The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – Selecting The Eels General Manager Of Football

(The end of this post has been updated regarding the impending announcement of Mark O’Neill and the replies are now reflective of this – Sixties)

With the Eels now four weeks into their off-season, and the start of the pre-season just over a month away, the club moves closer and closer to the announcement of the appointment of a General Manager of Football.

The Eels went through a typical process of recruitment – advertising, head-hunting, shortlisting – with very little leaking out regarding the list of applicants. The only rumour emanating from the last few weeks concerns a media identity with a rugby league background being in the mix.

How did you, as fans, react to such a rumour?

What individual would you see as the ideal candidate for the role?

Obviously, there’s already been a bit of debate on social media, but before opening the floor here, let’s examine what the role encompasses.

The General Manager of Football at the Parramatta Eels was advertised as a newly created position with the mission of driving and developing football department strategy, and managing all aspects of the Football Department with the exception of coaching. The role was listed as having the following management responsibilities:

* Player roster & recruitment
* Salary cap
* Player contract negotiations
* Football operations – NRL & Junior Elite
* High Performance unit
* Player wellbeing & education
* Parramatta junior league
* Elite training facilities
* Budget compliance
* Media obligations
* Provide leadership & professional development to football department staff
* Foster & develop key relationships within the NRL community & key stakeholders


In terms of prior experience and qualifications, the following was listed:

* General management level experience
* Extensive experience in high performance sporting team to a satisfactory level with NRL or other elite sports commitment
* Strong people management or communications skills
* Able to build strong relationships

Considering the duty statement and selection criteria, is there a group of individuals that would be best suited to the position?

For example, would you look to appoint someone who’s had experience in a similar role at an NRL club?

The names that most people are familiar with include Peter Parr from the Cowboys or Frank Ponisi from the Storm. Given that the club included “other elite sports”, it’s not outside the realms of possibility that the Eels would consider appointing a sports administrator from outside the NRL.

Should the Eels decide to go down this “experienced” path, it’s likely that they’d have certain candidates in mind. They might not be high profile operators like Parr or Ponisi, but their success in a similar role would be paramount. There may be an individual at the Eels or at another club ready to take the step up into this position.

Considering that player roster and recruitment responsibilities feature prominently on the duty statement, I’d steer away from other sports as I believe that an NRL background is essential.

Therefore, given the importance of NRL experience, perhaps the Eels might dive into the pool of ex-coaches. There’s a few to choose from there!

Would an ex-coach like Brian Smith fit the bill?

Brian Smith’s name has come up regularly over the last five years for a potential role at the club, and he’s currently in a similar position with the Warriors. Undoubtedly, Smith is renowned for setting up systems to produce elite junior talent, and he’s never been one to shy away from challenges. As a coach, he’s done everything but win an NRL premiership. But would an older head be the right fit for the Eels in 2019 and beyond?

Smith has the advantage of previous experience with the Eels, but going beyond such history, the list of applicants with a coaching background might include the likes of Geoff Toovey, Michael Maguire or Anthony Griffin. Most applicants with NRL coaching experience would come with knowledge and a level of respect within the rugby league community, but have they got the coaching bug out of their system?

The vision for the Parramatta Eels General Manager of Football involves a role that works alongside the head coach, not someone who’d be looking to impose their opinions. Ideally, the role would be filled by a calm head who’d be there for the coach to consult with, not a person charged with overseeing the coach’s decisions. A person who still harbours a coaching ambition might find the delineation between coaching and administrating too much of a challenge.

Would this role suit a recently retired footballer? If the club is looking for a new direction and/or a dynamic person who’s going to grow with the role, then this might be the path that is taken.

A media personality has been included – Mark Gasnier?

The recent rumour of a media personality with an NRL background being in the mix might has seen the likes of Mark Gasnier, Michael Ennis and Ryan Girdler come into the spotlight. But not all player candidates need be in the media. Some ex-players have gone down the track of becoming player agents – I believe that former Eel, Isaac DeGois, is now an agent. Whether these former players are currently in the media or elsewhere, they certainly understand their football and having a resume with a successful, long term career is a definite advantage. Additionally, they are respected within the rugby league community and have honed their communication skills in their post-football endeavours.

Would a younger, ex-player have the administrative chops to take on such a role? Would the club overlook a lack of experience to get the right person with the right drive and ambition?

Herein lies the intangible of recruitment.

Having worked in this recruitment industry for around a decade, albeit in the distant past, I’ve discovered that the right person is so much more than the resume they present. The interview process sheds some light, especially if you allow the applicant to share their vision of themselves in the role. The reference checking with people who’ve worked alongside them fills in another piece of the jigsaw.

More than anything, if you have a genuine understanding of what type of individual your organisation needs, that should be your major reference point.

I see this position as a long term investment. Here’s the checklist I’d be referencing in selecting the right candidate:

* NRL background
* Intelligent
* Lateral thinker/proven problem solver
* Motivated by what’s possible, not hindered by what’s impossible
* Success driven
* Excellent communication skills
* Respected within the NRL community

If I was selecting someone who’d hit the ground running, and meets the above criteria, I’d be appointing Brian Smith. However, if I go back to my long term investment perspective, I start looking at a younger candidate – perhaps I’d appoint one of those recently retired players who’ve had a foray into the media.

What about you Eels fans? Do you have a category of applicant or even a specific individual in mind?

Whatever the case, we’ll be finding out soon enough.

27/10 Update: Media reports are tonight naming former Wests Tigers player and Football Manager, Mark O’Neill, as the Eels new GM of Football.

Experienced in football manager role. Won a Premiership as an NRL player. Experienced in the media. Experienced in commercial management.

Is he the best fit for the Eels?

We await an announcement from the club, including the basis for his appointment. Given the negativity surrounding the termination of his Tigers role, I’m certain that there were many positives that secured this role with Parra. We need to be informed as soon as possible.

Eels forever!


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I would also prefer Brian Smith. Don’t know about his contract situation with the Warriors. Is he located over the ditch or does he live majority of the time over here.

Jimmy Corbo

He is a smart cookie, you would think the old “job at home” get out clause would have been inserted.

Big Derek

Looking at the criteria and the possible candidates, Brian Smith if available would be the pick. He set up the original JETS program which saw the emegance of the Cayless brothers, Lyon , Vlla,Hindmarsh among others . Having said that, even someone like Gasnier would be a sensible target, articulate and well respected by the media. Whether he has all the credentials is of course concern, but he would have contacts with player manages and I guess some idea how to discuss contracts and talk on the same level as prospective players. It’s the handling of egos and structuring pathways… Read more »

Jimmy Corbo

We are at an infancy stage in terms of setting up our processes/procedures/pathways and I therefore believe a conservative route via an old head like Smith is the right path for the moment. He is a proven performer at setting up a club and just what we need at this point in time, with all the issues we have had in recent years it is a time for consolidation not experimentation. Having said that, without being involved in the interview process a young bloke may well walk in and just blow the panel away, we have to trust they make… Read more »

Jimmy Corbo

Yes exactly my thoughts, set up a good structure then allow someone new to come in and tweak it. We desperately need good foundations to then build on


All the above comments about Brian Smith have merit and I personally would support his appointment if he wants the job. Brian knows our club, he is familiar with the junior clubs and has not been gone from Sydney long enough to have forgotten HOW western Sydney (Parra, Panthers and Wests Tigers) produces 70% of potential NRL prospects. IMO, the critical factor noted by Sixties is the succession plan. We have not been good at this element throughout every facet of the club for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it was a consequence of all the political in-fighting?… Read more »


The old master Gower becomes the apprentice, I like that.


Like most here, I think Smith is tailor made for this role if interested. He is all about setting up processes & his experience is important, I don’t think we need a young player learning on the job.


BA is 44 with 5 years NRL head coach experience, not a rookie but relatively young in the coaching world. I think there is value in an experienced ex-coach type who would have the respect required and > 50 so as to not be seen as a threat/undermine BA’s coaching role. A candidate like Brian Smith makes sense with his Eels background (if available). Tim Sheens, he has the right pedigree although he has a polarising reputation. Someone like Matt Elliott who has kept involved in the game, is a good communicator and a deep thinker could add value. Or… Read more »


Wont happen ,Might actually have to do some work .


What’s Tim Sheens up to these days he would probably be a good option


How about Sterlo?


Personally, I’d want Sterling!! He’s the Phil Gould when you don’t want the arrogance!! He’ll do me, & he could probably end up earning more than he is now, ala Gould!


I’m looking forward to this announcement with much anticipation. In many ways we’ll be announcing to our supporter base the strategic direction of our football department with this appointment. The characteristics you identify Sixties are pertinent for the success of this program. We need someone who can drive outcomes and be really excited about developing a wholesale Eels culture across the football program. I’m sure I speak on behalf of many Eels fans in saying that I hope it’s someone who shares the passion of the supporter base, but the tact to remain faceless and focused on the road ahead… Read more »


Rumours about that Graeme Hughes has applied. Does anyone know when the entire review will be released to the public?
Also on the review situation I remember the club having reviews in 2012,13, mabe after 2016 cap scandal as well.
I hope we see significant change with positive outcomes.


Sixties i too would like someone with exp but also i would have someone assist in the role such as Ennis / Gasnier in view of learning and taking on in the future. Just my thoughts. Smith would be good as long as he didn’t poke in too much about coaching and want to take over….like further west at Penrith.
Hughes is a big no from me….C’bury links too close.


Let go bobcat and tonga and cayless who became internationals and gf winners not mention a stack of others plus cost us lyons , little man syndrome ,no thanks , had his go .


I can’t argue with those facts Anon, but I do believe Brian Smith has learnt a lot about himself that we must all come to grips with at some point. “Pride goes before the fall”! and it did just that with B. Smith.
When it comes to recruitment and retention, I believe whoever gets the gig would have to convince the coach on both those fronts before signing or releasing anyone.

Longfin Eel

When you look at the responsibilities, the person needs to have credentials in management. For this role to be successful, the GM Football needs to have people reporting to him (or her) who does most of the heavy lifting. This role should be there to provide strategic direction and be a link between the coach and CEO/Board. I don’t know that a recently retired player would have those attributes. Agreed though that a Brian Smith type person seems to fit the bill, and he already knows the club well. You could build into this contract a transition to someone to… Read more »


Yes, the role requires someone who has delivered strategies, plans and budgets,managed across functions,good communicator/people skills, cool head,and with a Rugby League psyche. An older, experienced operator may suit better for, say, 3 years.
Corey Payne came off the field, into an MBA, appointed Football Manager up the M4, then out the door with speed. Educated, NRL psyche but inexperienced(at a few things it seemed).


The tip of the iceberg was Gus having to tidy up a problem with the ARL over allocation of 2017 World Cup games. Payne apparently fell out with organisers as he attempted to create Penrith as the centre of the universe. God bless him for trying.
It was also suggested that the Gould, Griffin, Payne threesome was ‘tense’. A nice little case study for us sixties.


I believe i read the media personalities was Graham Hughes.
Id like Smith initially but long term im not sure, Gasnier would be a left field selection and i don’t think we can afford to take a risk.
I’d think on paper Anthony Griffin would be good but not sure he and BA would work.

Id like peter nolan back to the club in the role or someone like Matt Cameron

John Eel

There is a lot riding on the decision to pick the GM of Football. It is stating the obvious that our future is riding on getting this decision correct. A lot of people are talking Brian smith up but in the end his time at the Eels ended without an NRL GF. He gets talked up a lot and spent a lot of time coaching in the NRL without a GF win. He had very good squads throughout his NRL career but could not snag an NRL GF. Happy to be proved wrong but I don’t believe that he is… Read more »

John Eel



I like Nathan hindmarsh as he has media links and has drive


Hindy certainly had a crack!


I have heard a couple stirrings suggesting that Graham Hughes has applied, this would be a very savvy appointment in my opinion.
I have also heard through beautiful rumor vine that encompasses Parramatta, that Anthony Griffin will be coaching the Eels in 2020 if not prior. Have you heard similar!

Big Derek

Not the level of appointment expected after a massive review, little underwhelming in reality. Interviewed and had a great vision by all accounts, needs to prove it and make us all eat humble pie.


Have heard the Griffin rumour aswell i know a few have been spoken with.

John Eel

When I read about Mark Oneil’s appointment I was initially happy given that I did not want to see Hughes or Smith. A lot of effort has gone into his selection for the position by independent recruiters as I understand so it necessary to have faith in the process. Whilst I do not have much of a feel for his ability what I do like is that he has worked at a high level in business and you would have to think that he has experience in setting up systems and procedures. He clearly has a lot of experience in… Read more »

John Eel

Good luck with getting our supporter base to move forward as one. However your point is a good one.


If the club is driving an agenda of improving culture why hire a Football Manager who last held a similar role for a whopping 6 months, only to resign after allegations of alleged misconduct and inappropriate behaviour?


Also the tigers arent exactly a benchmark in a well run club this appointment has alot of questions about it.

Michael Formosa

I’m just putting out there if it’s Mark O’Neil I’m going to be very disappointed. He was the GM of football at the Tigers. Their set up doesn’t exactly scream success! I was hoping we get someone from either a successful club or with proven success. All those names you mentioned seem better than him. Although I don’t know anything about him personally but nothing about his appointment excites me at all.


Id like to second that – really non exciting selection. I really don’t get why when you have a league’s club that has that many pokie machines we make these decisions like we had a tight budget. If you want the best from our position I think it is critical we start getting the most successful people we can find i.e. people from clubs like Melbourne, easts or Brisbane – west tigers are about the last club I would think of when hiring people from. Let’s face if you are going to convince someone of the mentioned successful clubs to… Read more »


Firstly hes better than the person in the position now (no one ) he brings a wealth of experience and a footy background ,(unlike the people running nrl ) thats going well , so im willing to give him a chance to prove himself before i start poking him with the know all stick , as for the past ,pfft, he cant change his history but he can write it better from here on in, people spout of about giving 2 nd chances so lets , how does it go ,let he who is without sin cast the first stone… Read more »

Michael Formosa

Not once did I mention his past or whatever incident that may or may not have occurred. I’m only interested in what results he got while he was GM at the Tigers. I think the club can no longer take the attitude of “Just give him go and see what happens” they need to get it right.


Sorry micheal not aimed at you just a sixtys said another site mate


I’m with you Anon lets give him a chance.
Look what Blake Ferguson has achieved.


Not a very exciting hire, but it could of been worse. Some were suggesting Mick bloody Ennis!


Yep agree matt ,somebody with no experience other than being a know all is mr ennis

John Eel

Bernie should have been on the front foot with this. It is in all media outlets and rampant on social media.

I do not know how this story got out but it has and there should be a statement from the club. PR wise this is not going well.

Big Derek

Overall it appears Bernie Gurr has not understood that the Eels are not the Rorters, the supporters want to know what is going on, particularly after such a disastrous season. That is a failing on his part as CEO, for instance there is still no official announcement re Shaun Lane, a suave sophisticated approach keeps him in the back foot. Yes, the candidate is on leave and the news got out, that should be enough to release an official statement, perhaps that will be out on Monday, that’s given the naysayers far too much time. Mr Gurr needs to step… Read more »


Mr Gurr was at the roosters game with a roosters scarf on the other night i don’t think he understands alot really


He played his entire career at Easts, junior footy as well. Give the bloke a break Offside.


Not a good look as the CEO of aa rival club


I spoke to a mate who played with Balmain and Parra who knows Mark “Buckets” O’Neil and said “he’s a good bloke”, yet could not comment on his fit for the GM Football role. He did say his demise at the Tigers was a consequence of a blow up with a senior official there. Others with relative knowledge of his middle management position at Woollies have also spoken well of Marks people skills and that he is regarded as a good operator. I am prepared to give the bloke a clean sheet as are the Board members who have endorsed… Read more »


It’s easy to understand the naysayers’ opinion on this. O’Neill’s short and shaky shot at driving a football club would have received much scrutiny from those running the recruitment. It’s 11 years since O’Neill hung up the boots, so he has accrued general life and work experience where people would be able to assess his likelihood to perform a role. He just doesn’t have the campaign medals,but maybe the talent pool for these roles in NRL isn’t all that deep, and enticing the few top tier guys to break contracts and defect to the Eels isn’t as simple as thought.


If media reports are true, it sounds like a very rigourous interview and selection process that whittled down from 80 applicants. Given that, I was surprised to hear O’Neill. Maybe, just maybe, O’Neill will be the right person for the job. From what I can gather it seems O’Neill was sacked for “inappropriate” conduct towards an individual. I am sure if this is true it would mean he paid a hefty price for that error of judgement. It was approximately around the time of moving Robbie Farah, which would have been a very difficult period at the Tigers for O’Neill.… Read more »


Reading this article again and your summary of Brian Smith I think he would have been perfect for the role. The reason being is one of the biggest concerns I have with the club is junior development and junior recruitment of prospective talent. I don’t think there would have been anyone better to review an improve the processes we have in place there than him as imo when he was here we were the envy of the league we had a production line of local juniors(cayless, hayne etc ) , kids from the country (hindy, Andrew Ryan etc) etc coming… Read more »


I hope you are right and agree with the ISP issue. I read an article about Brian Smith’s role at the warriors recently seemed like he enjoyed the position and didn’t harbour any plans to get back into coaching. I still think he could have done a great job reviewing the junior pathways , making sure we have the right training in place for lower grade coaches , also thought he had a pretty good eye for talent. Perhaps there is still the opportunity for him to do that for us as a contractor\consultant. I am probably beating a dead… Read more »

John Eel

Sixties I believe that the point you have made above is the essence of problem that we are trying to solve. Someone with ability to setup the systems and pathways. We are not looking for a coach here. Whilst saying that it has to be a person with an eye for talent. These people have always been around great students of the game without the desire to take on a coaching role. Of course for the GM of Football role they also need the managerial expertise to setup the systems and pathways As an aside I read an article saying… Read more »

Parramatta Tragic

I expected s big name, experienced professional, both for his abilities and to send a message that we are turning the corner as far as professionalism goes. A big name professional would have also generated excitement amongst fans for next year, instead we are now looking for an explanation from the club to justify the appointment, rather than a “that’s a fantastic appointment” mindset. If we don’t announce another big prop and a hooker signing soon, interest will begin to wane

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