The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight: Youth – By Accident Or Design?

Five young players have made their NRL debuts with the Eels this year, but opposing perspectives on these debuts have dominated discussions amongst Parramatta Eels supporters as post-mortems on a disastrous 2018 season have begun. Some have seen Brad Arthur as a coach reluctant to use young players until the injury list left him no choice. Others regard BA as a coach with a deep investment in home grown or developed players, who finally had both the players to use and the opportunity to do so.

Let’s begin with the facts.

Marata Niukore – from ISP to starting forward.

The players to debut this year for the Eels were Marata Niukore, Reed Mahoney, Jaeman Salmon, Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone. Of these, only Niukore was a Top 30 player. The former Warrior was recruited from the New Zealand NYC team for the Eels 2017 NRL squad and made a strong impression in his first year by winning the award for Wenty player of the year.

Why didn’t the Eels use Marata last year given he was doing well in ISP?

In fact, TCT was calling for his inclusion towards the back half of last season and certainly earlier this year. However, Marata himself was very happy to debut when he was ready. Speaking with the young Kiwi, he credits the coaches with developing his confidence as a player.

The remainder of the Eels debutants, with exception of Ray Stone, remain eligible for the Jersey Flegg Cup. Stone is in his first year out of the NYC and training full time on a Rookie contract.

Therefore, outside of Marata Niukore, none of these players had been eligible for NRL selection under the current rules. Only an injury crisis allowed for the club to apply for dispensation to use them.

Ray Stone – uncompromising middle forward.

For some supporters, this fact only seems to draw more questions. Why weren’t any of these players put into the NRL Top 30 to begin the season? Surely this is evidence of an over-reliance on older players and a reluctance towards using youth?

Let’s consider those players.

A case could be made for Ray Stone. He was given ISP experience during 2017 and proved that he could both mete out and cop heavier hits.

Was there a Top 30 spot available for a relatively unproven NYC player who played the role of smaller middle forward? You’d have to examine the Eels roster to answer that question. He was competing with the likes of Beau Scott, Nathan Brown or even Manu Ma’u for a role. I’d argue that he was targeted for a 2019 spot, replacing Scott who was mostly likely going to retire regardless of injury. Regardless, a top 30 spot for Stone would not have received too many objections.

That’s “Cash” Mahoney fam!

Reed Mahoney is the debutant to feature in most social media criticisms of team selections, with many supporters questioning his omission from the Top 30. It’s important to provide some background here.

A couple of years back, Reed was signed from the Bulldogs by Anthony Field. The Bulldogs wanted a young Eels rake – Joey Tramontana (now with Blacktown) – and Field thought Reed was a player of promise and a good prospect to get in return. In essence, a swap was made.

Reed debuted for Parra in the latter part of the 2016 NYC season, and went on to star off the bench for Parra’s grand finalist NYC team throughout 2017. Going into 2018, Mahoney was still under contract and eligible for Jersey Flegg (current under 20s).

As part of his development, Reed was given an NRL training deal for the 2018 pre-season. He met and exceeded every expectation from Day 1. It earned him a Rookie contract.

NRL rules prevented his elevation to first grade until Round 14 when injuries allowed the club to apply for dispensation to select him. At 20 years of age Reed has plenty to learn in such a key role, but he obviously possesses both potential and a brilliant attitude and is now a huge player in Parra’s plans. His selection in the Queensland 20s squad was a massive moment for him this year and a big indicator that he also features in the Maroons’ future.

Consider this – Mahoney has progressed from a still contracted Flegg player through to an NRL training trial and then to Eels NRL hooker by Round 14. That’s a massive transition over a quick period of time, regardless of the circumstance. All indications are that he has earned first choice status in 2019.

From “apprentice” to craftsman – Jaeman Salmon.

This time last year, Jaeman Salmon was a Sharks SG Ball graduate recovering from a broken neck. He is a talent, but anyone declaring that they thought he should have been on a Top 30 deal is straight out lying. Not only was he returning from a potentially crippling injury, he hadn’t even proven himself at NYC level. To be honest, signing him to an NRL rookie contract with the accompanying full time training squad position was a massive leap of faith.

Salmon’s progression this year has been nothing short of sensational. To miss the first four rounds then transition through both Flegg and ISP to a starting NRL spot, is a credit to him and a nod to BA for having the belief to play this inexperienced 19 year old in the halves.

Finally, Oregon Kaufusi isn’t in the Eels full time squad this year. The Flegg prop, who only just turned 19 on the 20th of August, has progressed from under 20s to being one of the most consistent ISP players in 2018. Arthur has been very keen to give the young tyro a run this year and injuries finally provided the opportunity. Though it required injuries, elevation to regular ISP at 18 years of age was an indicator of the plans for Kaufusi.

Oregon Kaufusi – Go Oggy, go you good thing!

Anyone who thinks players can just be elevated straight from Flegg (20s) to NRL, should try talking to the young players about what it’s like jumping to ISP, let alone NRL. The jump to ISP is all about the heavier hits. The jump to NRL adds the pace to that.

Check out the current Eels Flegg players who were elevated to the Wenty ISP team later in this season, despite their team’s impending participation in finals football – now work out why they would be there. The plans involving young Eels talent and their transition is obvious.

In my opinion, the successful transition of young players into first grade was always planned, though the opportunity to blood them came sooner than expected.

But there’s more that TCT can share with you, and it involves the pathways to NRL.

A number of weeks ago, a group of around 8 or 9 Flegg players commenced training with NRL staff from 5:30am a couple of times each week in preparation for the upcoming pre-season. Their needs might be different, but the discipline and dedication to become an NRL player is a big lesson to be learned. When these players take the next step to NRL training, they will be more likely to hit the ground running.

But the resources aren’t just going into the players about to rise to senior football. The expertise of the NRL staff, and ETC resources, are being provided for Eels JETs (Junior Elite) under 16s players. Each week this group of boys work with NRL coaches and trainers as they learn about correct techniques in addition to receiving specialised coaching.

Outside of that, the Harold Matthews and SG Ball program is likely to be expanded via the club’s participation in the Andrew Johns and Laurie Daley Cups in 2019. This means players in the extended 16s and 18s squads will get game time in Eels colours in these country rugby league tournaments.

Moving forward, I’m hoping that the NRL changes the rules surrounding the Rookie contracts. There has been speculation that squads could effectively become a top 36 with Rookie contract players being eligible for NRL selection. As things stand, the current rule surrounding these players is somewhat detrimental as it prevents development within a season from being rewarded. For Parra, this season began with only one of the debutants in the Top 30. What became obvious during the season was that a number of players developed from being nowhere near NRL ready, to being preferred selections. The system must cater for such growth.

Clarification on this rule is important for all clubs as it will determine decisions around Top 30 positions. Regardless, I expect the Eels to name a younger squad in 2019.

It will be by design.

Eels forever!

 

Sixties

 

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Jonboy
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Jonboy

Always good to read informed and accurate data Sixties. Some of this detail is not visible to many so putting it out there in plain English will help many people understand the why’s and why nots for the young guys who are either ready or nearing readiness to transition into the top grade.

I guess the unfortunate point is that this doesn’t stop the uninformed or the chaos makers or the fake fans from broadcasting their own lack of understanding and knowledge.

Salty Pete
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Salty Pete

Great insight, Sixties!

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Once again we thank you Sixties for such a clear explanation of what can be a bit perplexing at times. Hard as this footy season has been, it would have been even harder without this site to retreat to for some balanced perspective.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

An Informative and factual article , to many people pass judgement without being in possession of the facts , i reckon this and i think that ,if only it was that simple , all clubs are bound by the same rules and until the nrl realises their hampering junior development and the game in general we may all be upset at the restrictions but we all have to abide . As sixtys stated there is a move afoot to change eligibility rules for development players that looks like being implemented ,long overdue but extremely welcome .

Colin Hussey
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Colin Hussey

Great read Sixties, and it fills in a lot of spaces, its something that should be put on the other site so the experts there get to know the answers to their why’s.

I await your next post to share about the other promising players, next year really cannot come soon enough for me as I look to the changes in the squads with new signings from outside and those being elevated from within.

Gazzamatta
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Gazzamatta

Im pretty sure we started the season with 28 positions filled of our entitlement of 30. We then lost Scott and Williams for the season along with Edwards. Im not sure how the logistics of all this works 60s but it does raise questions about promotion of some of these kids into the top 30 during season 2018. Are you more informed on how this has been handled?
Thanks

mitch
Admin

Hey Gazz, I hope Sixties doesn’t mind me answering (I’m sure he’ll add to my response) but despite what many people think the Top 30 is determined by salary, not selection. Therefore the loss of Scott, Williams and Edwards did not actually “open up” positions within our Top 30 as their already paid salaries contributed more than the players below them. So hypothetical numbers – if Player X is on 500k and plays half a year (remember years start in November, not kick off for Round 1), his 250k still out ranks Player Y on 80k who is outside the… Read more »

Gazzamatta
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Gazzamatta

Wow! Had no idea. Definitely explains the lack of replacements for Kenny, TRex and Beau. Thanks for that. Makes perfect sense. That said. Do you know who took positions 29 and 30.
Cheers

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Thanks Sixties. Nice to keep us up to date with factual reports. Be assured the real fans appreciate it.

DDay
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DDay

Good to read the detail and facts about the rookies, this Top 30/Rookie thing is a grey area that few outside the TCT seem to understand, many thanks. The benefit of hindsight suggests the Eels squad in 2018 was aged and arguably injury prone but I think the other crucial ingredient was the squad was complacent in its’ attitude. The injection of rookies has added enthusiasm and hunger and coincidentally seen our win/loss ratio improve noting none of the rookies have had a man-of-the-match performance – yet. The inclusion of the rookies in the playing roster it’s important but it’s… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

In 99% of cases Every junior that comes into your team brings the one ingredient you cant do without ,ENTHUSIASM!!!!

mitch
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well said. Reed and Salmon have been at least that in each of their games (and more).

Joshuatheeel
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Joshuatheeel

Great read!! Only thing you sure Salmon isn’t top 30? With French playing NSW cup, surely the NRL wouId make us use him first ?

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Position comes into the rules josh

Joshuatheeel
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Joshuatheeel

of course, but we can move Norman to the halves and bring French into the side at either fullback/wing ( Hayne / gutho to fullback)

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Picked it

John Eel
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John Eel

Josh Colin Hussy and myself have been saying this for sometime. The Eels are required to fill the 30th spot by June 30, nobody was recruited to that spot so it had to be filled internally.

My assumption was either Reed or Jaeman. Agree with you that it is most likely Jaeman.

BDon
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BDon

Tks Sixties,great read, I need educating, i’ll move on from Presidents Cup, Thirds/U23, Reserves, Firsts. It will be interesting to see how our young players figure in the 30 for 2019. Plenty of scope to freshen the squad with keen young blokes. Niukore and Mahoney have added something already, and Salmon looks like a composed footballer whose strengths will emerge with game time. Stone and Kaufusi are lining up. From the process you describe, those 5 may be included with others recognised through rookie contracts. As a side issue, I still think we need some bigger forwards in the 30,… Read more »

John Eel
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John Eel

A top 36 makes a lot of sense and as I have posted before all clubs would have 6 players on rookie deals and all clubs would be under the same salary cap restrictions and therefore it gives no club any disadvantage should the rule be altered to allow a squad of 36. The other point worth considering is how many teams this year have used in excess of 30 players in the season? The other point I would like to make is that a team that is struggling as the Eels have done this year cant expect Rookies to… Read more »

Offside
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Offside

Good read i believe whats holding back our development pathways is wenty if you look at the constant teams in the ISP they are clubs like the tigers/wests dragons/cutters penrith/penrith Bulldogs/Bulldogs They have a clear connection to the 1st grade team penrith are known to give decent cup contracts so that the squads to the point that cup players can train regularly instead of part time and do more opposed sessions. connecting coaches is another factor ie tigers Hodgson is the cup coach snd serves as a assistant to grade, i was talking with a wenty plasyer who said some… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Another great read thank you.! You wrote this.! A number of weeks ago, a group of around 8 or 9 Flegg players commenced training with NRL staff from 5:30am a couple of times each week in preparation for the upcoming pre-season. Their needs might be different, but the discipline and dedication to become an NRL player is a big lesson to be learned. When these players take the next step to NRL training, they will be more likely to hit the ground running. A few questions – Who are the 8-9 players.? Are these good players and are any of… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Good read sixties and helps some understanding of the top 30. It seems to me though Mahoney must of been elivated to top 30 as other wise King would be playing and Reed would not get a run this week, is this the case.

Johhno
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Johhno

Sixties, great stuff. I have been involved with the Parra junior system for a few years now and have watched Salmon for the last five years and have known a few of his coaches. Let me give a bit of a run down on his background: Played Matty’s Cup – a year young. Next year Matty’s Cup – Grand Final Man of the Match (against the much fancied Parra team). Same year, State of Origin Under 16’s – was the best player for NSW in a losing side. Next year, SG Ball a year young, then selected in the NSW… Read more »

BDon
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BDon

People seem too quick to judge Salmon. Looks like a really composed player to me. Composed usually means low errors and good decisions. He’s also playing in the team running last with personnel chopping and changing. I reckon he’s got a good sense of role and has been playing to not let the team down by not overplaying his hand, hero plays not on his agenda.
Shelley, great article, hard to know where the circle starts, but people, attitude and commitment is a good starting point.

Johhno
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Johhno

Bdon, you are spot on. Salmon actually likes to run and rarely makes mistakes. Your summation is right on the money. He’s been thrust into a desperate side and is not overplaying his hand.

Jimmy Jnr
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Jimmy Jnr

Nearly beat Parra pn his own.? You seriously believe that.? Both Salmon and Metcalf were made to look ordinary bye Dylan Brown and Joeseph Tipari in that grand final. Parra took a huge lead and were all ways in control of that game. Salmon Played for Nswccc and played ordinary in the Aus championships even if he didnt hurt his neck i doubt he would of been selected.. Who were they going to drop.? Dylan Brown who absolutely killed Salmon in the 1st game of the tournament in which Nswchs won bye 40.? There is no doubting Salmon is a… Read more »

Johhno
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Johhno

Sorry Jimmy. I never like to say more than what is necessary but you have forced my hand. I have been a selector for the Aussie Schoolboys team for nearly 7 years and Salmon was picked before he ran on the field. And not just by me. He’s an absolute competitor. Be that as it may, I like Brown and look forward to them both flourishing.

Jimmy Jnr
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Jimmy Jnr

Thank you Johhno, Appreciate the honesty.. I am not doubting Salmon is a great player. Will be interesting to see where his future lays position wise going forward.. Do you have an opinion on that Johhno.? While your at it, Mind if i ask. Who are the players we should keep an eye out for who played Aussie school boys the last 2-3 years. Players you think are potential superstars.? Thanks

Johhno
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Johhno

No worries, Jimmy, and please don’t misunderstand me, I’m a big Brown fan. He’s going to do well. There is some obvious standouts at schoolboy level, and those guys are now playing NRL or at least knocking on the door, Lomax, Curren, Haas, Graham; however it’s really difficult to predict as players often mature physically later so we are going to have some bolts from the blue so I wouldn’t want to write anyone off. But there is this undefinable competitiveness that all the driven players have (Thurston has it in spades). Salmon has this, and so do the above… Read more »

Jimmy Jnr
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Jimmy Jnr

Thank you so much, Even though people have differing opinions its actually nice to understand what others see in certain players. There is no right or wrong answers its just someones opinion. But i love the fact how you have explained things & put them in a different light which i agree with.. Can i get your opinion on some Parra juniors coming through. Iv done a bit of reading and some players names keep coming up. With out any pressure and keeping things very simple can you tell me your opinion on a few please. Its great getting an… Read more »

Longfin Eel
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Longfin Eel

Sixties, it’s understandable that these guys were still quite a way off being granted a top 30 position at the start of the year, but does this mean that there has been a gap in previous years of juniors? Ideally the club needs to have a constant flow of juniors that have a chance to progress, but it seems 2016/17 didn’t produce the players that were ready to step up. To ask another question, does the club have the next lot of juniors ready to progress to take the positions of these 5 who will now most likely take a… Read more »