The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – Parramatta’s Joint Venture With Wenty

The Parramatta Eels are currently undertaking a mid-season review of their football operations. Whilst the scope of the review has not been made public, there is a major component of the football program which should definitely come under the microscope. That component – the joint venture with the Wentworthville Magpies – is the subject of this week’s spotlight.

A young Maloney in action for Wenty.

The history of the Eels/Magpies joint venture dates back to 2008 when the Wenty club first fielded Parramatta contracted players in the NSW Cup of that year. Success was immediate as the team, led by current Origin star James Maloney, took out the inaugural premiership in the revamped competition.

Putting that success into perspective, the Eels had been Premiers in the competition’s predecessor – The Premier League – from 2005 to 2007. It was a promising start, built on previous successes, but the good times have been rare since.

This may not be a popular stance. It may not be possible in the immediate future. Nonetheless, it is my belief that Parramatta’s joint venture with Wentworthville should be scrapped – and the sooner the better.

This is not meant as a criticism of the Wentworthville Club, or shifting some of the blame for Parramatta’s failures on the Magpies, but it is clear that this arrangement is not beneficial for either party.

Let’s consider some of Parramatta’s likely motivations for the current arrangement.

Financial
The Wenty ISP squad consists of both Eels and Magpie contracted players. The staff are contracted to both clubs. The matches are staged at Ringrose Park. There is undoubtedly a bottom line saving for Parramatta based on these costs alone.

Venue
With Parramatta playing as a tenant at larger stadiums, it’s no longer possible to stage three grades of football at either ANZ Stadium or the new Western Sydney Stadium. Some weeks, only one match is played. Having the joint venture with Wentworthville provides a satisfactory home ground for both the ISP and the Jersey Flegg sides.

Fear
Correct. I am listing fear as a motivator. There has long been the fear that not locking in a venture with Wentworthville would effectively leave a very wide open door for a club like the Storm to set up camp in the middle of the Parramatta District through the Magpies.
This is understandable. The Raiders are now set up at Mounties. Manly took Blacktown Workers from Penrith. It’s not ideal, but regardless of any senior arrangements with these clubs, their juniors still participate in their local leagues.

For Wentworthville, the benefits are not as clear.

The Magpies are a rugby league club supported by a massive and successful Leagues Club. That club isn’t burdened with financing an NRL team, but it’s charter would include the propagation of rugby league in the district. An arrangement with an NRL club would provide a pathway for junior and senior players, as well as putting the club in an elite NSW competition at a reduced cost. Beyond that, it would still be a financial burden.

So what aspects of the joint venture are a concern?

Let’s begin with Wenty. As the minor partner in the venture, the Magpies are subject to the decisions of the Parramatta Eels. The Eels determine which players will be made available each week, and this can be changed at the last minute.

Better times early in 2018.

If the Eels had all players available, the Magpies could literally be filled with Parramatta contracted players. This rarely happens, and last minute changes to the team filter down through all levels of Wenty’s senior teams. Every grade can have major disruptions, and as a club they have minimal control over this.

The downside for the Eels is more profound, as it impacts development pathways, and in my opinion, the identity and culture of the Parramatta club.

Consider this.

Parramatta have a junior pathway that commences with under 14 and under 15 talent development squads. The junior elite then transition through the Harold Matthews and SG Ball competitions with the Jersey Flegg Cup the last port in their age team journey.

What then happens?

After wearing the Parramatta jersey through six years of junior development, they then don a black and white Wentworthville jersey. How does this make them Parramatta aspirational, or benefit the culture of the Eels?

And it doesn’t just impact juniors on their pathways. At the top end of the Eels roster, players in the top 30 who don’t make the top grade, who train in blue and gold with their NRL mates, are then further separated from their colleagues by being handed the Wenty jersey. Furthermore, they are then asked to play on a separate day at a suburban venue.

The counter to this concern is a club like the Melbourne Storm who pack their lower grade players onto a plane to Queensland at the end of the week to play on parks up north. It hasn’t impacted their development or the club’s success.

To that, I would argue that the Eels shouldn’t do what they don’t need to do, and there is far more to gain from having a development pathway which engenders a deep association between the player and the club. NRL teams such as Penrith, St George, Newcastle, Canterbury and the Warriors have all tinkered with a joint venture feeder club. They’ve now taken back their “reserve grade” identities. All bar the Bulldogs are now enjoying an NRL resurgence.

As a someone who’s watched a fair share of Wenty games over years, I would also question the benefit of playing young Eels players in an ISP team carrying Ron Massey Cup players.

In a traditional reserve grade team, there would be a mix of senior graded players with a few age team players on their path to first grade. For Wenty, we see young Parra players playing alongside park footballers every week.

Case in point, a number of weeks ago Jaeman Salmon was selected in the centres for Wenty in a match at ANZ Stadium. He’s a versatile player, and the coaches probably wanted to see how he handled that position. Unfortunately, the Wenty contracted halves that day performed poorly and as a result Salmon had little to show.

To clarify, this post is not meant to bag Wenty contracted players. There are some whole-hearted footballers who give their all. I enjoy watching matches at a venue like Ringrose as you hear all the calls and feel the big hits.

However, every player in our system should either be capable of at least filling in for the NRL, or be under consideration for an Eels senior contract in the future. This is not the case for virtually every Wenty contracted player. They don’t have to meet the same training requirements. Their performances don’t enhance their prospects of playing first grade or earning an NRL deal. They aren’t Parramatta players. They are lucky to train once per week with their team.

Last week Peter Wynn visited the Eels captain’s run. I witnessed him showing a collection of different Parra jerseys, including the Famous Grouse jersey, to the players. Eels media shared the images with supporters.

Flegg to ISP shouldn’t mean a different jersey.

Peter was sharing the Blue and Gold identity with the players. Successful teams have players who take pride in wearing that team’s colours. Parramatta have the opportunity to bring talented young players through their system and have them aspirational about wearing the Parra jersey, not a black and white strip. To have time out from that goal, when they’re only one step away, seems illogical.

When most considerations of the joint venture are examined, it literally becomes a question of cost savings vs hampering pathways. When the lack of NRL success also impacts costs, and with a club that needs to develop better players in a winning culture, I would argue that Parramatta can no longer afford the Wenty cost savings. It sounds odd but it’s true – we can’t afford the savings!

Developing Parramatta aspirational players is paramount. When they’re on the verge of NRL, playing them alongside better quality Eels players in an Eels jersey must be our goal.

At this crucial time of assessing our football operations, I hope that this significant aspect of our pathways is not ignored.

Eels forever!

Sixties

(Credit to Steve Little for the Jersey Flegg photo)

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John Eel
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John Eel

Sixties this is a very thought provoking article. However given the lateness of the hour and the fact that I have already finished my hot cup of Milo (my apologies to our poster of the same name) and in bed I may not be at my analytical best to absorb all that you have laid out. I must confess that I have little understanding of the complexities and have never questioned the arrangement in my mind. In saying that you have sparked my interest in the issue. Firstly let me say that I am not aware of the magnitude of… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

John its ok mate and its marvellous what a difference Milo makes…..

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

Sixties, this is a very timely post, and I have wondered about the arrangement for some time now and in all honesty I do not see the current set up really benefiting either Wenty or the eels, the way the two comps are set up are in many ways poles apart in the way both clubs can operate. Wenty in many ways are more disadvantaged by the current arrangement than the eels, as Wenty have no idea who out of the extended bench NRL players they will have available to them, I also believe the players on that bench are… Read more »

Longfin Eel
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Longfin Eel

That’s an interesting thought Colin regarding the number of players allowed to play NRL. So every ISP team acting as a “Reserve Grade” has at least 4 players who can’t play NRL. This suggests that the top 30 idea does not work, and makes no incentive for clubs to bring in young players. Perhaps what Parra and Wenty need to do is to renegotiate the current deal rather than to scrap it altogether. Maybe Wenty acts as a feeder to a Parra ISP, so Wenty contracted players can at least aspire to play in the blue and gold. The NRL… Read more »

The emporer
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The emporer

Money

John Eel
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John Eel

Colin I read somewhere that Wyomg are cutting tied with the Roosters. They are basically saying that they are not getting value for money.

To your knowledge is this true?

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

I hear the same thing John, and seems that North Sydney is also in the mix with the bunnies looking to pull out of that arrangement and the chooks to take over from the bunnies. IIRC, it has something to do with Carney being signed to play with Norths.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Unfortunately , the 30 graded NRL players and restrictions below that is another initiative from Toddy Boy. Struggling to find any idea from the CEO that has benefits the game overall. Not having a game prior to the NRL is impacting on Crowds, atmosphere and supporters who travel long distances to attend . This needs addressing immediately and certainly ahead of the opening of the Western Sydney Stadium, otherise it could reflect a similar situation . Don’t know how it works at other NRL clubs, and the difficulty that Wenty would be open to approaches from an NRL club wanting… Read more »

BDon
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BDon

Yes Sixties, good,informative stuff. It seems we need to revisit what the major objective should be. We might think we have clear objectives now but there’s too many and they conflict. One club, one jersey sounds like it may pull things into better shape. Remember as a kid when the other team turned up short on numbers and your coach made you put their jersey on to even up, I used to hate it. Maybe the professional players of today just accept they won’t always wear the NRL team jersey, but you can’t help but feel that many would have… Read more »

Shelley
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Shelley

From the moment the kids enter our junior squads I would imagine they are coached and expected to be team first, show pride and respect for the jumper, club, have same expectations re training/ behavior etc. To me it is ridiculous to do all that work, including money and time and then suddenly get these players to the step before first grade and throw them into a team that is made up with different training/ behaviour expectations, skill development, commitment, different jumper, different playing venue. Rather than saving money it may be costing as I have no doubt all these… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

I concur with most here; one club and jersey seems the right fit; and the logistics and costs should be covered with the right set up at coach / club level.

MAX
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MAX

Sixties, what an outstanding summation of a venture that is both flawed and certainly not working, like you I watch many of the ISP and Ron Massey games at Wenty and venture out to St Mary’s from time to time to watch their RMC team, as I a have a nephew in that team, and I genuinely enjoy park footy for the same reasons that you described. Wenty leagues is an outstanding licensed club, the football club however, really should have a good look at the professional manner in which St Mary’s not only run their football club, but also… Read more »

John Eel
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John Eel

At the end of the day this issue is going to come down to dollars and cents. Sixties you raise some very good points in your summation which I find hard to challenge

We may not like the outcome but that is how it will play out.

Max is a driven man when it comes down to costs

MAX
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MAX

He should be driven when it comes to costs, as he is taking plenty out of the club and delivering a doughnut.
Tell me this as I don’t really understand it, do we still need an administrator at the club, if so, Why?
One should really take their hat off to Graeme Foster, for attracting the sponsors he has whilst the club is under an administrator!