I’ve got a lot of respect for NRL players.
They put their body on the line in arguably the toughest collision sport in the world.
For many years I’ve watched the Eels team both train and play. Year round. Like other teams, it’s a gruelling pre-season regime, followed by the weekly demands of professional sport. Individuals have to be tough, talented and dedicated to succeed.
These players dedicate their lives to preparing to wear the jersey that supporters cheer for. It doesn’t come easy. Anybody who thinks that it’s easy doesn’t understand football.
Out of the countless thousands that played footy as kids, it’s a minute percentage who go on to be professional footballers in the NRL. And they deserve the success and the pay packet that comes their way.
With that acknowledgement made, there’s some truths that need to be said about the Parramatta team tonight.
I’ve deliberately used the word “dedicated” a number of times in my preamble. That’s because something made perfect sense as I wallowed in the agony of defeat.
There was a distinct lack of dedication on the field tonight.
It’s all very well to give everything you’ve got on the training paddock, to give lip service about the need to turn up on match days and perform. But if you haven’t got 17 players all dedicating themselves to doing what needs to be done in every moment of every game then you won’t win football matches.
Sadly this is Parramatta, 2018 version.
In past weeks, Brad Arthur has talked about the big moments that we’ve lost in some of the close defeats this year. He’s specifically mentioned periods of games that let the team down. Against the Knights, it wasn’t just big moments. It was many, many little moments too. And the period that the team let themselves (and supporters) down for was bang on 80 minutes long.
On countless occasions against the Knights, players stared at a ball on the ground, waiting for someone to pick it up or fall on it. There was zero desperation to stop Knights players from grounding the football over the line and yet this is something other teams do so well against the Eels. Certain forwards pushed through the defence line with an arm free, only to find nobody there or the person in support with their head turned away because they’d given up on the play.
Adding to all of that, the frustration of seeing players taking wrong options is now a weekly ritual.
A big run, a big hit, means nothing if you’re not prepared to do the effort on effort plays or the one percent moments that are so crucial in every game. Surely staying alive in the play until the referee calls held is one of the basics to an NRL footballer.
Where is the commitment, the dedication to playing for the blue and gold colours that many supporters have loved for a lifetime? Those of us who braved the cold conditions at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night did not deserve to sit through that uninspired performance.
As I typed up this post, I questioned whether expressing my opinion like this was appropriate. Shouldn’t I be supporting the team when they are down?
It was then that I had an epiphany.
I show my support every week. I’m dedicated in my support – and I’m sure the rest of the roughly seven thousand people in attendance tonight are just as dedicated.
The supporters who turned up deserved to have every Parra player turn up too. It’s not a matter of whether the team wins or loses, it’s whether the team digs in and leaves nothing in the tank.
It was not so in this clash. The supporters had to witness a lack lustre effort against a team with the worst defensive record in the competition. As horrible as the score was, it flattered the Eels.
Walking out of the ground tonight, I started to compile a list of players whose effort was above criticism. After considering the merits of five or six players, I realised how ridiculous it was to consider such a question. Simply posing the question to myself was evidence enough of how little the players were dedicated to their roles in this match.
In the press conference, BA and Gutho described this game as embarrassing. I hope that all of the team feels that way, because there are no excuses – absolutely none! It was not the performance of a team that cares about who they are representing.
I’m not going to single out individuals for praise or criticism. The fact is that too few deserved praise. And yes, the fans also felt the embarrassment.
The feedback from the supporters tonight needs to be that blunt.
I’ll keep turning up. It’s about time that the whole team did too!