SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 16: Clinton Gutherson of the Eels celebrates after scoring a try, which was then disallowed by the video bunker during the NRL Semi Final match between the Parramatta Eels and the Canberra Raiders at CommBank Stadium on September 16, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Parramatta Eels have finally made a preliminary final after handing out a shellacking to the Canberra Raiders on Friday evening.

The beatdown, with a final score reading 40 points to 4, saw the blue and gold skip away with the game after a fast start which never showed signs of abating.

Canberra simply never showed up or got into the game, and their season comes to an end at a much better place than it once looked like it would.

Here are the big points from the game.

Eels finally break drought, but how far can they go?
It was one of the overarching storylines heading into this match.

The Eels had been knocked out in the semi-finals three years in a row coming into the clash against the Canberra Raiders.

That record has now been emphatically knocked for six, with the Eels rewarding their long-suffering fans by finally moving to a preliminary final and within 80 minutes of the big dance.

That doesn't mean it'll be straightforward - beating the Cowboys in Townsville is a significantly tougher challenge than the Raiders on a six-day turnaround at home.

But none of that will change the fact that the blue and gold will see a groundswell of support this week, and not just that, but an incredible momentum boost thanks to the win.

It's as big as there has been in Western Sydney for some time, and one more could just about blow the roof of the Leagues club.

NRL Rd 4 - Eels v Dragons
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 03: Waqa Blake of the Eels breaks away to score a try during the round four NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the St George Illawarra Dragons at CommBank Stadium, on April 03, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

What to make of the Raiders season?
Ricky Stuart came out in his press conference after last night's loss with the emphatic claim that his side could have made the top four without early-season injuries.

On the surface, it seems like a coach looking for an excuse.

But if you dig a little deeper, the claim actually makes a certain degree of sense.

The Raiders had an abysmal start to the season - so bad that the finals looked beyond them, and Ricky Stuart keeping his job was starting to come under the microscope, although saved by the abysmal performances of the Tigers, Bulldogs and Warriors elsewhere around the competition, while pressure also hit the shoulders of Adam O'Brien at the Knights and Justin Holbrook at the Titans before it got anywhere near Stuart.

The green machine completely flipped the script following the return from injury of Jamal Fogarty, and while they still weren't perfect, they were far, far better and ultimately snuck into eighth spot.

However, it's clear they wouldn't have made the finals without the Broncos stumbling as badly as they did.

A semi-final appearance is something most fans of the club would have taken if offered it in the pre-season and yet, there is a feeling they probably could have achieved more.

NRL Rd 1 - Raiders v Wests Tigers
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 14: Joe Tapine of the Raiders in action during the round one NRL match between the Canberra Raiders and the Wests Tigers at GIO Stadium, on March 14, 2021, in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

A firing Clint Gutherson and Dylan Brown makes the Eels
There were plenty of differences between Friday's effort and the one that the Eels served up last week in a loss to the Panthers.

From defensive effort, to the ability of the Eels to dominate territory, it was a completely different game, albeit against a different opposition, for the blue and gold.

That all said though, there were two differences which were arguably as big as any - Dylan Brown and Clint Gutherson.

The stat lines are simply ridiculous.

Brown ran an unbelievable 276 metres from 28 carries, had a try assist and busted his way out of six tackles, while Gutherson assisted a pair of tries and sprung up everywhere during his 216 metres.

The duo, alongside edge forwards Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali'i were simply phenomenal and gave Mitchell Moses the time and space he needed to run the team.

The quarter mentioned will need to be at their absolute best next weekend.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Dylan Brown of the Eels runs with the ball during the round 25 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Manly Sea Eagles at Bankwest Stadium on September 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

How much did a pair of short turnarounds hurt the green machine?
We have certainly heard Ricky Stuart talk openly about the problems regarding short turnarounds for the green machine.

There is no solution to the issue either - the NRL need to play all games at different times to keep TV broadcasters happy, and shorter turnarounds are going to be a nature of the beast.

However, the Raiders, who finished eighth, had a six-day turnaround to last week's clash in Melbourne, followed by another one to their semi-final in Parramatta.

Meanwhile, the Storm enjoyed nine days ahead of the elimination final, while the Eels enjoyed seven ahead of last night's game having opened the finals last Friday.

Again, there is no obvious answer, however, there is little doubt they impacted Canberra.

The side looked flat from the opening exchanges, and combined with the emotional comedown from last week's thrilling win in Victoria, was always going to be a lot to overcome.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 03: Raiders Coach, Ricky Stuart speaks during the NRL Grand Final Press Conference at the Westin Hotel on October 03, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

The Eels can't carry Jakob Arthur on the bench next week
This is a tough one for Brad Arthur - and not because Jakob is his son. That simply doesn't matter and wouldn't be factoring into the decision making at this time of year.

To suggest otherwise - and some have - is absolutely barking mad.

However, the fact that Arthur is essentially sitting there as a stop-gap measure in case Mitchell Moses gets injured just doesn't work in the finals.

Everyone needs to have a role in the team, and heading to a likely hot and humid Townsville to play one of the competition's strongest forward packs next week will make the problem all the more glaring.

The best option for the Eels would be to play Bryce Cartwright, who at the very least can spend some time in the forwards during the game if he isn't needed in the halves.

If they decide against Cartwright though, there is no reason extra muscle on the bench from Nathan Brown wouldn't work as the solution.

Should Moses suffer an injury, there is no reason Clint Gutherson can't attack as a half, with Marata Niukore having incredible flexibility to slot into the backline to fill a gap.

The solution is there, but Parramatta need extra size and minutes in the forwards next week - not a maybe something will happen solution.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 18: Jakob Arthur of Parramatta runs the ball during the NRL trial match between the Parramatta Eels and the St George Illawarra Dragons at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on February 18, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Does the NRL need to take a tougher stance on head slams?
Head slams are something which we don't see all that often in the NRL, but when they do happen, they always look ugly and uncalled for at the best of times.

That is exactly what it looked like in the west of Sydney when Mitchell Moses was slammed into the ground by Canberra half Jack Wighton.

The impact from the Canberra half went unpunished at the time - no penalty, no report and no sin bin. Just one play later the independent doctor would stop the game from the bunker and instruct Ashley Klein to send Mitchell Moses for a concussion test for the second week in a row.

Moses passing that test doesn't make the impact of a head slam any safer though, and you could only imagine the outrage from Parramatta and their fans had Moses failed the test and be placed in doubt for next Sunday's semi-final in Townsville against the North Queensland Cowboys.

The NRL has come a long way in protecting the head and neck, but this is one area that has slipped by the wayside because it simply doesn't happen often enough, so isn't an area of criticism.