As the countdown towards Season 2018 rolls on, I thought it worth taking a look at some of the up and comers in our playing ranks – players who are knocking on the door, but are yet to crack first grade at the Eels. You can read the first instalment on Marata Niukore here.
When Jaeman Salmon was announced in November as a 3 year signing (after the signing of Kane Evans, Tony Williams and the return of some bloke called Jarryd), it was likely met with a collective shrug of the shoulders from most Eels fans.
Wasn’t this just another young bloke, touted superstar, junior prodigy? Haven’t we seen this preemptive fanfare before?
And I get it. There’s been plenty of similar looking prodigies who have let us down in the past. Think of the ferociously bulbous jaw of Jakob Loko, Marmin “your brother’s pretty good” Barba, and eventual “what the heck happened there?” question of Tim Smith (who still holds the single season try assist record at a ridiculous 40, mind you). And there are still a few junior Eels yet to be tested in the big leagues; including the departed Troy Dargan (he’s not deceased, just not with the Eels), and current young guns Ray Stone, Reed Mahoney (pronounced mar-nee) and internet fanboy target Greg Leleisiuao (I straight up copy and paste his name every time). What’s the big deal? Surely there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.
And when it comes to fish like Salmon, all many of us mere mortals knew about the kid was that he had a cool name, was highly touted, and the Sharks were annoyed to have lost him.
So, for a bit of context, the man they called ‘the Apprentice’ played a leading role in the Sharks’ 2015 Harold Matts’ title, playing his local footy at Cronulla rugby league nursery De La Salle Caringbah. To boot, Salmon was also a part of the Sharks’ NYC side in 2017, and has represented NSW in both the U16s and U18s. Whatever your expectations, that certainly reads as a handy little résumé for a 19 year old.
Brad Fittler similarly reflected on Salmon’s time in the U18 NSW team with this deadpan, generic school report card comment:
“He’s been in the system for a while Jaeman, and he did a great job with his Cronulla team this year and I think he’s a player of the future.”
Gee, thanks for the insight Freddy. The Eels were also typically composed in their signing announcement, with Head of Recruitment Peter Sharp being quoted as saying:
“Jaeman is a very exciting youngster who will enhance our already elite program and flourish under Brad Arthur.”
But it was this this ridiculous take comment from noted bitter Sharks fan Buzz Rothfield in late December that really flipped everyone out:
“Our early prediction for Dally M rookie-of-the-year is boom Parramatta Eels five-eighth Jaeman Salmon. This kid can play. He joined the Eels from Cronulla after playing NSW Under 18s last year. He turns 19 this month and has trained the house down in the off-season. Salmon will start from the bench but is likely to be in the starting side by the end of the season. He’s big and strong with beautiful ball skills.”
(Another off season, another house tragically trained completely to the ground.)
Now, to be brutally honest, I think Buzz is way off. Sorry, but not only is Jaeman 100-1 to win Rookie of the Year, I don’t actually see him nabbing a first grade bench spot at any point this season. However, the reason I think these things is not a reflection of Jaeman’s talent or potential, but rather a likely lack of opportunity.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out which three of Beau Scott, Kaysa Pritchard, Will Smith, Daniel Alvaro, Brad Takairangi, Peni Terepo, Siosaia Vave or Suaia Matagi I would have sit next to Kenny Edwards on our bench. Throw in whoever is squeezed out of a wing spot on Gutho’s return out of Kirisome Auva’a and Josh Hoffman; and also consider Marata Niukore and Ray Stone are both in with a shot of making their NRL debuts in 2018. The team is stacked, and it therefore seems the opportunity may not be there for Jaeman this season.
Nonetheless, whatever happens in 2018, let me assure you, this kid is the real deal. Jaeman reads the game very well, particularly for a player his age, and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time on both sides of the ball. Not unlike Ray Stone, Salmon (at 6’1″, and 95 kg) fits right in with the first grade side. With a build big enough for the second row, speed that could make a race car weep, evasiveness like a cloud and silky smooth passing skills, Jaeman’s best position (rather than his talent) remains the most pressing question about his playing future.
Interestingly, in a chat with Taka on the Eels website, Salmon himself suggested he wants to base his game around Mitch Moses and Corey Norman, to some extent revealing the halves seems like the current target. With that said, I’m not sure being a good half, centre or back rower are mutually exclusive; we’ll just have to see what happens.
Although Jaeman’s best position going forward remains unknown, consider this:
“Very few other fish can exist in such a wide range of conditions, and would not survive if they lived the way salmon do. However, salmon are anadromous which means they can thrive in a variety of environments, including both fresh and salt water.”
An edge forward, a swift backline player, or an extra half – who knows? Maybe it’s a case of Salmon by name, salmon by nature.
Whatever happens, this kid is going places; so make sure you remember the name. Here at The Throw, we’ll be watching.
Go you Eels.
Photo courtesy of the Parramatta Eels; Fittler quote courtesy of NSW Rugby League; weird salmon reference courtesy of World Wide Fund for Nature.