Farewell to the 2018 season.
Calling it disappointing would be akin to describing Charlie Manson as a troubled soul.
However, the potential for a silver lining should not be ignored. The diabolical results of this year have brought about the Football Club Review. Such a review, and the associated raft of changes/improvements, may not have eventuated from an average or mildly successful season. One recommendation that must be at the forefront of the changes is the divorce of the Eels and the Magpies.
Over the last couple of months I’ve campaigned for an end to the Eels ISP venture with the Wenty Magpies. Without throwing any stones at the Magpies, I’ve maintained that it’s imperative for Parramatta to field a stand alone ISP team. The last few rounds of the competition have only reinforced my stance.
In previous posts, see here and here, I’ve highlighted issues such as pathways and opportunities, player support and mentoring, and importantly developing a culture of Parramatta aspirational players. Undoubtedly these critical issues will have been addressed in the much discussed review (see Clint’s post).
In this post I will address the impact of the venture on the clubs in the Parramatta District Junior Rugby League and the advantages to be gained from an Eels ISP team.
When you have a powerful junior club such as Wentworthville aligned with the Eels, there is the perception that playing with this club is the pathway to grade football. It matters not whether this perception impacts the parents of the very young, or the parents of the talented teen (even the player himself), the fact remains that it is not conducive to a healthy and balanced junior league.
The perception might impact a large number of talented kids or just a handful. Regardless, this thought should not exist.
Ideally kids will play for their local club. The reality is that the older a player gets, the more likely that “recruitment” to stronger teams will occur. But whether it’s perception or reality, the management within the senior club must do everything in its power to minimise the weak getting weaker and the strong getting stronger.
This is the role that the Eels must take so that their own junior league flourishes and remains the lifeblood of the club.
A Better Model For PDJRL Clubs
As the senior club, the Parramatta Eels can establish a true junior feeder club system.
The Eels Harold Matts, SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and ISP teams should play in Eels jerseys and without any exclusive affiliation with a lone junior club such as Wentworthville.
Players from all junior clubs can continue to have the opportunity to be selected for junior representative footy, and do so without the perception that playing for a particular club is the avenue to selection.
The local clubs which field senior teams in competitions such as Sydney Shield and Ron Massey Cup can become true feeder teams, similar to the arrangement that exists between the Broncos and the Queensland Intrust Super Cup teams. Like that competition, players outside the NRL Top 30 that are not required for ISP or Flegg (this would likely be second tier players or extended the Flegg squad) could be allocated to the Sydney Shield and Ron Massey Cup teams across the PDJRL clubs.
The outcome of this is that these clubs are strengthened by the injection of graded players, and players at these clubs can see a pathway via their own club to the Eels.
The Hills Bulls, Cabramatta, Wenty, Guildford and Mounties are all Parramatta JDRL clubs with teams in these competitions. Mounties have an ISP relationship with Canberra but their juniors are still Parramatta juniors. No other Sydney NRL club has so many local clubs participating in these senior competitions.
It is a unique opportunity.
Without doubt, the review will identify the need for a Centre of Excellence.
As the current ETC at Old Saleyards sits on Crown land, the development of that site is likely to be problematical. Any COE will need greater space than what is currently available in Parramatta.
In the long term, land would need to be found in other locations, probably in north-western Sydney. The plan could incorporate a match venue suitable for lower grade and junior representative football. For that to occur, you would need a professionally laid playing surface, fencing, a small stand with dressing rooms, along with spectator toilets and amenities. Such a smaller venue would probably require 12 months to develop.
In its completed state, a Centre of Excellence at that same site would need at least another three playing fields as well as a COE structure. That eventuality is probably 4-5 years in the making.
In the interim, any cessation of the Wenty venture would require an immediate change of venue for both ISP and Jersey Flegg.
Forget the new stadium. Hell will freeze over before three grades become a regular feature.
I’d hope that we’ll see curtain raisers instead of the dead atmosphere before stand alone NRL matches, but that discussion is best left for a different post.
Therefore, a venue has to be found.
It’s not ideal, but grounds such as Lidcombe, Belmore or St Mary’s could be explored for a single season. Cabramatta, the current Junior Representative venue, could come under consideration, as could school sites such as the Kings School, Parramatta. Ultimately more informed alternatives could be suggested by decision makers at the Eels, but they are not without viable options.
It would only be for one season, so this should not be a stumbling block to the ISP decision.
A Final Word On The Big Picture
After three dedicated posts, it’s prudent to consider an overview of what can be delivered by a Parramatta ISP side.
Every step of the pathway process, from under 14s development squads to NRL will be in Parramatta colours. There will be no confusion about Wentworthville being a stop along the way. Rather, players will identify as Eels and will be Parramatta aspirational.
* Pathways and Opportunities
There will be a distinct pathway to the NRL with the Eels that will provide opportunities for Eels junior clubs to become partners in the process. Players who graduate from Jersey Flegg Cup without immediately securing a Parramatta NRL contract can remain within the Eels system via second tier deals or aligning with a local club. Parramatta junior clubs are strengthened via this arrangement.
* Support and Mentoring
Players in the Parramatta ISP team will be provided with continuity of Eels coaching systems and mentoring by senior staff and NRL players. This is critical in that last step before they become or establish themselves as NRL players.
The development of coaches and support staff is just as critical. An Eels ISP team can provide the opportunity for their staff to come under the NRL umbrella and receive development under the tutelage of the NRL coaches and the high performance department.
* Recruitment and Roster
All players would be recruited and contracted by the Eels, be they from the Top 30, second tier or Flegg players.
Second tier contracts could be offered to young Flegg graduates who don’t immediately earn an NRL contract, but are considered worthwhile to keep in the Eels system. They might also be offered to older NRL players unlikely to be selected for the top squad, but valuable for mentoring young players transitioning to senior footy.
Places would be made available for exposing current Flegg players to senior football. This year has seen younger players gain experience in ISP late in the season and a similar process could be adopted moving forward.
Ultimately all team selections would be made in consultation with NRL coaches.
When the decisions are purely football related, and not short term financial considerations, there is very little that supports the continued marriage between Parramatta and Wentworthville. It’s a marriage of inconvenience that’s been in place for 11 years. After the initial title in 2008, this venture has delivered little in the way of competition success or player development.
It’s time to end this dysfunctional union and move towards a better model.