It’s not a question of whether Parramatta are ‘back’ or not before the NRL finals, because victory over a Cowboys side riding a nine-game losing streak like it’s a broken down mule was never going to instantly turn them into a premiership force.
It’s more a conversation of exactly how ‘back’ they are after a 32-16 win over North Queensland on the Gold Coast. And the answer to that is: A bit. They are a bit back. Just a smidgen. Brad Arthur and Clint Gutherson have been around too long to arrive at any other conclusion.
Parramatta’s form slump has been well chronicled of late. A top-four fixture for much of the season, they now find themselves excluded from the conversation when it comes to likely grand finalists. Melbourne and Penrith have always been front and centre, Souths are thereabouts now, while Manly and the Roosters are the ones eavesdropping around the water cooler.
The Eels? It feels like they’ve been friend-zoned. Look, they are great fun to have around the post-season party but probably will be safely at home, tucked up in bed, listening to Adele and binging on ice cream, by the time the real action starts.
Parramatta were up 14-6 at half-time on Saturday night yet the devil was in the details. Not only had strike winger Maika Sivo been taken from the field with a medial injury to his right knee that could spell the end of his season, the Eels had completed just 16 of 25 sets, a dire 64 per cent.
The Cowboys weren’t good enough to take advantage of that sort of attacking mediocrity, especially with Jason Taumalolo missing from the line-up. They went close, though, and things may have looked a little different if Hamiso Tabuai-Fido had been awarded a try after officials detected the slightest of juggles as he struggled through defenders.
But Parramatta would get no such favours from the likes of the Panthers or Storm if they continue to treat the ball with such flippancy. The contest would have been over by the break and the second half only serving to decide the margin, not the result.
Waqa Blake, Will Penisini and Shaun Lane all scored in the first half, the latter when Coen Hess produced one of the worst reads of the season as he mindlessly fired off his line to leave the rest of his edge helpless to stop the tall back-rower’s charge.