On a night of chaos, the Parramatta Eels started the season off on the losing foot against the Melbourne Storm, but it's hardly time to press the alarm yet.

Their golden point loss, which was brought up by a Harry Grant try that was the first time Melbourne had led the game all night, was typical of a Round 1 clash.

Plenty of dropped ball, plenty of rust - but it was also a lot better than your average Round 1 game.

It was clear that these two sides are fit and ready to rumble for the new season, which is a good thing. The fight for the top four this year is going to be tight between potentially seven teams, so every competition point you can snare will be critical in the battle of a second chance come September.

Make no mistake, both of these teams will be in that fight, and nothing from last night's season opener did anything to discredit that.

Parramatta will feel it's two points gone begging though given the course the game took. They were, marginally so, the better team for the most part, only to not get the job done in the clutch after letting the Storm, who were playing with a well under his best Cameron Munster, tie the game up on the back of Young Tonumaipea's 62nd-minute try.

It was then Harry Grant who was able to prove the difference in golden point, darting over for a try while the defence set themselves to stop yet another crack at field goal.

Golden point is a lottery, and the Eels can't beat themselves up over the loss, but even with zero competition points, they have unearthed an absolute gem.

J'maine Hopgood was arguably the best player on the park last night.

Starting at lock with the Eels facing plenty of injuries in their forward pack, notably to Ryan Matterson and Shaun Lane, he played the entire 80 minutes, plus a few in golden point.

He never wavered from the task at hand, and proved beyond all reasonable doubt just how under-utilised he was at the Penrith Panthers last year, where he played exactly the same brand and style of football in the NSW Cup.

By the time it was all said and done, he led the Eels for tackles with 57, but also made 21 carries of the football, picking up 172 metres. 62 of those metres were post-contact, and he looked a threat more than he didn't with the football in hand, breaking a pair of tackles during the game.

It was one of those performances that could have been rush around the edges, and could have seen him struggle to get through the 80 minutes in what was really his first experience doing that at NRL level.

But instead, he stayed with the pace of the game - which was at times frantic - in its entirety, and made a positive difference in the middle third for the blue and gold from whistle to siren.

But that now poses a new intriguing question for coach Brad Arthur.

Ryan Matterson played mainly from the bench last year, but made more impact than at any point previously as he transitioned to the middle third for the third time in his career.

So good was Matterson that he regularly popped up in the team of the week despite not being a starting forward.

He broke tackles for fun, toyed with opposition forwards and regularly ran for well in excess of 150 metres per contest while also holding up his end of the bargin in defence.

That's not to say he didn't previously do that on the edge, but there is little doubt he was more consistent upon moving into the centre of the park last year.

But Hopgood's performance last night could make an argument that he is the first-choice lock, and given his ability to play 80 minutes, it probably moves Matterson back to the edge.

Matterson, if he plays like he did last year, will work out just fine in a damaging edge combination with Shaun Lane.

Matterson's running game, given his height, has always been to his advantage, and the Eels need that X-Factor back on the edge in 2023 after Isaiah Papali'i made his departure to the Wests Tigers during the off-season.

The breakout performance of Hopgood gives plenty of qudos that it just might work. If Hopgood does need a break, then Matterson can easily shift into the middle, with Matt Doorey also impressing last night.

He was excellent in 2021 for the Bulldogs, but injuries meant he didn't feature in the NRL last year before his shift to the Eels. His opening performance paints a picture that he will play a lot of NRL this season.

But where the positives flow in those areas for the Eels, there are major questions around their abilities at dummy half.

Reed Mahoney's departure was always going to be a hard one to replace this year, and while Josh Hodgson brings plenty of experience, his service against the Storm was poor.

The ex-Canberra Raider hasn't played in almost 12 months, so he might take some time to get back into the swing of things, but the signs were worrying for Brad Arthur and his coaching staff.

The Englishman, at his best, was one of the game's best dummy halves, but trading out a young star who could be on the cusp of State of Origin for a player who is past his prime and spent last year injured could come back to bite unless he can get it right in a hurry.

It's not time to ring thre alarm bells, but the Eels play the Sharks, Panthers and Roosters in the opening five weeks, with the other game away to Manly. That tough start could realistically see them at one and four, which is a dismal start to the season by any standards.

Last night's two points gone begging could hit the blue and gold dramatically.


  1. A splendid example of why Golden Point should be scrapped, and each team should get one point for a game drawn after 80 minutes.

    Neither team deserved to go away from that game with nothing.

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