“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” – Henry Ford
Back in 2016, when off-field dramas had many believing that the world was caving in on the Parramatta club, the on-field performances of the football team gave supporters hope for the future.
This season, the Eels needed to deliver with a finals appearance, or risk the previous year being labelled a false dawn.
For the majority of the NRL public, Parramatta probably overachieved in 2017. A top 4 finish via a 16/8 season record both emphasised and consolidated the growth achieved under Brad Arthur’s coaching. The foundations are now well and truly set. It’s time to take flight.
Here’s how I saw the season:
* Broncos X 2 – Parra couldn’t have been any more impressive in their two victories over Brisbane. A disciplined defensive 28 to 14 Round 21 result featured a second half shut out of a side littered with offensive talent. In contrast, the Eels unleashed their own attacking arsenal in the Round 25 encounter, running out victors to the tune of 52 to 34.
* Bulldogs Round 17 – How does a one point (golden point) win over a team that failed to qualify for the finals register as a highlight?
For mine, the ability to win ugly has been sadly lacking for the blue and golds. On that scale, this was a delicious monstrosity. And wasn’t that field goal from Moses so damned sweet!
* Consecutive Years Of Resilience – Season 2016 saw the league world acknowledge the Eels football department (players and staff) for their ability to perform in spite of the off-field dramas. Yet all of that would have meant little had the team not displayed the same on-field resilience in 2017. With a raft of significant injuries, and precious little advantage given (see penalties section below), a top 4 finish was testimony to a club establishing a new identity.
* Young Talent – Take a bow Brad Arthur, Anthony Field and Joey Grima. Without ignoring the contributions of all of the coaches, (especially Luke Burt, Scott Jones and their staff) BA, Grima and Field have significantly changed the talent identification and development systems at the club. The SG Ball and 18’s National Title were the exclamation points in a season which also included a Harold Matts Grand Final Qualifier and an NYC Grand Final appearance. The establishment of the JETS program overseen by Joey Grima, and involving BA, Steve Murphy and Peter Gentle took the club to new levels of junior investment this year.
* Rounds 3 to 6 – Consecutive losses to the Titans, the Sharks, the Warriors and the Raiders had the fans worried about how or when the club would turn their season around. There were few positives to be found in these matches.
* Round 10 vs Roosters – Almost every KPI was shown little respect in this embarrassing 48 to 10 loss. Plenty of lessons were learned.
* Semi-final vs Cowboys – It’s a shame to include the final game as a lowlight but Brad Arthur said it best – “we didn’t get to finish the season on our own terms. The second half was our worst half of the year.”
* Round 20 injury to Clint Gutherson – Despite the fine form displayed by Bevan French, then Will Smith, there remains little doubt in my mind that the injury to Clint Gutherson was ultimately a crucial blow to the Eels Premiership chances. We were very good in his absence, so consider how much better we would have been with his involvement.
* Nathan Brown – This bloke was undoubtedly the buy of season. Relentless in his carries. Brutal and workaholic in defence. There were no quizzical faces when Brown claimed the Ken Thornett Medal for 2017.
* Mitch Moses – His addition to the roster in Round 11 was arguably the springboard into a successful back end to the season. The richly talented half will only improve with a full pre-season under his belt. I’m looking forward to more imperious passes in 2018.
* Cameron King – With Isaac De Gois playing no part in the season, the Round 15 injury to Kaysa Pritchard opened the door for Cameron King’s debut in the Blue and Gold. The talented rake quickly established a reputation for faultless delivery of the football and professional 80 minute displays. Formerly a highly decorated junior star, King is now getting the opportunity to fulfill his potential.
* Replacing Semi Radradra – Semi is a unique talent and few players are capable of those 100 metre tries. The result of his departure will impact our experience on match days.
Supporters will be more sedentary next year, with fewer reasons to suddenly jump to their feet. However, a winger will take his place, and plenty of tries will still be generated by those on the inside. I expect Semi’s replacement will still feature on the top try scorers list.
* Wenty – When you have a top 8 for a 12 team competition, you have to be travelling pretty ordinarily to not qualify for the finals. Unfortunately this was the case for Parramatta’s feeder team. I lost count of the number of formidable leads given up by the Magpies in the last 20 minutes of matches throughout the season – none more frustrating than their season-defining penultimate match against Newcastle. When called up to first grade, the players performed admirably. But for Parramatta’s resilient club culture to be fully realised, the Wenty team needs to step up to the plate in 2018.
Originally, I was including this under the concerns section. However, given the enormous impact that discipline plays in match results, it necessitated a section of its own.
The raw data speaks for itself. Across the season proper and the finals series, the Eels won the penalties on 9 occasions. The greatest differential in the team’s favour (+3) came from a 9/6 penalty count in the Round 21 clash against the Broncos. One count was drawn.
In contrast, the penalty count was lost on 16 occasions, with the greatest differential (-8) ironically coming from a 2/10 count in the return clash against the Broncos in Round 25. Significantly, 8 matches featured a minus 3 or worse differential.
In total, the Eels received 147 penalties, and conceded 179.
The concern for the Eels does not lie with the penalties conceded, as this averages out to less than 7 per match. In these days of referees “managing” matches in preference to enforcing rules, the counts are generally low.
However, alarm bells ring when penalties awarded comes under analysis.
In 5 halves of football, the opposition were considered perfect with the Eels failing to receive a single penalty. (Parramatta were adjudged without fault on one occasion – the second half of the finals loss to the Cowboys! Go figure…) In a further 9 halves of football, the opposition conceded only 1 penalty.
With just on 27% of their season halves of football featuring opposition teams considered to be virtually free of indiscretions, the Eels coaching staff obviously face the challenge of finding ways to earn penalties in 2018.
* Impact Prop – Parramatta are well served with great toilers in the prop position – most significantly through the likes of Tim Mannah, Danny Alvaro and David Gower. Players like Suaia Matagi and Siosaia Vave have added impact moments throughout the season, but the addition of a game breaker would bolster the Eels Premiership credentials. Peni Terepo has always threatened to be that prop, but injury greatly impacted his season this year. Perhaps Kane Evans will fill the bill, but I’d feel more comfortable with a block-busting inclusion to the pack.
* X Factor – At the risk of heavy criticism, I would consider the return of the prodigal son – Jarryd Hayne. I was appalled by his rejection of the club in 2016 and his subsequent comments. I also believe that this Eels team has grown immeasurably without him. Do the Eels need him? No. Could he add to Parra’s prospects next season? Consider this – the Eels have lost their X factor in Semi. They will do fine without him, but they won’t have anyone who could single-handedly produce a game changing moment. That person is a man who has been lost away from the Eels. Hayne has a legacy to repair and he could only do that in one place. I’d take the risk.
Without disrespecting any player who took the field in the preliminary final against Melbourne, if Bevan French and Clint Gutherson were part of that clash, the Eels arguably get the result. But what-could-have-beens don’t win you matches and a bloke like Will Smith produced a career high performance to almost get the team across the line. Accordingly, supporters would be buoyed by the development of the whole squad and the return of quality players for 2018.
At this stage, Kane Evans remains the only addition to the club’s roster for next season. As only Jeff Robson and Isaac DeGois are confirmed as departures, a 30 man squad should see a couple of signings announced post season.
I remain confident of the Eels capacity to play finals football again next year. I’ll save any grander predictions for the pre-season.
This has been a massive year for me. I’ve had the opportunity to witness the Eels journey from the first day of pre-season training, through to virtually every field session of 2017, and all bar a couple of away fixtures.
It’s difficult to top the trip to Melbourne for the preliminary final. To be a part of an incredible Eels presence in another state, then to watch the team leave nothing on the park in their quest to overcome the might of the Storm, was definitely the highlight (despite the result and poor officiating).
TCT has ventured into new territory with our “Tip Sheet” interview series and I’m proud of the trust placed in our site by Eels staff. We are in a privileged position to be able to share great insights from the football department with fellow Eels supporters and will continue to do so. The players, coaches and staff have been very generous with their time this year. It’s indicative of the value they place on members and fans.
Thanks to all of my fellow TCT contributors. It’s a big task to produce original content for the entire year, not just a season, and to do so for passion not pay.
My gratitude also to our readers, including those who’ve shared their opinions on our posts. Your replies are not only the basis for further discussion, they often prompt ideas for future posts.
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