It’s the bye week, and with the Eels only featuring in lower grade matches I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from the here and now and take a buggy ride down memory lane.
And what better way to do so than via a team list. Seriously, who doesn’t love a team list!
I’ve produced the odd list in my time, and I much prefer compiling one with a difference.
Therefore, I’ve decided to come up with a register of Eels players who’ve rarely received the accolades, but have added value (in my opinion) to Parra during their time in the Blue and Gold. I’ve called it “The Unheralded”.
The players below are from the 1970s to the current season, but there are qualifications:
1. No NSW or Australian representative honours.
2. No premiership title
3. Less than 100 first grade games with the Eels
This is not meant to be a “best of the rest” or “should have played rep footy” type of list. It’s really just a compilation of players that were personal favourites of mine, and maybe it might rekindle a few memories for some of you.
Here we go.
Parramatta Eels – The Unheralded
Fullback: Phil Mann, 1973 – 1983 (55 games)
Phil Mann in full flight was a sight to behold. His nickname of “Spider” was well-deserved as his two metre plus frame rarely provided an easy target for a one on one tackle. The long legs were hard for legs tacklers to wrap their arms around, and his inspector gadget arms delivered a powerful fend. One of my favourite rugby league moments was provided by Phil – a length of the field try in reserve grade at Kogarah.
Having caught a failed Dragons penalty goal, Mann took off from the in-goal and down the left wing. After fending a number of defenders, he was confronted by Michael Sorridimi, who attempted to psyche him out by jumping up and down with his arm above his head, as if to say, look how tall you are.
He was also swatted away!
Wing: Brad Williams, 1981 – 1984 (24 games)
Williams was a crowd favourite from the lower grades in the late 1970s, primarily because his thin frame of around 60kg (the “bionic matchstick”) seemed so unsuited to rugby league. His bearded visage provided the appearance of a mini-me version of Neville Glover.
Yet his first grade career seemed to take off as a considerably bulked up Williams became a different proposition for defenders. The Eels winger reached a level of notoriety by admitting in an interview that he was aided by a medically supervised course of steroids (then permissible). What wasn’t as well documented was his dedication to training in an effort to build up his physique. Still, Gibson was no fan of Williams going public and he ended up moving to the Raiders.
Centre: Ed Sulkowicz, 1974 – 1980 (68 games)
Ed Sulkowicz and his brother Ted were genuine club men – primarily playing lower grade football but producing quality footy whenever called upon for the top grade. Ed played quite a bit of first grade and possessed a vastly underrated sidestep (right foot from memory).
Back in those days there was no such thing as left centre or right centre. It was inside centre and outside centre. So a player with Sulkowicz’s pace and step outside the Crow made for an ideal pairing.
Sulkowicz was one of my favourite Eels players in the 1970s and I cheered myself hoarse when he scored what should have been the winning try in the 1977 grand final.
Centre: David Woods, 1989 – 96 (97 games)
One of the most naturally gifted backs to play for the Eels, Woods unfortunately found a way to pile up injury upon injury.
Woods was an elusive runner, who could swerve at top pace. During the late 80s to mid 90s, he became one of the “go to” backs for Parra when attempting to spark their attack. He could have been anything in the 1980s golden era backline.
Were his injuries bad luck or poor training and poor injury management? Only Woods could answer that.
Wing: Lee Oudenryn, 1992 – 1995 (50 games)
Leaping Lee had a cult following, and made a name for himself via his impressive pace. When the Eels played the touring Great Britain side in 1992, Oudenryn famously beat the man acclaimed as the fastest in rugby league, Martin Offiah, in a pre-game match race over 100 metres.
Despite claims of jumping the gun, Oudenryn was pulling away from Chariots over the last 15 metres.
Unfortunately few scoring opportunities were up for grabs at the Eels during the early 90s, so Oudenryn’s raw speed rarely came to the fore.
Five eighth: Denis Moran, 1997 – 2000 (36 games)
Despite not being able to secure a permanent first grade spot, Moran’s versatility in covering the halves and dummy half positions made him a valuable player in Brian Smith’s Eels roster. He possessed good pace off the mark and his stocky frame was ideal for such dual roles.
A typical Moran performance saw him coming off the bench to score a try in the Eels demolition of the Roosters in the 2000 finals series. He was an opportunist, always placing himself in the play to take advantage of offloads or half breaks. With Brian Smith noted for turning over his roster, especially in the halves, it was no surprise to see Moran move on after that season, finishing his career in England.
Half: Chris Lawler, 1994 – 1998 (49 games)
Chris Lawler was one of the Eels better performers during the dark years before Brian Smith’s arrival. He was the top points scorer in the 1995 and 1996 seasons. The goal kicking half was also a genuine speedster, hence his achievement of also being top try scorer in both of those seasons.
The arrival of Smith, along with the recruitment of John Simon, saw Lawler fall out of favour. He would only make one top grade appearance during Smith’s tenure. Personally I had hoped that Smith would take Lawler to another level. Unfortunately he didn’t feature in his plans.
Lock: Kenny Edwards, 2013 – 2018 (70 games)
One of the biggest “personality” players to ever pull on the Blue and Gold jersey, Edwards will probably be remembered as much for his antics as his skill. The hugs, the cramps, the off-field dramas, all seemed to garner as much attention as his ability to change the momentum of matches with his high energy plays.
For mine, Kenny’s understanding of defensive structures was one of his greatest strengths and was definitely a key component in Moses’ improved defence in 2017.
Second Row: Feleti Mateo, 2004 – 2010 (88 games)
Personal disclosure – I really rated Feleti. An in-form Mateo in Eels colours – it was truly an extra dimension in attack. I know he was prone to errors, and his work rate wasn’t the highest, but when he was in the zone he was almost impossible to shut down. He had the pace, power and ball skills to play either in the forwards or the halves. Unfortunately, patience wasn’t always his friend and this led to far too much lost possession when looking to promote the footy.
The 2009 run is regularly attributed to Jarryd Hayne, which of course plays down the contributions of others. When Feleti was added to the Eels 2009 team that was already producing a new level of second phase footy, the meter hit the freak zone.
Second Row: Justin Morgan, 1994 – 1999 (83 games)
Morgan was an incumbent in the Eels pack prior to Brian Smith’s arrival in 1996, having debuted in 1994 at age 19.
His athletic frame – 6ft 3, 105kg – saw him playing both front row and back row positions, and increasingly a bench role under Smith’s coaching. His work rate and mobility in attack and defence made him a valuable member of a talented Eels pack.
Morgan was only 24 when he moved on from the Eels and he retired only three seasons later.
Prop: Bob Jay, 1972 – 1980 (55 games)
Bob Jay was an example of the days of great club men during the semi-professional era of rugby league. His nine years with the club only yielded 55 top grade games, but he played with the Eels at a time when they dominated the club championship (1976 to 1982) with three strong grades.
A rugged prop, Jay was in the mould of the run hard, tackle harder front rower typical of the 1970s, with a pinch of ball skills thrown in. He was arguably in the best form of his career when a forearm from a Manly forward (deemed legal by Greg Hartley) broke his jaw during the 1978 finals series.
Hooker: Brad Drew, 2001 – 2002 (45 games)
Brad Drew only stayed for two seasons with the Eels but had an immediate impact through his key role in the Eels record breaking 2001 season.
Drew was a converted half, but his stocky frame made him the ideal dummy half. He possessed the skill set of most halves, and the pace to create line breaks with his darts from the ruck. He was also a dangerous proposition close to the line.
Typical of the Smith era, this talented dummy half was only retained for a brief period (see also Aaron Raper) as the coach looked to use utility players in this specialist position.
Prop: Peter Johnston 1989 – 1991, 1996 – 1997 (69 games)
If ever a prop forward clearly defined his personal style, it was Peter Johnston. The kamikaze front rower had two stints with the Eels, punctuated by time at Souths and the Steelers.
Wearing his trademark headgear, Johnston often earned the ire from opposing fans for a tackling style that they argued had him leading dangerously with his head.
There was little doubt that Johnston only knew one way to play – fearlessly. He was undoubtedly an Eels hitman, and when you have a player that makes the opposition nervous, that’s a good thing!
Over to you.
Feel free to add your memories about the players on my list and/or add a list of your own.
Credit to Slip, News Limited, Getty Images and a raft of internet sources for these images.