The long wait is finally over. Farewell to the sound of leather on willow. Welcome to the week that heralds the NRL opening round – an opening round that features the Eels at home in the very first match of the season. What better way to satisfy our hunger for the footy!
This anticipation of a successful year for the Eels is now almost at fever pitch and membership numbers are continuing to climb. On what basis should the Blue and Gold Army be expecting this massive change in our football fortunes?
I’m on record as being a huge fan of the coaching staff, headed by Brad Arthur. However, the focus of this post will be the players. What will lift the Eels and lead to the season extending through September?
For mine, the answer is experience and quality in key positions.
Most Eels fans will put their hand up and admit to being hopeful of a good season every year. After all, memberships have continued to grow even during these lean times. However, being realistic, in recent seasons the Parramatta roster has been at least 500 NRL appearances shy when compared against the rosters of regular finalists. There is no substitute for experience within a successful team.
Consider this. In 2014 and 2015, players such as Manu Ma’u, Kenny Edwards, Junior Paulo, Tepai Moeroa and Pauli Pauli were among our core forwards. We are huge fans of these players, and indeed they are great talents, but they were all novices playing together in the same team. In the experience stakes, recruits such as Peats (54 games for Souths), Lussick (31 games for Manly) and Hopoate (22 games for Manly) hardly raised the bar for the Eels.
Brad Arthur was genuinely working with a very inexperienced squad.
Fast forward to 2016, and although Pauli has now moved on, these players are now the beneficiaries of 2 years under Brad Arthur and three pre-seasons of NRL preparation.
However, to fully understand the need to add players such as Watmough and Scott to the forward stocks, examine the current number of first grade appearances for these Eels.
Paulo – 42
Ma’u – 35
Moeroa – 28
Edwards – 19
Alvaro – 7
Can there be any doubt about the importance of bolstering the Parramatta pack with older, harder heads? Combined, Watmough and Scott boast over 500 NRL appearances.
Add another 500 plus games from Foran, Gordon and Jennings and the Eels are finally competing with other teams on the score of experience.
Of course, experience would count for little if it was not quality footballers being recruited for important positions. Furthermore, in limiting this discussion to particular players, it is not intended to discount the quality of Eels incumbents. Rather, the focus is on the value added to the Parramatta personnel from specific recruitment.
Kieran Foran is widely regarded as the jewel in the crown of Parramatta’s recruitment. With 147 first grade appearances, Premiership and World Cup success, there is little question about the quality that this number 7 will add to the Eels playing ranks. Peter Sterling has long sung this bloke’s praises and few would argue with a commentator of his pedigree. Having a quality half in the spine is something that Eels fans have yearned for nearly 3 decades.
Beau Scott also brings experience (200 NRL games), Premiership success and representative honours to the club. Renowned as a defensive enforcer and an edge weapon, his quality and attitude has tremendous value for the young Eels forwards. Reports out of training already indicate that his impact is profound.
Michael Gordon is the consummate rugby league professional. With 179 first grade games under his belt, he has been one of the leading lights in an intense and challenging pre-season preparation. Often setting the standard for his team mates on the training paddock, his positional sense and goal kicking will be invaluable to a team that lacked in both departments in 2015.
Finally, at 27 years of age, Michael Jennings is at the peak of his career. He brings experience (193 NRL appearances), Premiership success and a wealth of representative honours. His new team mates were both stunned and delighted by his recruitment. As a prolific try scorer (112 tries), the potency of an already impressive backline has been immediately bolstered.
There we have it. Quality and experience has been added to a team that was already on the cusp of a finals appearance. Reason enough to be optimistic about the upcoming season? We think so.
At TCT, we are as excited as most Eels fans. We are also excited as this will be our inaugural season reporting on the Parramatta Eels. Could we have picked a better season to launch this website!!! See you at the games.
All images courtesy of the Parramatta Eels