What will the Parramatta 2019 roster look like? Will it be different enough or strong enough to drive the Eels from cellar dwellers to top 8 contenders?
The next few months should clarify which players have been retained, who’s been released and the names of the younger players elevated into the top squad. We can be patient and wait for the announcements or team list profiles to appear on the official website, but where’s the fun in that?
Therefore, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring to examine the decisions around the 35 player roster for next season. Because most NRL squads like to keep a roster spot up their sleeve for a mid season signing, I’m not going to list a 36th player. Please note that I’m including the possible rookie contract players in this list, given that the NRL is considering a change to the NRL eligibility of these players.
But here’s the problem. There will be 38 players named below, and I’m suggesting that up to six more names could be added. It doesn’t add up.
Newly Contracted (7 roster positions)
Paulo, Lane, Ferguson, Sivo
I have no names (though there are rumours on social media), but I’m tipping a further three potential signings. I’d suggest this could be two forwards and a back.
update – Andrew Davey reportedly added – back rower Townsville Blackhawks
Elevated Players including rookies (9 – 15 roster positions)
My Definites – Kaufusi, Mahoney, Salmon, Stone, D. Brown, Utoikamanu, Dunster, Fainga’a, Parry
My Possibles – Afualo, Dresler, Schneider + up to 3 others
Contracted NRL players (17 players)
Alvaro, N. Brown, Evans, French, Gutherson, Hoffman, M. Jennings, Leleisiuao , Mannah, Ma’u, Moeroa, Moses, Niukore, Norman, Smith, Takairangi, Terepo
Likely to Extend But Unconfirmed (4 players)
Gower, Hayne, G. Jennings, Pritchard
D. Aukafolau (2017 Rookie)
I’m very confident that Gower, Hayne, Jennings and Pritchard will have a deal sorted or announced in the near future. There are also some question marks surrounding the final number of elevated players. I think we can lock in somewhere between 9 and 15 players, but this will be dependent on what happens with the contracted players.
I have not listed any player still without a contract for 2019 – they might be negotiating an extension, but there has been little mail suggesting this to be likely.
Given my confidence that at least 9 young players will be elevated into the top squad, I’d suggest that a minimum of six names will disappear from the lists above. Even if I remove the three rookie contract possibles along with Aukafolau, it still leaves the likelihood that two contracted players might be released.
I’ve gone on record with my belief that the Eels cannot enter the 2019 season with both Moses and Norman in the halves. That could be a likely roster change.
The question then remains whether they consider the size of the contract, the depth in the position, or the quality of the individual when deciding on other potential releases. If the club chases a marquee signing, this could impact the decision to either free up cap space or shed excess players in a position.
Looking at the roster from another perspective might help with finalising the squad. Accordingly, here’s a depth chart to shed light on the strengths and weaknesses of positions.
Middle – Paulo, Utoikamanu, Alvaro, N .Brown, Mannah, Terepo, Evans, Gower, Dresler (possible rookie) plus likely signing
Middle/Edge – Lane, Kaufusi, Moeroa
Edge – Ma’u, Niukore, Takairangi, Stone, Fainga’a, plus likely signing
Dummy Half – Mahoney, Pritchard, Schneider (possible rookie)
Back 3 – Hayne, Ferguson, French, G. Jennings, Hoffman, Sivo, Leleisiuao, Parry, Dunster (Aukafolau?)
Centres – Gutherson, M. Jennings, Afualo (possible rookie) plus likely signing
Halves – Moses, Norman, Salmon, Smith, D. Brown
Analysing possible roster changes from this perspective, it looks as if the Eels are short on specialist centres (though some back three players are possible selections) and dummy halves. They could recruit in these areas.
Conversely, Parra seem to have the back three positions well covered and might look to clear roster space there. Rumours that French is on the move have circulated on social media and Hoffman is approaching the end of his career. Perhaps one of these two might not be with the Eels in 2019.
In a market which has been relatively scant in free-agent players, the Eels have picked up some decent signings. However, they should not be finished with their roster just yet. I’ve tipped three more players will be added but another impact forward must be a priority. If none become available then we need to blood Utoikamanu early in the season.
How patient are you feeling Eels fans? Are you champing at the bit to hear more signing news? The NRL finals will rightly be the focus of attention over the next three weeks, but out in the golden west, I can’t help but feel that interesting if not challenging decisions are being made.
I suspect all will be known before November 1. Incredibly, that’s not that far away!