This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Thank goodness rugby league is back.
Some of you may be surprised at my delight given that my team, the Parramatta Eels, were lucky to get away with an 8-2 win over the Bulldogs on Thursday night.
It was a game characterised by gritty defence, some sloppy ball handling, two hilarious captain’s challenges and a lack of points.
Unlike many other fans who thought a comprehensive win for the blue and gold would come, recent decades have taught me not to expect too much.
At no point heading into this game did I think that it was a guaranteed two points.
Over the last couple of months it has come as a surprise that so many people had jumped on the Parramatta hype train.
Most have the Eels finishing the season in the top four. Mitchell Moses is a popular pick for the Dally M and plenty have Parramatta as their premiership smoky.
But what is this is based on? Mitch Moses’ form at the World Nines? Or something else?
It’s true the Eels recruited well over the off-season. Their pack has been bolstered by the addition of Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
But there seems to be this assumption that just because a squad improves on paper their position on the ladder will go up. That’s not necessarily the case.
Despite making it to the second week of the 2019 finals, Parramatta did not show they could consistently match it with leading teams like the Storm and Roosters.
For them to be genuine contenders in 2020, I need to see improvement when they face top four-calibre opposition.
Last year, Parramatta played the four teams that finished above them on the ladder six times. Out of those six occasions, Parramatta won two; against the Raiders in Darwin and the Rabbitohs at Bankwest Stadium.
Most concerning about the losses was how comprehensive they were, particularly the two games against the Storm.
So, until Parramatta has the opportunity to play those teams, I can’t make a judgment about their 2020 prospects. I can only judge on what I saw last night.
The team looked fit and they were enthusiastic. The enthusiasm – in both attack and defence – was there from the first minute to the last.
I know that the Bulldogs attack was disappointing. This has been a problem for the team over the last five years and it does not seem to have been solved over the summer.
But despite the Bulldogs finishing with 52 per cent possession and plenty of opportunities on Parramatta’s line, the Eels defence held strong.
Moses also seemed far more confident one-on-one and showed several times that he wasn’t simply going to be a pushover.
Plenty has been made of the fact that it took Parramatta 60 minutes to register a try and even then it needed a Bulldogs error and Reed Mahoney diving on a loose ball.
But I’m confident that points will come for this team, particularly with a backline including Waqa Blake, Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo.
The jury remains out as far as winning a title goes, but for now I’ll take the two points and gladly look at my team on the top of the ladder.