Indulge me if you will.
There’s much to say, plenty to criticise, and maybe not a whole lot solved. I’ll be sharing the thoughts of three generations of my family and it’s not just relating to the Eels’ latest loss.
The thoughts concern an examination of three stakeholders – the supporters, the team and the NRL. The role that each plays in our Eels will be considered.
Maybe, just maybe, some of these observations might strike a chord with a few of you.
Part 1: The Supporters
To state the obvious, it is not pretty or easy to watch Parra this year. But while some questions remain, I will not walk away. I will not lay the boot in when people are already down. My family and I will show up and support my club – not the NRL – my Parramatta Eels.
As supporters, we are all hurting. We also know that the players and coaches are hurting, confused and shocked by what is happening. We can’t bury our heads in the sand about the team’s poor performance, but at the same time we need to unify as a club if we want to come out the other side better for it.
For mine, a significant part of the Eels identity, its DNA, lies squarely at the feet of the fans.
We proudly call ourselves the Blue & Gold army. Well, what does that really mean? It is both equally as easy and hard to walk away as it is to stay loyal and support. But should it be so?
Let’s take this week for example. It’s not an ideal time slot and it’s against the team from across the ditch. The club are making special $6 tickets available in an attempt to entice more fans to the game. In an ordinary situation, if we were winning and/or well placed on the table, my family and I would not be at the game against the Warriors. We live a minimum 2 1/2 half hours from ANZ so a 6pm start on a Friday night is almost impossible to make.
But make it we will!
I’m not entirely sure how, but we will.
Our club, players and coaches need us to show up. I know not everyone can turn up to ANZ with this time slot and I respect that, but I encourage you all to switch on your televisions and support your team.
As supporters it’s our right to debate what should be done, who should stay or go, who should be picked. But come game time, we also need to realise that laying the boot in, switching off or not showing up won’t work.
Even worse (and there are fans out there doing this) wishing our team to fail just so your theories and or predictions can be proven correct is not the way forward. Death riding your own team will not help to get us out of this mess.
Lets unite in support at a time when the team needs us the most.
Part 2: The Team
Turning up and supporting does not mean being blinded by the reality of the situation. From the stands, the only thing I demand is that the problems experienced on the field from my team in 2018 are both recognised for what they are and a plan is put in place for them to be rectified.
From the stands, I have no explanation for the Eels form. We look like a team that has either lost, or lost faith in, its identity. This is not a criticism of the players or coaches. If anything, in trying to search for wins the team have somehow lost what it means to play our style or even knowing what that style is.
The way we try to win games is unrecognisable to me. I can’t even criticise it because I simply don’t know what it is. The old saying about putting a square peg in a round hole is an apt way to describe my view on our playing identity this year. It does not and will not work.
To understand my confusion about our identity as a team I will recount my son Jack’s experience at this past game.
After the first ridiculously ill timed and poorly attempted offload he cheered for them to tackle – he is nothing if not loyal, resilient and has so much love for his team and players. A little further into the first half, after yet another ridiculous, ill timed and costly offload went wrong, he turned to me and asked, “Why did he do that?”
I just shrugged. I could offer no positive explanation so I said nothing.
Finally, after yet another illogical and costly offload in the second half, he turned to me and said, “That’s just dumb mum, what’s wrong with them?”
Ten rounds into the season, it’s very apparent that problems exist. The results cannot be excused away or blamed entirely on injuries or referees. If we do that, we enable the problem to stay around longer.
The Eels’ undoubtedly have dramas that have emerged this year and we have to be smart enough and willing to face those problems head on. Failure to do so would meaning telling lies to ourselves. I have the utmost faith that BA, the other coaches and Bernie Gurr will be willing and able to see the problems, find some solutions and create the opportunity to be much better. If they don’t our problems will remain and then, and only then, will they lose my support.
Part 3: The NRL
I was encouraged to write this post by the most loyal Parra supporter I know, my grandfather.
Once his initial disappointment had passed last Friday night, he shared his thoughts with me. He identified three stakeholders participating in this game; the Dogs, the Eels and the NRL.
The Dogs have significant Salary Cap and roster challenges that they need to solve for themselves.
At the Eels, we too are the only ones who must resolve our performance/roster problems.
But the NRL’s issues affect every club and every other stakeholder.
One of their greatest issues, and the one I want to address, relates to match officials.
The NRL has created a critical situation with its match officials. I no longer see them adjudicating the game, I see them controlling and shaping matches the way they see fit.
I choose to spend my money and time every week by turning up to games and I do so knowing the officials will almost certainly be a huge factor in who wins. They don’t cheat, but their decisions control and dictate who gets the ball and where they get it. A team can be officiated harshly one week, then be seen as near faultless the week after.
I went to Friday’s game knowing full well the Bulldogs, based on the previous week, would get every 50/50 call and I was proven right.
I know that when I watch the upcoming Origin games, the exact same rules that exist in the Premiership will be adjudicated by the referees in a completely different way.
Inexplicably, if not shamefully, the NRL can’t or won’t see this problem. They treat the fans like fools and are hiding behind a facade they have conveniently created.
I have a message that I’d like to send to Todd Greenberg.
“Talk the game up” is about spreading the good that players do on a regular basis. In itself, it is a wonderful and entirely appropriate message. But it cannot be the shield behind which you hide all the problems.
Unfortunately it is, and this means the refereeing will continue to be discussed far more than the great plays or the stars of our game. The sad fact is that refereeing decisions will continue to be as inconsistent and as baffling next week and next year as they were last Friday.
There’s nothing about that which is deserving of being talked up.
A Final Word: Gutho – A Man Of Honour
My last word has to go to Clint Gutherson – the man who wanted to take all of the blame for the loss to the Dogs.
The loss was not yours to accept on your own.
Hold your head up high young man. You made a mistake, we all do. It is not mistakes that define you, it is how you bounce back – and your bounce back will be wonderful, inspirational and infectious for us all. Of this, I have no doubt.
I know this because the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour and your past is full of effort, resilience, dedication, skill and passion. We, my son Jack in particular, look forward to watching you bounce back next week and celebrating it with you, because win, lose or draw you will be Parra’s best on field.
We can bank on that!