Rugby League icon Matty Johns has questioned the fairness of Parramatta's NRL draw, after the Eels went down to Manly in a four-point thriller on Thursday night. Manly made it two wins from two to start the season after prevailing 34-30 in a sea-sawing encounter at 4 Pines Park.
The loss means Parramatta are winless after their first three games, in what is a significant fall from grace for last season's beaten grand finalists. It's not panic stations yet for coach Brad Arthur's side, who are set to welcome back key forwards Ryan Matterson next round and Shaun Lane in the coming weeks, having lost their first three games (against Melbourne, Cronulla and Manly) by four points each time.
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However, things don't get any easier for the Eels, with a round four clash against premiers Penrith, followed by a round give showdown with heavyweights, the Sydney Roosters. Just like Manly on Thursday night, both the Panthers and Roosters will have the benefit of coming into the clash with the Eels off the back of a bye.
The concerning situation could realistically see the Eels start the season 0-5, with Johns bemoaning the nature of Parramatta's draw. The Newcastle Knights legend and TV personality insisted that Arthur's side should not have to face three straight matches against sides coming off a bye.
“This has been a complete oversight as far as the draw’s concerned," he said on ‘The Late Show with Matty Johns’. "Tonight they play Manly coming off a bye, next week they play Penrith coming off a bye, the week after they play the Roosters coming off a bye.
“That should not happen. That shouldn’t happen. You’ve got a side like Penrith now who are going to sit, have a two-week preparation to freshen up to play. The bottom line, it should not happen.”
Eels legend Nathan Hindmarsh was perhaps surprisingly less critical of the NRL than Johns. He did admit that if it was later in the season - when injuries and suspensions play a bigger part - then the issue would become more significant.
“It’s early in the season though,” Hindmarsh said. “I think if you looked at it and it was Rounds 10, 11, 12 then it would be something to go, ‘Oh, it’s a rip-off’.”
Eels coach Arthur admitted the winless start was "not ideal" for his side, but confirmed that Matterson would come straight back into the 17 for the clash with defending premiers Penrith. Matterson has watched all three of the Eels' opening-season losses from the sideline, after opting to take a three-game ban out of last year's grand final over a $4000 fine.
"He'll be in the 17 somewhere," Arthur said of Matterson. "The start is not ideal, but it's a good test for us.
"It's a good test of our character that we're sticking together, that we don't start looking for anyone else to blame or listening to too much opinion. We know exactly what we need to do to get ourselves back on track. We just have to get out and do it."
Manly unbeaten to start the season
Manly's second win in as many starts in 2023 came off the back of a superb performance from new five-eighth Josh Schuster, who showed plenty of signs that his halves partnership with captain Daly Cherry-Evans could be something special. In his first game as Manly's full-time No.6, Schuster had a hand in four tries as he and Tom Trbojevic combined at will on the Sea Eagles' left edge.
After Manly led 28-16 with seven minutes to go, Parramatta put themselves back into the game through tries to Maika Sivo and Josh Hodgson. The Sea Eagles then appeared to have the contest sealed when Haumole Olakau'atu intercepted a J'maine Hopgood offload and ran 30 metres to score and make it 34-24.
Parramatta scored again through Sivo with two minutes to play, but any hopes of a late comeback win were killed off when Brad Parker tackled Mitch Moses into touch with a minute to play. It summed up a chaotic night and last year's grand finalist's start to the season.
"We've been at the death in all three games but we need more than just fronting up with effort," Arthur added. "We need to execute our plan. It's different stages where individuals' lack of concentration. There's some simple fundamentals that really hurt us."
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