The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – The New Breed: Monitoring Emerging Eels

Back in the late 70s and early 80s, a golden era of junior talent helped to deliver a series of premierships for the Eels. A production line of players from the Parramatta development system should have delivered similar results in the late 90s and early 2000s.

We are now reaching another significant period for the Eels. A wave of talented youngsters, assembled by Eels Junior Recruitment Manager Anthony Field, have been progressing through the junior representative grades. Some of these players have either debuted for the Eels in 2018, or are tipped for NRL time in 2019.

Many of this group have been team mates since the age of 16. The majority have been members of  the 2018 Jersey Flegg squad. Consequently there’s a bond making them Parramatta aspirational, with a drive to achieve their goals together.

It’s a development which has been 4-5 years in the making, mixing pure locals with young players recruited from far and wide (thanks Fieldsy!). This is how long it’s taken to turn Parramatta’s junior development around.

Through all those years, Brad Arthur has been at Junior Rep matches, tracking their development. The investment Arthur has made is comparable to the Brian Smith era, and it’s very close to maturing.

Along the way they’ve been part of Joey Grima’s JETS group, and have kept the ball rolling under the coaching of Scott Jones in Matts and Ball, and Dean Feeney in Flegg.

A core group of these young players began their transition to the rigours of first grade in the latter part of the 2018 season, training with Eels NRL staff early in the mornings. Oregon Kaufusi was deemed ready to play NRL after his efforts in this group, with Brown and Utoikamanu only denied by their ineligibility. Arthur had previously signalled his intentions after debuting Salmon, Mahoney, and Stone.

For Eels supporters, it’s no longer an easy task to keep up to date with younger players as they transition through the grades. Match days often only feature the NRL, with lower grade matches mostly staged at Ringrose Park, and junior representative matches played at Cabramatta.

Fortunately, TCT gets to most of these venues, and Forty has happily joined forces with me for this edition of The Spotlight.

Here’s our updated guide to the next wave of Eels junior talent.

 

Dylan Brown  (18)

Originally from New Zealand but placed into the Eels Junior Rep system by Anthony Field, Brown has impressed at every level of the Eels development pathway. He dominated the SG Ball competition whilst still sixteen, and was promoted to NYC in 2017 after turning 17. He concluded 2018 in the ISP, earning praise from Arthur and the coaching staff along the way.

At the end of 2017 the talented half was forced to make a tough decision. He’d won the number 7 Australian Schoolboys jersey for their test against the Kiwis, which unfortunately clashed with the NYC grand final. Brown ultimately decided to withdraw from the junior test

Brown is quite tall for a half, standing at around 6ft tall. He doesn’t shy away from the physicality of the game – in fact, he thrives on it. A feature of his elevation to ISP late in 2018 was his willingness to take on the line as well as his defence against big forwards.

We expect Brown to get NRL game time in 2019. Given that he’s only 18, his game isn’t fully developed and he will need experience around him in making the transition to the top grade. However, he possesses the skill set required by an NRL half back – pace, vision, defence, and a kicking and passing game. Importantly, his greatest attribute is that he never seems overawed. It will be hard to deny his progression, though we should always temper our expectations when it comes to the Eels number 7 jersey.

 

Stefano Utoikamanu (18)

The Eels faithful wanted a big forward and they’ve got exactly what they wanted in this young behemoth. Standing at around 6ft 4 and hovering just over the 110kg mark, this 18 year old is well on his way to an NRL debut in 2019.

Big Stefano in action.

Surprisingly fast and agile for a big man, the modest prop is a determined competitor as soon as he’s in the heat of battle. For reference, his match winning NSW Under 18’s try saw him shrug off a slew of Queensland defenders over the line as he battled to plant the ball. In one memorable 2018 Flegg game he ran around 80 metres off an intercept before he was dragged down by the defence.

Like a number of other young Eels, Stefano has been preparing for his first NRL pre-season via some early morning sessions with Eels NRL staff during the latter part of the 2018 season. Indeed, his form in ISP would have seen him debut in 2018 were he eligible. A strong pre-season will have him once again in the mix.

 

Ethan Parry (19)

Talented, versatile, aggressive – these three words probably give the best understanding of this young outside back.

A graduate of the 2017 Eels SG Ball team, Parry stood out as an imposing figure on the Eels left wing. His tries were equal parts power and pace as he dominated his opposition throughout the season. What was most impressive was the manner in which he overcame a serious leg injury sustained during 2016.

Parry has played wing, centre and fullback during 2018, and handled his elevation to ISP with ease. I’m not certain which position will prove to be his best, but his performance at fullback in a beaten Eels Flegg quarter final team was arguably the best we’ve seen from him. He barked non stop at his team mates in defence and threatened to break the line with most carries.

As with Utoikamanu and Brown, Parry was involved with early morning training with NRL staff during the latter part of the 2018 season. We fully expect him to be part of the full time squad in 2019.

 

Oregon Kaufusi (19)

It was a massive Season 2018 for Oregon Kaufusi. The 19 year old forward was elevated to ISP in Round 9, earned selection in the NSW Under 20 Origin team, and made his NRL debut in Round 23 – just a few days short of his 19th birthday. Strong performances for Wenty demanded his call up to the top grade and the promising Kaufusi didn’t disappoint.

Brown, Kaufusi, Schneider, Parry, Cronin & Fieldsy.

The Parramatta Eels junior has played both middle and edge roles this year, with his NRL debut coming at prop. It’s been a tough initiation into the top grade, with his two matches coming against the 2018 grand finalists. However, his 100 plus running metres against the Roosters in a badly beaten Eels team was very encouraging.

This is going to be a huge pre-season for Kaufusi as he transitions into becoming a full time footballer. It’s already been an impressive achievement to earn an NRL debut after starting the year as an 18 year old Flegg player. A full pre-season will add size and fitness to his frame, and stand him in good stead as he looks to cement a regular NRL berth.

 

Salesi Fainga’a (20)

Potentially, Salesi Fainga’a sits as one of the most talented in this group of emerging Eels. He’s already played international football, having represented Fiji at the 2017 World Cup and he’s one of the Flegg players to have tasted ISP during 2018.

However, injury has not been kind to Salesi. He’s missed significant periods of football over the past three years and this has led to battles with his fitness. Though he’s never struggled when carrying some extra weight, either at training or in matches, there’s little doubt that his opportunity to play NRL will be contingent upon his dedication to getting himself into the best possible physical condition.

There’s aspects of Fainga’a’s game that I’d liken to former Eel, Feleti Mateo. Despite his big frame, he’s played some footy in the halves as well as the back row. He’s difficult to contain and possesses an interesting kit bag of passing skills. Interestingly, his time in ISP seemed to focus on adapting him to the physical collisions rather than any exhibition of his ball skills.

 

Tui Afualo (19)

After demolishing opposition centres in the Matts and Ball competitions, Tui Afualo received his call up to the NYC in 2016 whilst still 17 years of age. His raw power packed into a stocky frame make him a difficult proposition to tackle and he’s retained his place in the 20s from that point forward.

Unfortunately the back end of 2017 was a write off for Tui due to injury, and by the time he commenced the NRL pre-season, he naturally struggled with his fitness.

Tui Afualo – a damaging ball runner.

The past season in Flegg had him returning to his best to receive the player of the year. He even showed some versatility by playing in the halves during a game, something that he did during his SG Ball days. He’s become a more complete footballer during the past twelve months.

Though still eligible for Flegg in 2019, this next pre-season will be a crucial one for him. Look for him to be playing ISP early in 2019.

 

Kyle Schneider (18)

It’s likely that many Eels supporters have never seen this young rake play, but they’ve no doubt heard of him after he made Brad Fittler’s emerging Blues squad. TCT have watched Schneider play since his Harold Matts days.

Schneider is a leader. He’s excelled in captaincy roles at club, NSW and Australian age representative levels. The reason for this is that he plays with a level head – installing confidence in his team mates. Put simply, he plays with a team first philosophy.

Combine captaincy, goal kicking and ability to kick in general play, and there’s naturally been comparisons to Cameron Smith for his role within a team. Any further comparison to Smith at this stage would be placing unfair expectations on Kyle.

Injury at the start of the 2018 SG Ball season saw the Eels concentrate on his rehabilitation during the rest of the year. He returned to training with the Flegg squad late in the season and joined the early morning sessions with NRL staff.

Expect Schneider to spend the majority of 2019 in Flegg, with exposure to ISP as the season unfolds.

 

Jesse Cronin (19)

Another graduate of the all-conquering 2017 SG Ball team, the Australian Schoolboys representative has spent 2018 plying his trade in the Flegg team.

Usually a middle forward – in the Nathan Brown or even Ray Stone smaller forward mould – Cronin has displayed his versatility by jumping in to the dummy half role in games.

Cronin plays a workaholic and aggressive brand of football, especially in defence. His junior representative resume saw him turn a number of games with the impact of his play. It will be interesting to see whether the Eels continue to develop a utility role for him.

 

Haze Dunster (19)

Freakish size and athleticism may be the domains of his fellow flanker Ethan Parry but Haze Dunser is certainly no mug plying his trade out wide. Haze is a consummate finisher that plays the game with easy athleticism. Although he has made his name as a specialist right winger in his time at Parramatta, he has filled in at fullback when required and done a serviceable job in that role.

In 2018, Dunster was given his first taste of senior rugby league as he joined a number of his fellow Flegg talents as they were called up to the Intrust Super Premiership for the Wentworthville Magpies. He performed solidly throughout his time in the ISP scoring 2 tries in 5 appearances and averaging a tick over 100m per game. It wasn’t an eye-popping performance by any means but given his age and the relative talent levels of Wenty in 2018, it was certainly a platform that can be built on heading into 2019.

Blake Ferguson has one wing on lock down for the Eels but given the heavy media speculation about the uncertainty that surrounds the futures of Bevan French, Brad Takairangi and Michael Jennings, there is a lot that we honestly don’t know about the make up of the NRL backline in 2019. A big preseason could push the likes of Dunster or Parry right into first grade calculations.

 

Valance Harris (18)

Valance was primed for a massive campaign in 2018 after starring at prop in the post-season run of the 2017 SG Ball championship team. Sadly, his season was derailed by personal tragedy as his mother lost her battle with cancer. Evaluating his performances in 2018 becomes rather difficult given the filter of personal loss that he suffered.

Looking forwards, expect Valance to become one of the cornerstones of the Jersey Flegg forward pack in 2019. A strong season in the 20s next year would set him up for a short run in the ISP towards the backend of the season.

 

David Hollis (17)

There are times when spectators can not help but make immediate comparisons between a young player and an established NRL star. For young David Hollis, we’d suggest that more than a few fans will draw parallels to David Klemmer.

Hollis – an imposing junior rep player

As you might expect given the expected Klemmer comparisons, Hollis is a towering prop forward. While the Eels struggled in the SG Ball in 2018 for a variety of reasons, Hollis enhanced his reputation with a string of strong performances throughout the season. Eventually he was called up to the Jersey Flegg where he handled the jump capably – especially given his age handicap.

Given his rare physical traits, expectations will be quite high for Hollis moving forwards. However, with Oregon Kaufusi and Stefano Utoikamanu looking set to make the jump to NRL sooner rather than later it looks like Hollis can develop on a smoother gradient in 2019, cementing his place in the Jersey Flegg before anything else.

 

Sam Hughes (17)

Hughes has been the primary partner in crime of David Hollis over the last two seasons. A standout on the edges in 2017 in the Harold Matthews, Sam made the transition to the middle this year as he took on both SG Ball and Jersey Flegg responsibilities.

Injuries bogged Hughes down to an extent this season but there is no denying his talent. Big, physical and aggressive forwards are always coveted and Sam is lacking in none of these traits.

As with Harris and Hollis above, we envisage Hughes to become one of the mainstays for the Flegg in 2019 with greater expectations in the years beyond that.

 

JP Nohra (18)

JP hits it up.

JP Nohra has proven to be of the most consistent and dominant backs throughout his district representative tenure at the Eels. Nohra is an exceptionally well-rounded fullback, excelling as a physical and powerful ball-runner but equally so displaying excellent communication skills and the uncanny ability to pop up at the right time in support.

As with many of the other young talent detailed in this post, Nohra’s development was accelerated in 2018 as he was blooded in the Jersey Flegg. We expect this young custodian to spring board from that experience and become one of the focal points in attack and leadership for the Flegg in 2019.

 

Charbel Tasipale (18)

In a list rife with props, locks, backs and playmakers, Charbel Tasipale is one of the few EDGE prospects to earn a mention. As with so many prototypical EDGE talents these days, Tasipale oozes athleticism and explosiveness but what has consistently stood out for me when watching Charbel is his knack for big game performances.

Dating back to the 2016 Harold Matthews National Champions and right up until his late season debut in the Jersey Flegg where the Eels faced a number of crunch games, Tasipale finds impressive ways to impact said big games with powerful carries and deft offloads.

Of course, the flip side to this is that Charbel needs to strive for greater consistency on a weekly basis and that will likely be one of the goals for 2019 as he spearheads a young forward pack alongside the other talents listed above.

 

 

As this guide has been limited to members of the 2018 Jersey Flegg squad, it’s by no means an exhaustive list of Eels players. There are Flegg graduates whose current status is unknown to us, including those who may yet be contracted to the Wenty ISP team.

Furthermore, the 2018 Harold Matthews (under 16) team were grand finalists and will be major contenders for the 2019 SG Ball title. That squad will be strengthened by external recruits who’ve remained at home (Queensland and country).

Trying to predict the future for young players yet to experience the demands of full time football can be hit and miss, with a strong likelihood of the miss winning out. However, this quick listing is indicative of the depth of junior talent being developed and hopefully provides Eels fans with some (though not all) names to keep an eye on.

Eels forever!

Sixties & Forty

 

 

 

 

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colin hussey
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Great wrap up Sixties, and to me good to see Tui’s name up there, he has impressed me in the few games I saw of him, a sure powerful player at a young age. Unlike some elsewhere I look forward to next season, and with the news of 4 confirmed signings and then today, 4 more getting extensions, and hopefully a couple more new ones to come, I do see the year ahead to be much better. While it will be great seeing some of these players end up in the NRL, my big hope though is that there will… Read more »

Jimmy Corbo
Guest

Nice write up, great to get a taste of the future and an insight into players of which I have only heard fleeting reports. Like Colin I am hopeful some new cattle will be announced in coming weeks, with the coaching rosters sorted players will be moving ship all over the place over the next few weeks.

Hamsammich
Guest
Hamsammich

Very good write-up once again guys. I’m hoping that a few of these young fellas are able to play in first grade, we all know how draconian the NRL is with their rules around promoting young players to first grade.

Trouser Eel
Guest
Trouser Eel

TCT comes through with the goods to keep us interested/motivated through the off-season.
An interview with some of these up and comers (and their parents) would give some insight on what motivates and keeps them playing at Parra.

Milo
Guest
Milo

Superb write up fellas.
I cannot help but smile thinking of these guys coming through. I just hope one or two can transition strongly into the NRL, as its so hard to get a start let alone stay injury free etc.
These names have been around for a few yrs and its testament to the club. Thank you.
I guess my only wish is that we have a strong core of players around them in the NRL team to take them forward as when we had McCracken, Pay, Dymock.

The rev aka Snedden
Guest
The rev aka Snedden

Great write up guys.

What I just read tells me we have a bright future with all these jrs coming through. On Schneider his a DH correct ? With kp signing today for 1yr does that mean we will see more of Schneider & Mahoney in action together in 2020 ?

On Oregon kafausi will we see more of him in the NRL side ?

N what do U all make of the story going around that gurr is looking at Flanagan to be coach in 2020 ?

#Eels4life#

colin hussey
Guest

Rev, I think with Schneider his age may prevent him coming up too fast owing to age, Kaysa I believe will back up Mahoney or possibly rotate with him. I would love to see Kaysa have an injury free year to show what he can do, he was doing that until the bad one he copped in 2017 and King took his opportunity. I would like to see Kafusi given more NRL time. As for Flannagan there was a bit on one of the RL media’s about the prospect of him leaving the sharks end of 19 when his contract… Read more »

Billy
Guest
Billy

I think both rev and colin could be right. Schneider is young and playing in the middle is no easy task. Schneider is a great size DH and a solid defender. But coming back from a shoulder injury they make take there time with him. I do how ever believe the club regard him as a potential future star and i have no doubt he will be there abouts at some stage. When that will be will depend how he returns from injury.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

G’day rev, in regard to Flanno coaching at Parra?
We have a great coach in BA who has improved our position as a team and our integrity as a club exponentially since 2014 when he arrived!
I don’t think Flannos record at the Sharks was any better at the 5 year mark which was certainly only the halfway mark of his 1st grade coach career.
IMO, if we give BA the same 10 year tenure he will deliver a premiership.

John Eel
Guest
John Eel

This is a great summary of the junior talent coming thru. It is important that we as close followers of the Eels are aware of the talent being nurtured. However it is equally important that the weight of expectation is not lowered onto their young shoulders. I think that this article is well balanced and lands in the right spot. Well done Sixties and Forty. Now having said all of that it is still hard not to get very excited about the future. I was very impressed with Oregon Kaufusi in 2018. I had seen him play a bit in… Read more »

Jimmy Jnr
Guest
Jimmy Jnr

John Eel I have to agree about Oregon. He is a special talent and i cant wait to see what the future holds for him.
You mention MYSTIQUE when naming Brown and Schneider.
What do you mean.?

John Eel
Guest
John Eel

For me I have not seen much of either. A bit of Brown as he was introduced to the U20’s. Schneider not seen him at all. I have read a lot about both but especially Schneider. I live on the Central Coast and he got quite a write up in the local paper. Then again they are always going to be biased toward a local.

I just want to see them both get a bit of time in NRL to see how they go. Both are spine players making them therefore that little bit special moving forward.

Michael Formosa
Guest
Michael Formosa

Great write up! That was an outstanding read, this is the happiest I’ve been with a crop of juniors coming through in a very long time which is great because it wasn’t that long ago I thought we had absolutely no stand out coming through! The back end of 2018 changed my mind. This is why I’m happy Parra hasn’t gone on a massive spending spree over the off season. I’ll love to see a lot of these guys come into FG.

Pete
Guest
Pete

Great read guys. Really looking forward to seeing Brown 6ft halfback that can tackle, kick and pass. I hope we don’t have to wait until the season has gone before giving him some game time. The 2019 top 24 and 30, will be very interesting in deed. Thanks guys keep up the good work.

Shelley
Guest
Shelley

Excellent write up and very timely. There has been much debate about Parra signings and resigning etc for 2019. I for one am really happy that we are giving young players who have come through the system a real chance. Obviously they are talented and we all hope they can make the transition but simply giving them a shot creates a positive culture and encourages younger players to stay at the club as they feel they will be given a chance in the top grade if they earn it. If 3-4 of these young players, in addition to the 4… Read more »

Jetta
Guest
Jetta

Good read. But I recall you talking up a number of previous juniors coming through. Joey Tramontana and Troy Dargan come to mind. Pinning our hopes on young up and comers is fraught with peril. I hope you’re not getting too overexcited.

Forty20
Admin

I will freely own up to misreading the tea leaves on Troy Dargan, Tramontana I am a bit confused about though…the Eels cut bait with him in 2016 if I recall correctly (in a sensational player swap that nabbed us Reed Mahoney!). I don’t think his name ever featured on TCT. Dargan was one of the most well rounded attacking halves I have seen coming through the NSWRL systems and possessed the genuine play-making triple threat in his ability to run, kick and pass. He simply could not answer the call later down the road though. When the game got… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Excellent!
Thanks for providing these updates. Obviously a very talented assortment of elvers. My greatest wish is that we have the systems and coaching in place to support and develop these players.
Over the years I have seen numerous kids “get lost” in the system. Players with enormous potential. I look back at The Gibson Era where young players hit first grade and didnt look back.
Im of the opinion that there are always young players with NRL ability within the club. Its how we deal with these kids, sometimes even more than ability, that will determine their NRL futures.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Schneider isn’t even tested at flegg level and is he even 18 yet? And everyone thinks he need to be playing first grade and will be the next Cameron smith 😂😂

Flegg is miles ahead of Matt’s and sg ball in regard to talent and physical attires and he wasn’t exactly dominating sg ball..
let’s just concentrate on Mahoney

Forty20
Admin

Reed Mahoney is very much ‘the guy’ heading into 2019 but I don’t think sixties or myself ever laid short-term NRL aspirations at his feet. Schneider is plenty talented but my biggest knock on the young man (much as I had with the uber-talented Stefano Utoikamanu before this year) is that he needs to stay on the field. That has plenty to do with luck as much as other factors. I guess the biggest endorsement of Schneider’s talents, independent of anyone at TCT or the Parra fandom, is that he was part of the open age Emerging Blues talent squad… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

You obviously know nothing about football mate. Schneider captained our SG Ball team a year young and was outstanding in guiding his team around the park. The same year the kid played Nsw u18s origin a year young. As for dominating SG Ball, Lets think about that for a second. He captain our SG Ball winning team to national champions a year young 2 years ago. The kid was injured round 4 i think this year.! The team at that time was sitting 2nd. Schneider dislocated his should and the team struggled with out him for the remained of the… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

I don’t know him, just a parra fan mate who frankly doesn’t carry on about every hyped untested junior .He’s made a few rep teams so what, sterlo never made on and he is one of the best ever 🤷🏼‍♂️

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

We are all Parra fans mate. But you openly bag and criticised a kid still learning his trade like you knew him. I thought you said he didnt stand out in SG Ball.? Obviously cause he didnt play this year due to injury. If your going to make stupid comments at least know the facts. Your right. Not every player plays representative football. A player should not be judged whether they are selected or not as many are not and go on to be stars. But at this point in time it is only a gauge. This might be the… Read more »

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

It is very easy to sit behind a keyboard and make such comments…..

colin hussey
Guest

Certainly, there is no wonder in why the young players are kept away from the circus outside.

Too much pre judging and over expectations are exhibited by too many, and most should know better.

Hamsammich
Guest
Hamsammich

Sorry Anon, I don’t follow your logic with the “He’s made a few rep teams so what, sterlo never made on and he is one of the best ever”. Does this mean you believe that we should get rid of those players who do make junior Origin teams?

Surely being picked in such teams means that those outside of the Parra system also rate him as the best in his position for his age?

Peter
Guest
Peter

Hi gentlemen. Just wanted your thoughts on any further potential signings for 2019. Have you heard anything to give us supporters confidence for 2019?

DDay
Guest
DDay

Thanks for the many hours of research and write up about the next gen, great content. All positions are covered and you describe a wonderful array of athleticism, big bodies and skill sets. Sounds like a long term investment ready to pay a return. The injection of young, fearless enthusiasm adds another dimension to the NRL squad and the depth importantly keeps the pressure on for 1st grade positions.
Wonder how the Roster Ruminations guesstimate that 9-15 rookies in the squad of 36 will play out?

Phil Mann
Guest
Phil Mann

Enjoyed the read Sixties and Forty. Oh how I miss the days of U23’s, Reserve Grade and then First Grade all on the same day. As has always been the case there has been some remarkable junior talent on display in the lower grades only to find that when the pressure of First grade was applied many just didn’t graduate. That’s the same for all clubs. We are also a fantastic hunting ground for other clubs to seek talent. We cant keep everyone and only hope that our talent developers and coaches can identify those with the best skills and… Read more »

colin hussey
Guest

Phil agree with you on the 3 grades on game day. Thing was back then and, more so pre the elimination of the 3rds and its replacement with the under 23’s was that there was also a 4 team comp of junior rep teams. From memory they included Harold Mathews, SG Ball, Jersey Flegg and Presidents cup, not necessarily in that order owing to age, but those matches started early in the season and the comp was finished around the turn round time of mid season. What that usually meant was the top Pressy’s players ended up being called into… Read more »

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

The great thing about 3rd grade was that the young guys got to run around with a few old heads. It accelerated their development. I remember a 3rd grade game at Belmore which featured Mick Cronin coming back from an injury – knee I believe. The 5/8 inside him was a young Brian Jackson who served Mick up with choice passes all day. Mick made a great comeback and I’m sure it gave the 3rd grade boys something to talk about at work for the next couple of weeks

Greg Okladnikov
Guest
Greg Okladnikov

As always, Great article and overview with a lot of analysis