There’s no prizes for guessing that Eels supporters are sick and tired of losing. A premiership drought that’s stretched beyond 30 years is nothing to be content with and, given the expectations leading into 2018, a winless first five rounds is looking ominous.
Volumes have been written about the Eels poor form to begin the season. The Manly clash was rightly called embarrassing and insulting to fans. The Eels attack correctly labelled ineffective.
Though there’s justification in lambasting on-field performances, and the failure to recruit an impact prop, there’s zero to be gained by spreading false rumours or worse still, using misinformation as the basis for criticism.
When a team is performing well below expectations, people look for reasons why. Unfortunately, social media has become the breeding ground for rumours – usually people who’ve “heard” something from an “inside source” and even those who choose to create their own stories for nothing more than notoriety.
A typical example of the misinformation – or rather selective information – was found in the recent News Limited column which accused the club of neglecting their juniors. It follows on the back of repetitive social media barbs claiming that Brad Arthur is reluctant to promote junior talent.
By way of example, the News Limited article listed James Maloney, Paul Gallen, Luke Keary, David Klemmer and Blake Green as Parramatta juniors allowed to find success elsewhere. The darts may not have been directly thrown at the current coach and administration, but the implication was enough to fire up an element of the Eels supporter base.
Hey, it’s a shame to let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Let’s delve into these poster boy examples.
James Maloney was not an Eels junior and was recruited to the club in 2007. After featuring in the successful Wentworthville 2008 NSW Cup team, he switched to the Storm. Indeed, he had to leave the Storm as he could only manage four NRL appearances with them. He’s had a few homes since then too. Obviously, Maloney was a talented player who should never have been allowed to leave the club, but that’s a matter for the Eels administration and coaching staff of 2008.
Paul Gallen was a Wentworthville junior and Eels junior representative star. Although Gallen is the perfect example of a talented junior allowed to leave the club, he actually walked during the much lauded Brian Smith era, and debuted with the Sharks way back in 2001. That’s only a matter of 17 years ago!
Blake Green was a highly decorated Eels junior who graduated to play NRL with the club in 2007. After departing Parramatta at the end of that year, he’s since played for another five NRL clubs and two Super League clubs. Of course, his release could come under the microscope at any of his previous clubs, and as far as the Eels are concerned it occurred under a previous administration with Michael Hagan in the Head Coach role. But why miss the chance of throwing extra mud at the current coach or administration.
Luke Keary is an example of the inability of the previous administration and coaches to identify local talent. As a 15 year old Harold Matthews hopeful in 2007, Keary was told he was too small to ever play NRL. Correct – 2007 – that’s 11 years ago.
David Klemmer was an All Saints Toongabbie junior who signed with the Bulldogs at 15 years of age back in 2009. In this instance, Klemmer progressed through the Canterbury Junior Rep system after leaving the Eels five years before Brad Arthur arrived at the club.
So this collection of players, held up as examples of players who got away, were lost to the club around a decade or more ago and have little to do with the club right now.
* The Past – Junior Performances
What of the Eels much vaunted junior system. It’s a massive junior base, but has it produced a wealth of NRL talent in recent years? That’s the important parameter – recent years.
I would argue that the Eels had a history, immediately prior to 2014, of identifying physically dominant 16 year olds who failed to develop into skilled, mature players. Tracking the season results of the Eels age restricted teams since the inception of the NYC provides evidence to support this theory.
The Under 16s (Harold Matthews Cup) have enjoyed the greatest success. They’ve been Premiers in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2016. They were runners up in 2009, 2010 and 2015. The 2018 team have just finished their regular season matches in second place.
The Under 18s (SG Ball Cup) have not quite matched the exploits of the younger grade. Their only Premiership success was in 2017 after fielding a team comprising a host of 2015 and 2016 Matts graduates. Note – graduates under the current system. Their other best results came in 2008 and 2010 when they finished runners-up.
The Under 20s (NYC) are completely devoid of any titles over this period.
Here’s their record:
2008 – 5th
2009 – 12th
2010 – 16th
2011 – 12th
2012 – 15th
2013 – 14th
2014 – 3rd
2015 – 13th
2016 – 7th
2017 – Grand Finalists
There is a distinct trend, that as the Eels teams transition to the older grades, the successes disappear. Is this indicative of the early maturing or physically dominant 16 year olds not developing into skilled older footballers? I think you could mount a strong case on this evidence. Thankfully 2017 provided evidence that the right players were moving through to the older grades.
* The Players
Curiously, I will now argue against myself and say that the primary objective of a junior representative program is not titles – it’s the production of NRL players.
Therefore, we should examine the Parramatta NYC players who have graduated to the NRL. The years playing NYC for the Eels are listed beside each player. The list has been broken into debuts for the Eels and debuts for other clubs.
NRL Debut for Parramatta (* indicates debut under Arthur)
Mitch Allgood 2008 – 2009
Daniel Alvaro* 2013
John Folau* 2012 – 2014
Bevan French* 2015 – 2016
Trent Hodkinson 2008
Kris Keating 2008
Taniela Lasalo 2008 – 2009
Jacob Loko 2010 – 2011
Tim Mannah 2008
Anthony Mitchell 2008 – 2009
Tepai Moeroa* 2013 – 2015
Ryan Morgan 2009 – 2010
Daniel Mortimer 2008 – 2009
Pat O’Hanlon 2009 – 2011
Pauli Pauli* 2012 – 2014
Junior Paulo 2012 – 2013
Kaysa Pritchard 2012 – 2014
Semi Radradra 2012
Ken Sio 2009 – 2010
Kelepi Tanginoa 2012 – 2014
Taulima Toutai 2008
Peni Terepo 2009 – 2011
Vai Toutai 2011 – 2013
Joseph Ualesi 2011 – 2013
Tony Williams 2008
NRL Debut For Other Clubs (# departed during Arthur’s tenure)
Josh Aloiai # 2014 – 2015
Nathan Davis # 2014 – 2015
Matt Eisenhuth 2010 – 2012
Tyrell Fuimaono # 2014 – 2016
Jacob Gagan 2010 – 2012
Nathan Gardner 2008 – 2009
Fabian Goodall # 2014
Justin Hunt 2008
Tui Kamikamica # 2013 -2014
Albert Kelly 2008 – 2009
Leva Li # 2014
Jonathan Mannah 2008
Ryan Matterson # 2012 – 2014
Tim Robinson 2008
Remis Smith # 2015
Jorge Taufua 2010
Daniel Tupou 2010 – 2011
Alex Twal # 2014 – 2016
The Eels NYC players who’ve graduated to NRL football can be rightly pleased with their success. The system produced around 43 NRL players during the existence of the National Youth Competition, 25 debuting for the Eels, with 9 of these being graduates of the inaugural 2008 team. That leaves 16 Eels debutants over the remaining 9 years – less than 2 per year. That number might not be atypical, but it is probably the lack of NRL longevity of many of those players that is disappointing.
With regard to Eels NYC players finding success at other clubs, readers can decide whether the club has let any major talent find a home elsewhere that should have been retained by the club. I would argue that Arthur has debuted the best talent at his disposal since 2014. Again, whether it’s players debuting for Parramatta or elsewhere, if you take out the graduates from 2008, the numbers are well below what they should be.
* The Current Path
TCT has always invested the time in following the progress of the Junior Representative squads. We attend trials, matches, research form and keep up to date with programs.
We don’t profess to know every initiative or every decision being made about the Eels programs, but we feel we can report on the following with some authority.
Firstly, Brad Arthur places the highest importance on the Eels Junior System. Having been both an Eels junior himself, and a coach within the junior competition, it’d be fair to say that he understands the importance of a thriving junior league and a strong Junior Representative system.
TCT has watched Arthur attend Matts and Ball trials and matches each year during his tenure. It’s an example of the priority placed on Eels Juniors that BA, his staff and even his players can regularly be found in attendance not just at matches but even junior rep training.
The Junior Elite Talent Squad (JETS) is now in its third year after being re-established under BA. It involves NRL coaches and facilities in the mentoring of talented youth. This program is virtually an NRL apprenticeship for this group of players as they experience the level of training and skills work required for elite level football and all conducted at the Old Saleyards complex.
Further proof of the investment of senior staff in the Junior program is found with Eels assistant Coach, Joey Grima. The highly experienced skills coach wrote the pre-season program for the Eels Junior Rep teams. In addition to attending their matches, Joey provides feedback to the coaches for team selections.
But it’s not just the elite benefitting. Coach the Coaches – a program for local junior league coaches – is in its second year. Furthermore, Matt Brady (PJDRL General Manager) has run courses for over 400 coaches as part of the Eels junior community program.
The Parramatta club looks for junior talent both within and outside its boundaries. Eels recruitment manager, Anthony Field, is charged with identifying and securing the best junior talent both locally and far afield. Field travels extensively as part of his job and works closely with the Junior Rep Program.
(In 2017, Field spoke with TCT about the state of the Eels Junior Program facing himself and Peter Nolan in 2013 and the need to overhaul the process. His full interview with TCT can be heard here.)
Likewise, Bernie Gurr is totally invested in the importance of the Eels junior programs. You will also find the Eels CEO at junior trials and rep matches. He was quoted in the News Limited article as saying:
“We’ve rededicated our club to the junior programs in 16s, 18s and 20s and our academy teams. The main focus is re-engaging with the 6000 junior players participating. Our philosophy is we want out junior players to be aspirational to come through to the NRL level and Brad is absolutely committed to the program.”
It is these facts which make the accusations of neglecting the juniors completely ludicrous. The Head Coach, staff and CEO of the club dedicate extensive resources and significant personal time to the junior programs.
* The Results Are Showing
A core group of the Eels 2016 Harold Matthews team were able to transition into the 2017 SG Ball team which won their competition in addition to the National title. A number of that 2017 team are now members of the 2018 Jersey Flegg (under 20s) side.
The 2017 NYC team reached the grand final for the first time. Players such as Reed Mahoney, Greg Leleisiuao, Ray Stone and Dane Aukafolau earned NRL Development Contracts – an indication of their pathway. The current under 20 team boasts talent such as Dylan Brown, Salesi Faingaa, Ethan Parry and Jaeman Salmon.
And let’s not forget the junior honours bestowed upon Eels players in 2017.
Tyler Field, Sam Hughes, Jed Edwards, David Hollis all earned a NSW under 16 Origin jersey.
In the 18s Origin clash, John Fonua, Ethan Parry, Oregon Kaufusi, Kyle Schneider, Filia Utoikamanu and Noel Aukafolau represented the Blues. Filia and Noel had finished school in 2016 as 17 year olds.
In the Under 20s Origin, Ray Stone and Troy Dargan (now departed – see Brown’s ascension) took the field for NSW. Stone’s injection from the bench arguably turned the momentum in the match.
Late in the season a number of Eels players took part in the Australian Schoolboys versus New Zealand 18s test. Ethan Parry, Haze Dunster, Kyle Schneider and Jesse Cronin all wore the Green and Gold. Dylan Brown and Oregon Kaufusi were selected but withdrew to play in NYC Grand Final.
New Zealand also featured Parramatta players – Valance Harris and Joe Taipari. Another 18 year old Eel, Tui Afualo, finished school in 2016 and represented Australian Schoolboys as a 17 year old that year.
Further honours were bestowed on Eels NYC players – Salesi Faingaa, Anthony Layoun – who represented Fiji and Lebanon respectively in the World Cup.
This list of honours is evidence that the first wave of talent from the overhauled system was found in the NYC and SG Ball teams of 2017. These teams will produce far more NRL players than their recent predecessors.
Eels supporters might look at the number of NRL debutants in the last few years and question the programs producing such few top grade players. And that’s exactly what people like Brad Arthur and Anthony Field were thinking too. It’s why changes were needed.
However, a Junior Program running from under 14 talent squads and up will by its very nature require years to start producing NRL players. The talent in the program was recognised by representative selectors in 2017. The results at Under 18 and Under 20 levels finally manifested. I would be expecting 2017 NYC graduates such as Ray Stone or Reed Mahoney to get a taste of NRL in 2019. Others still playing Under 20s this year will soon join them.
Of course, players will be lost. Manly have staff at Westfield Sports, a Blacktown feeder team and are recruiting young players directly to their junior program. The Roosters have been a presence in the district, offering generous contracts. The Raiders have forged links with Mounties. As Bernie Gurr noted, “We’re the second biggest junior club and other clubs fish where the fish are. You’re always going to lose a couple.”
The Eels system isn’t perfect, but it’s under constant review. The intent is obvious – to have programs which provide NRL players for the Parramatta club.
Ultimately, the positive is that everyone is on the same page and the current program is producing representative level juniors with team successes at the upper age restricted level.
It hasn’t filtered through to the Eels NRL level, but it will.
There has definitely been no neglect.