What value does any team place on having a quality fullback? That question will likely be answered by Parramatta’s acquisition of the classy Michael Gordon for the 2016 Premiership.
Undoubtedly, the lack of an experienced custodian was a crucial factor in Parramatta’s failure to reach the finals in the 2015 season. With the loss of NRL superstar Jarryd Hayne a couple of weeks after the 2014 decider, many pundits believed that handing Will Hopoate the Number 1 jersey could be, at the very least, a successful short term solution.
Of course, history now records that Hopoate’s lack of pace and penetration was exposed early in the season, forcing Brad Arthur to shift the fleet-footed Reece Robinson from wing to fullback. As with any crucial spine position, inadequacies are soon found out and Robinson’s positional play came up short in a number of clutch moments.
So it was that Michael Gordon first bobbed up on the Eels radar. With reports of him being unwanted at Cronulla, the Eels offered a lifeline to Gordon through a mid-season transfer and a contract for 2016. A backflip by the Sharks stymied the transfer, but “Flash” still secured a contract to head out west through a one season deal with Parramatta. This signature proved to be a wise one with Gordon finishing the 2015 Premiership as one of the form fullbacks in the competition.
So what can the Parramatta faithful expect from Michael Gordon?
The most obvious response is points. With nearly 1200 career points and a radar boot, Michael Gordon has averaged in excess of 100 points a season across a career spanning ten seasons. He is a reliable finisher and his support play from the back was on display throughout the previous season. Missed goals were instrumental in many of the Eel’s close losses in 2015, so unquestionably Brad Arthur is looking to address this problem through his new fullback.
Having over 170 first grade games under his belt, and achieving State of Origin representation in 2010, “Flash” will be a key senior player in Parramatta’s leadership group. Renowned as a total professional in his preparation, Gordon’s recruitment is part of Parramatta’s strategy of providing role models in the squad to effect the cultural change much needed within the playing group. These role models work in tandem with the coaching staff in demonstrating that there are no shortcuts when it comes to preparing yourself for the rigours of NRL football.
Importantly, Michael Gordon will address Parramatta’s 2015 weakness of having fullbacks that could not position themselves adequately enough to diffuse the kicking games of their opponents. Being constantly under pressure from the kick was a feature of last season for the Eels. Whether tries were scored or repeat sets were achieved, the problem was largely attributable to the positional play of the custodians. Gordon’s experience should make that a problem of the past.
Looking ahead, Parramatta has potentially one of the brightest young talents in the shape of Bevan French. Although he has demonstrated great versatility in covering a number of backline positions, French is regarded by many as the heir apparent to Jarryd Hayne as a fullback superstar for the club. Without placing any unnecessary hype on young French, having a mentor such as Gordon in the ranks can only be seen as a positive for his development.
Finally, an unexpected string to Gordon’s bow seems to be emerging from pre-season training. Reports indicate that we may have recruited a fullback with some playmaking skills. So with Gordon complementing his support play and finishing skills with the ability to bring others into the attack, we may also see this new recruit in an expanded role within the team.
Whether it be addressing shortfalls from last season or adding his own skill set into the equation, it would certainly appear that Brad Arthur has pulled the right rein in adding Michael Gordon to the roster for 2016.