackle to see. Players are getting back in position and ready for the next tackle. It’s not going to be an easy hurdle to overcome and could just become an annoyance to viewers.
If you’re only reference point of whether a player knocked the ball on, is the player who knocked it on, you will be wasting your challenge every time. We saw in this game two challenges of this exact variety.
Both were clearly poor challenges from the TV coverage. They weren’t even close to being overturned. As it stands captains challenges will just add a couple of minutes to the games, without any realistic expectation of the outcome changing.
Round 1 continues tomorrow with the Raiders v Titans and Cowboys v Broncos.