The World Cup is over, Pre-Season has begun (if you haven’t been reading Sixties’ Training Reports, take a long, hard look at yourself), and I’m officially itching for Season 2018. Basically I just want to talk footy.
The Cumberland Throw is still cooking, doing our best to tide you over until Round 1, with Forty and Sixties each whipping up some terrific content this week.
The Depth Chart
Personally, I thought it’d be worth looking at the Eels Depth Chart for 2018, and maybe even having a crack at naming my preferred starting 17. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how wrong I am in the comments.
Looking at the depth chart is a little different for 2018 as this will be the first season under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, or CBA. Outside of the agreed cap figure of $9.4 million (up from a now paltry looking $7 million this year), the biggest change from an NRL fan perspective is that the old NRL Squad Top 25 is out, and the new Top 30 is in. Each club is also allowed to designate up to 6 development players contracts (worth $60,000 each), to players in the squad under the age of 22 (although this age limit is actually negotiable with the NRL), but still need NRL permission in order to play them in the top grade.
In short, the Eels will be required to field 17 of their Top 30 players for each of their game day selections in 2018, and must get permission from the NRL to select anyone else (development players are a possibility, but outside of an injury crisis of biblical proportions it’s not happening for anyone else). This means we basically have a firm Top 30 to choose from.
As noted by BA in the media recently, we currently have players in 28 of our Top 30. I’ve listed these 35 players below – italicising the possible DPLs (although there’s 7 below), bracketed all players respective ages in 2018, and tried to place all players in their most recognised position (except for Taka, who I’ve moved to Util in line with his suspected shift in 2018, more on that below). I’ve also asterisked who I consider the non-debatable must haves for somewhere in the Eels 17. Shout out to @poupouescobar for providing the basis from his world famous Squad Succession thread.
|Fullback: French (22)*, Gutherson (24)*, Hayne (30)*|
|Wing: Aukafolau (21), Hoffman (30), G.Jennings (25), Leleisiuao (21)|
|Centre: Afualo (19)?, Auva’a (26), Davis (23), M.Jennings (30)*|
|Half: Moses (24)*, Norman (26)*|
|Hooker: King (27), Mahoney (20)?, K. Pritchard (24)|
|Middle Forward: Alvaro (25)*, Brown (25)*, Evans (26)*, Gower (33), Mannah (30)*, Matagi (30), Niukore (22), Terepo (27), Vave (29)|
|Edge Forward: Edwards (29)*, Faingaa (20)?, Ma’u (30)*, Moeroa (23)*, Scott (34), Stone (21), Williams (30)|
|Utility: Salmon (19), Smith (26), Takairangi (29)|
What’s immediately evident is how thin we are in the halves. With Will Smith likely to be crowned one of the two Wenty halves, I’m not sure who wears the vacant 7 jersey for the Magpies. Theoretically Cameron King could reprise his halfback role, but as you’ll see below, I’ve got him as the starting NRL hooker. You’ll notice the absence of the other Pritchard (Frank), who is widely assumed to have hung up the boots. Unless that is off the mark or something changes, expect an official announcement soonish. Thanks for your service, Mr. Tank.
As hinted at in the media, I also think there’s an opportunity for another big money prop in our Top 30, despite the 14 spots already taken by middle and edge forwards, or half of our current ‘Top 28’.
Below I’ve had my first crack who I would pick for our starting 17 for 2018. It is based on my own opinion only, and not necessarily a reflection of what I think Brad Arthur will do. I also probably need to explain two things:
1 – I love Kirisome Auva’a, but I break into cold sweat whenever opposition halves bomb him on the wing. As such, I don’t want to pick him on the wing, but BA probably will. Like many others I suspect BA relishes his kick return ability, and I can see the appeal. As an aside, he’d be my first drop at centre, or at least neck and neck with Taka.
2 – If for no other reason than his defensive reliability, I personally think Terepo will edge out Matagi and Vave for a guaranteed spot in the 17, relegating those two to fighting out with Beau Scott, Kaysa, Trex and Taka for the final spot in the 17. Again, just my thoughts; in BA we trust.
Here we go (good luck with the nicknames):
1. The Lemon King
2. French Fries
3. The Jet
4. The Plane
6. Yeah Nah
7. The Prince of Egypt
8. Kid Kane
9. Return of the King
10. Mannah Time
11. Monster Mash
12. Tep …
13. The Cyborg
14. The Polar Express
16. The Butcher
(It surely wasn’t all that difficult, but for those looking to mark their work – Gutherson, French, Jennings, Hayne, Hoffman/Auva’a, Norman, Moses, Evans, King, Mannah, Mau, Tepai, Brown, Alvaro, Kenny, Terepo, Matagi/Vave/Taka/Scott/Kaysa/Trex).
Firstly, I can’t imagine anyone is particularly surprised by the names that show up in the 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13 or 15 jerseys. I’d almost say those players are a lock to be both in that specific position, and in that specific jersey. The most uncertain of that crop is probably Jarryd in 4, just because he’s ‘new’, but unless Gutho fails a fitness test, I can’t see JH anywhere else.
If accurate, this is sad news for fan favourite Brad Takairangi who would be pushed to the less secure position jousting which is the back row. However, not unlike a number of other NRL players (Tui Lolohea, Mitch Aubusson, Dylan Walker, Gutho in 2016/17), his versatility might be his greatest enemy.
I almost put Kane Evans (8) in the aforementioned list as a near certainty, but he’s also new and subsequently also a little less than certain. However, seeing that Kane came to the club in search of a starting prop jersey, and he offers a body shape (tall and rangey) we don’t have with anyone else, you’d have to think he’s pretty confident of getting it.
As touched on above, I’ve got Hoffman edging out Auva’a on the wing, mostly due to his reliability under the high ball, but I would not at all be surprised if Kirisome got the nod instead. I think George Jennings (Gennings), or the“I watched the NYC Grand Final” fan favourite Greg Leleisiuao as long shots.
Statistically, Cameron King was out and out the better hooking option in 2017 over Kamikaze Pritchard. Kingy averaged a team high 40.2 tackles and 1.3 missed tackles a game, in front of Kaysa’s 35.8 and 2.6 respectively. Kingy’s generally longer minutes mean he also had 92.4 passes a game; compared with Kaysa’s 70.5. If you’re still prefer Kaysa, I’m not going to doubt your intelligence or anything, but it’s Kingy for mine. An interesting plot line will be whether or not Kingy truly has supplanted Kaysa, or whether BA will go back to early 2017 regular programming.
I think Alvaro should find his way onto the bench, and to be honest I would disagree with anyone who says otherwise. His defence is of the highest quality, and his workrate and effectiveness with the ball continues to improve. For mine, jerseys 16 and 17 are the most contentious, although i I had to choose I would have Terepo and Matagi. With that said, you could also make a good case for any one of Peni, Matagi, Vave in one jersey, with Taka, Scott, Kaysa and Trex in the other. I just think you need to have at least one more middle forward (as well as Alvaro) on your bench.
I also wanted to give a shout out to Marata Niukore, by all accounts he has come back ripped and is regularly Wenty’s best. The bloke is huge, head to toe. Remember the name, Hakuna Marata – either he or Ray Stone to be the first to make their Eels debut in 2018 for mine.
Give us your 1 to 17 in the comments, or run the risk of ruining my Christmas.
Round by Round
Thought it’d also be worth a quick look at our Round by Round match ups. I had a crack at putting each NRL side into either 1st – 4th, 5th – 8th and so on, and also what I suspect the chance of us winning the match up each round is. I’ve put games as either at ANZ or away from ANZ, rather than the tradition home and away format. Eat up.
|1||Panthers (A)||Sunday 11 Mar, 4:10pm||1st-4th||Starting Season 2018 with a clash against our cross-town rivals, and one of the three other teams I expect to finish in the Top 4? I give the Panthers the slightest of edges being at home.||45%|
|2||Sea Eagles (A)||Sunday 18 Mar, 4:10pm||9th-12th||Fortress Brookvale is falling down, both figuratively and literally. (That’s what you get for calling it Lottoland). Eels will win this game well, particularly if Hayson is still actively involved in the club.||70%|
|3||Sharks (ANZ)||Saturday 24 Mar, 7:30pm||5th-8th||I think the Sharks will miss Maloney more than they realise. With that said, the Sharks often seem to have our number.||50%|
|4||Tigers (ANZ)||Monday 2 Apr, 4pm||13th-16th||It’d be very disappointing if we can’t put the Tigers away at ANZ.||80%|
|5||Panthers (ANZ)||Sunday 8 Apr, 4:10pm||1st-4th||And then meeting the Panthers again 4 rounds later? The NRL really wanted to make it up to Phil Gould, and quickly. I predict we’ll take this one back to make it 1-1.||55%|
|6||Raiders (A)||Saturday 14 Apr, 7:30pm||13th-16th||The odd team out in our first 9 Rounds repeat series, this is the only time we play the Raiders in 2018. Despite their wounded status, I hate playing their big pack, so I’ll happily take it.||60%|
|7||Sea Eagles (ANZ)||Sunday 22 Apr, 2pm||9th-12th||At least we know there won’t be any Manly fans at ANZ, as it’s over the Bridge.||70%|
|8||Tigers (ANZ)||Sunday 29 Apr, 4:10pm||13th-16th||This Easter Monday game draws a huge crowd every year, but you’d think the Eels will be too good for the Tigers here.||80%|
|9||Sharks (A)||Saturday 5 May, 7:30pm||5th-8th||Not unlike Round 3, this should be an absolute cracker. Flip a coin for mine.||50%|
|10||Bulldogs (ANZ)||Friday 11 May, 7:50pm||9th-12th||I look forward to the Blue & Gold Army embracing Kieran Foran again.||75%|
|11||Warriors (ANZ)||Friday 18 May, 6pm||13th-16th||The Warriors are the NRL equivalent of “I thought you were dead.” This is the only time we play the Warriors in 2018.||85%|
|12||Broncos (A)||Thursday 24 May, 7:50pm||5th-8th||Another 50 points seems relatively unlikely, but we did seem to have the wood over the Broncos in 2017. This is the only time we play the Broncos in 2018.||55%|
|13||Knights (ANZ)||Saturday 2 Jun, 7:30pm||9th-12th||I wonder if Pearce and Co will be firing by Round 13. I actually have them just missing out on the 8, so I at least expect a contest. I’m sure the boys will still be filthy about the result in Round 23 this year, though. This game is our only Origin affected game in 2018.||70%|
|14||Cowboys (A)||Saturday 9 Jun, 7:30pm||1st-4th||Play the Cows in Darwin, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.||40%|
|15||Rabbitohs (ANZ)||Thursday 14 Jun, 7:50pm||9th-12th||Apparently some bookies have us equal favourites with the Bunnies in 2018. Either I missed something or Greg Inglis just got new knees.||75%|
|16||Dragons (A)||Thursday 28 Jun, 7:50pm||5th-8th||Sorry Dragons fans, but Ben Hunt ain’t all that. The good news is that neither was Josh Dugan.||65%|
|17||Bye||Despite some close contests, The Bye haven’t won a game in years.||100%|
|18||Knights (A)||Friday 13 Jul, 7:50pm||9th-12th||In 2016 we beat the Knights in Newcastle by a measly 2 points. Personally, I expect a similarly close contest in 2018.||65%|
|19||Bulldogs (ANZ)||Thursday 19 Jul, 7:50pm||9th-12th||This just in Bulldogs fans – Aaron Woods isn’t worth what you paid him.||75%|
|20||Rabbitohs (ANZ)||Saturday 28 Jul, 5:30pm||9th-12th||This game should coincide with Roosters’ announcing Angus Crichton’s signing, so morale should be low and the Bunnies’ 30,000 members will phone it in.||75%|
|21||Titans (ANZ)||Saturday 4 Aug, 5:30pm||13th-16th||Jarryd revenge game? I suspect he’ll have forgotten by then. Lucky it’s at ANZ, as the Titans fans won’t have, however. This is the only time we play the Titans in 2018.||85%|
|22||Dragons (ANZ)||Saturday 11 Aug, 7:30pm||5th-8th||I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about the Dragons. Eels will win, and it will somehow still be Josh Dugan’s fault.||70%|
|23||Storm (A)||Friday 17 Aug, 7:50pm||5th-8th||Here begins a brutal final 3 game stretch to end the home & away 2018. This is the only time we play the Storm in 2018.||50%|
|24||Cowboys (A)||Friday 24 Aug, 7:50pm||1st-4th||Travelling to Townsville to play (who I believe will be) the best team in 2018? Good finals preparation.||40%|
|25||Roosters (ANZ)||Saturday 1 Sep, 7:30pm||1st-4th||It takes us until the final game of the regular season, but this is the only time we play the Roosters in 2018.||50%|
Tell us your most anticipated match up in the comments. Or don’t. Fine, whatever.
It’s worth noting we only have one 5 day turnaround (before the Rabbits game in Round 15), and play most games on Saturday (9), followed by Friday and Sundays (5 each), and then the graveyard Thursday night (4).
The Road Ahead
Whatever happens, 2018 will be a statement year for the Eels. Season 2017 could very well have been a continuation in mediocrity, another year like the ten or so prior where the Eels might have started strong but wilted away to finish outside the 8. Thankfully, obviously it wasn’t.
It was the break through year, a break out for Gutho and Brown, a break free for Mitchell Moses, another broken record for Eels membership numbers.
Now, on the back of such success, we face 2018. In a way in which years prior never could, one way or the other, 2018 will make a statement about the immediate future of the Parramatta Eels. Will we maintain our status as up and comers, push further towards a premiership, or disappointingly slip back into NRL irrelevance?
Only 2018 has the answers, and I for one can’t wait.
Go you Eels,