Let us begin with a little trip down memory lane.
‘He’s quick between the ears’.
Every genuine Parra fan knows who said this and what player it was about. Back in those days it was an aspect of the game in which the Eels had a distinct advantage. Not for one game. Not for one season. This advantage delivered five grand finals and four premierships.
Watching the game last week got me wondering about who has the football brains in our current Eels team. After all, it was incredibly frustrating to watch. Why did we keep running to the side the Storm had intact? How did someone on that field not see the problem and rectify it?
To be clear I am not talking about a coach sending a message out because in all seriousness if the play makers on the field needed to be told who the play should have been directed at, ie the makeshift winger, centre and half combination, then we have serious problems. If they cannot see a match direction so obvious that it literally has its own spotlight and billboard, then what hope is there when minor nuances need to be read in tighter encounters?
After so many positives emanating from the Dragons clash, this question about leadership still hangs over the heads of the Eels playmakers. This side now has Moses calling the shots, Norman in a secondary role and Salmon in an apprenticeship and running off the playmakers. Is this to be the structure of the Eels going into next season? If so, there remains much to be done.
Don’t get me wrong. I can see this Storm game potentially being wonderful for this team and its development.
On the night, the young players got invaluable experience, playing a hardened team in a tough venue and they did not disgrace themselves. In fact, the young squad stepped up to the mark in a massive way in defence. For a player like Salmon, targeted as he was by the Storm big men, the benefit of rising to the challenge will be profound.
Furthermore, I would argue that the Eels young players have the ability to learn much more post match, if our senior players step up during the process. No doubt a team review has been conducted on the game. Genuinely owning the poor decision making, understanding why it happened, and finding a solution on the training paddock will drive the team to make better choices the next time this situation arises in a game. In that way, a match that was so frustrating for fans to watch can becoming a valuable learning process for both the experienced and the inexperienced players.
Let’s hope that our senior players set the standard in that regard!
However, we still come back to our playmakers.
As Jack Gibson so rightly put it, who in our current Parra team is going to show that quickness between the ears, the footy intelligence that Sterling provided and in doing so set our Eels of the 80s so far above their opposition? We’ve seen it in all the great teams of the modern era since then via the likes of Stuart, Lewis, Langer, Johns, Fittler, Maloney, Cronk, Thurston, and Smith. You can’t win premierships without football smarts.
Perhaps the answer to the question will be found in this week’s clash with the Cowboys in Townsville. One of the game’s all time greats, JT, will be guaranteed to be primed for his farewell appearance. All of his guile will be on display. He won’t walk off that field with the music still in him. Will Moses or Norman step up to the mark in such a vital match? Will they earn the right to the conductors baton? There’s little doubt it will be crucial to the outcome.
Whether or not Friday night provides the answer, I do know we won’t win a premiership without a playmaker who is footy smart and to be blunt, I want my team to be building towards a premiership, aiming for anything less is not okay.