While the Kieran Foran signing and subsequent self-inflicted circus that it created captured most of the 2016 recruitment headlines, the pending arrival of Beau Scott could turn out to be a masterstroke by Brad Arthur. It is the second year running that Arthur has signed a current State of Origin second rower, albeit toward the end of their representative career, and it is a signature that should reap rewards.
I know some fans are sceptical of signing another ageing forward, particularly after the disappointing year from our other high profile recruit, Anthony Watmough. Recently we have seen Watmough talk in the media about his injuries and the restrictions they placed on him. I am fortunate enough to be involved in the Parramatta Eels Members Council and we learned earlier in the year of Watmough’s injury struggles and the fact that he declined pre season surgery in order to train with his young team mates and begin the knowledge transfer process. After all, that was a key reason that we bought his services and he wanted to deliver.
The objective here is obvious. Most would agree that the Eels possess a young, skilful pack that shows promise. The likes of Tepai, Junior, Alvaro, Pauli, Kaysa and Terepo are up and comers who are in their critical formative years. There is not much experience around them. Consider players such as Manu, Edwards and even Wicks who are more mature in years but not necessarily in games or time around the NRL pressure test. Throw in leaders with experience like Scott and Watmough, and these young types will be given not only the coaching that they deserve but also the benefit of playing alongside professionals who lead by example in terms of their effort, fitness and preparation.
If you have watched the Eels like I have for the past 35 years, you will know we have never, ever been known for our forward strength or ability. Even when we were winning comps in the 80’s our pack was maligned by supporters and opposition teams alike. Remember Greg Hartley and Peter Peters walking from Wollongong to Sydney in thongs when they said Parra couldn’t win a comp with Bob O’Reilly and Kevin ‘Stumpy’ Stevens in our pack? Those packs did their job, played to their ability, held their own and provided our backline with the opportunity to demonstrate their full skill set. And wasn’t it beautiful to watch??!!
Fast forward to today’s game, and we all recognise how much it has changed. The ruck contest, wrapping up the ball, mobility of forwards, offloads, line speed and fitness are now critical elements to give your halves and outside backs room to move and to take advantage of the hard work from the engine room. While forwards have always set the platform for victory, under today’s rules, a dominating forward pack is more important than ever. Parramatta has a lot of work to do to match the Roosters, Broncos or Bulldogs in this regard, but I would argue that the pieces are falling into place to allow the team to reach their potential.
When Brad Arthur started at Parramatta, he quickly realised that we didn’t have the physical strength and recovery to be able to match it with the good sides two weeks in a row. If you have a look at our results, you will see that we have rarely won two on the trot, and the team we play inevitably loses the next week as well. We have played a hard and tough style which was demanding on our players and their bodies and perhaps minds couldn’t quite cope. But it is a style Arthur believes is necessary to win in 2016. He needs players who can contribute and lead this style.
So, back to Beau Scott. What are we buying and what he brings to the side? Scott is a 200 game NRL professional with 11 caps for the Blues and the Dally M Second Rower of the Year in 2014 who captained Newcastle twice last year. He has played in some of the biggest games in the NRL over the last five years and is a winner. He is tough, sails close to the edge and pushes his body, and the rules, to the limit. Known for his defence and playing 80 minutes, he has an excellent injury history, playing 18 or more games in 8 of his last 10 NRL seasons.
In 2015, Scott averaged 27 tackles, 61 running metres and 7 hitups per game. He missed less than 2 tackles and made less than 1 error per game on average. He conceded 10 penalties which ranked him 84th in the NRL and made 29 offloads which was 17th in the NRL. Pretty tidy stats you would agree. Scott is currently in great physical condition and recent footage on the Eels web site shows Scott’s expertise and form on a single water ski (perhaps a skill which may come in handy for those wet games in the middle of winter!).
Admittedly, the signing of Scott could have been described as a marriage of convenience with the Eels in the market for more experience, and Beau Scott seeking a release from Newcastle where he was contracted for two more seasons in order to live closer to Westmead Children’s Hospital where his son, Noah, is receiving treatment. You can read about it here – http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/nrl/beau-scott-reveals-the-private-pain-behind-his-decision-to-leave-newcastle-knights/story-fnp0lyn3-1227320276113. According to those in the know, Parramatta signed Scott on decent money but less than he could demand in a perfect world, and added a further year beyond his existing contract with the Knights. Moving into the pre-season, Scott is already openly stating that his move to the Eels was the best move that he could have made.
Scott should find the Eels fans very accommodating, even if it is for his stand against two of our arch enemies – Cameron Smith and Billy Slater. Throw in his defence on Thurston in both the Newcastle vs Cowboys game and the SOO, and Scott is already starting ahead with the Eels faithful. He led the charge against Smith for his comments on the field in relation to Alex Mckinnon.
He was suspended for a lifting tackle on Smith in the SOO and also was late a few times on Thurston, much to our gratitude. It is worth noting that it was Smith who decided to complain publicly, particularly about the late tackles, while Scott was more comfortable in smashing the next QLD’er who ran at him. He may need to tighten this up a bit with Arthur looking at discipline as a key element to success for the Eels in 2016 but his “old school” approach to the physical aspects of the game will quickly win him plenty of fans amongst the blue and gold army.
Another interesting insight is that from his debut in 2005, he has been charged by the judiciary on 12 occasions, 6 for dangerous throws and 6 for dangerous or unnecessary contact. Three of those charges were against the Storm, two against the Cowboys and two against QLD. He comes to the Eels with 55 carry over points so any innocuous high tackle with an early guilty plea will see him miss a week.
On paper, it does seem like a risk to sign two forwards who, while possessing outstanding resumes, are at the end of long careers. While at the end of their contracts, Watmough and Scott will be 36 and 35 respectfully, I would encourage fans to consider not only what they can achieve on the field for the next two years, but how they can influence their younger team mates off it. Beau Scott will immediately toughen our right hand side and make a significant difference to our defensive performance, thus putting us into more games for longer periods. I’m looking forward to watching Beau Scott’s contribution closely.