After a long and exhaustive process, the findings from the Parramatta Eels Football review have finally been released. Like all Eels supporters, The Cumberland Throw have been speculating about what we could expect, with Clint devoting two extensive posts to this topic.
We (Sixties and Mitch) were fortunate enough to sit down with CEO Bernie Gurr yesterday afternoon to discuss the review and took the following central points away from both that meeting and the media release that followed:
The Good News
The To Do List
Whilst there were no surprises in aspects of the Eels operation requiring attention, there are notable directions that the club will take moving forward.
Rather than simply re-wording the findings released to Members and media, we’ve decided to try offer some sort of analysis of what we consider to be the significant improvements to result from recommendations endorsed by the Board.
The appointment of a General Manager of Football and a Recruitment Manager are core components of a revised staffing structure.
For too long, the supervision of aspects of the Eels operation has been spread across too many hands. There will always be some element of multi-tasking in any workplace, but there was simply too much of it at Parramatta.
Having managers who will seek accountability from staff, and in turn be accountable themselves, means that key personnel can focus on the core responsibilities of their roles. Ultimately this means staff, from Bernie Gurr down, will have a better opportunity to excel.
Definition of the Parramatta Identity
This is important. What type of club are the Eels? Ask that question of staff, players, commercial partners and supporters and you’d get no unified response. It was beyond time for that to change.
After reading the emails, articles, and more so after speaking to a number of key Eels personnel yesterday, Parra’s future identity became very apparent – Parramatta is a Development Club.
This is not a unique identity. There are other development clubs in the NRL – those who have the resources and the associated philosophy to develop their own NRL players.
Whether players are true locals or brought in from elsewhere into the Eels development pathways, the goal must be to produce players who identify as Parra and are aspirational towards an NRL career with the club.
Having the Blue and Gold jersey from development squads to NRL is integral to this. The confusion of the Wenty partnership will end in 2020. This has been championed on TCT and it ticks a multitude of boxes – from identity, to player development to complete roster control.
The appointment of a dedicated Junior Coaching Coordinator re-affirms the commitment to develop NRL players. The Eels already have a good Junior Rep program; we had four youngsters debuting this past season; but the next step is ensuring that this produces even more first grade players in the long term.
Some might argue that it’s obvious that juniors are our strength, but recent lean years tell us that times are only just starting to change. The club’s roster currently sits on 44% with a link to Eels development systems. That percentage will require an increase to around 80% to fulfil that identity.
How many leaders do the club have in the playing group? Ignore whether a player has a C next to his name or not. If the current captains weren’t taking the field, who would lead the team?
Any NRL club should have a core group of players, not one or two, who can steady the ship, focus the team, urge team mates on, and drive player accountability.
You can look to recruit leaders. But if the Eels are serious about being a ‘Development Club’ then it follows that they need to develop leadership from within.
Investing in programs designed to teach leadership skills is a valuable step forward. It’s our understanding that there’s already been some exposure to this recently, but a commitment to long term investment will be very beneficial.
It should not be underestimated how important the new stadium is for the Parramatta Eels. The appeal to the current playing group, the impact it will (hopefully) have in close games, the gift it is for our fans and the carrot it could be for recruitment are all significant boosts for our football department.
On the other side of the coin, is Old Saleyards. Although infinitely better than what we once had (nothing), and a brilliant surface, we are still miles behind the majority of the NRL competition regarding change rooms, ammenities and the like. For as much as the Eels will be in the 21st century on match days, they’ll be back in the 20th when they train.
The Cumberland Throw welcomes the plan to have a Centre of Excellence. With this said, the thoughts of a five year process to get there isn’t music to our ears, so any possibility of fast tracking needs to be explored. Whether that is in Parramatta, or for example in the Hills District (the geographical centre of the Eels supporter base) I suspect would make little difference to the fans, players or coaching staff. The Tigers train in Concord, Manly train in Narrabeen, surely the Eels CoE could be in the Hills, or Northmead if a suitable location can’t be found in Parramatta.
In the meantime, the endorsed provision of improved facilities at Saleyards is a necessity. As any improvements to the training centre will require Parramatta Council approval, the short term and long term destiny of the Eels home base will be in the hands of local government.
Funding and Future Proofing
Whether or not supporters are encouraged by the recommendations endorsed by the Eels Board, the fact remains that the review will provide the club with the framework for a strategic plan moving forward.
We’ve been informed that the review benchmarked the Eels against best practised, high performing sporting environments. Ultimately it means that a greater financial commitment has been made to ensure that management, coaching resources, facilities, pathways and programs will be in place to ensure long term success.
At this point, the focus has been on adding staff rather than terminating current employees. Whether there will personnel changes as new structures and processes take effect remains to be seen. Given that 162 interviews were conducted, and staff were encouraged to speak freely, you’d then assume that they’ve had some say in what they needed to be successful in their roles and what they needed from the people they work with. It’s definitely a case of no more excuses.
Back in 2016, the Parramatta Eels were a basket case. We had no Board, no CEO, the NSW Government appointed an administrator to the Leagues Club, we lost contracted players, lost sponsors, and lost premiership points. The only place that this dysfunction didn’t manifest was in the performance of the football team. It was a miracle that Brad Arthur was able to insulate the team against the off-field storms.
But the efforts of the Eels across 2016 and 2017 only served to paper over the operational shortcomings that would always hinder long term success. We assumed, the club assumed, that the team would continue to produce on the field, regardless of what happened. We were wrong.
This review was not so much about finding answers for a bad season. It had to look at a bigger picture. Management, staff, players, supporters have all probably nodded as they’ve read the recommendations and concluded that it hasn’t been rocket science.
However, what the review has achieved is the formulation of a strategic plan, in black and white for all to see, of what the club needs to do moving forward. Most importantly, it has achieved the endorsement from the Board for the additional financial investment.
At the end of the day, the Parramatta Eels are a football club. From the Leagues Club to the front office to the coaching staff to the players to the fans. Our sole focus always should be success on the field and how to win premierships.
Regardless of the review, our mission has not changed.
Go you Eels (Forever!),
Sixties and Mitch