The Cumberland Throw

How An American Fell In Love With Rugby League And The Parramatta Eels

Recently, the Parramatta Eels NRL club proudly announced that their memberships had reached the 20,000 mark. With over a month to go before the season commences, this is a significant milestone.

As a proud Eels member, watching from the other side of the world, I’ve been asked to share my story.

Though new to NRL and the Eels, I now avidly follow both the code and my club.

Like most Americans, I grew up watching and playing baseball. The closest team to me as a kid in Central Florida was the Atlanta Braves, and I grew up watching them on TV during long, lazy summer days as my parents did whatever it was parents did. We’d go camping in North Carolina at the end of every summer, and on the way back stop in Atlanta for a game if the Braves were in town. I don’t remember them ever winning a game we went to, but we had fun all the same.

Like many Americans, I’m the child of immigrants. Well, AN immigrant, anyway. My dad was born outside of London and came to the USA about 15 years before I was born. I don’t think he ever got baseball, but he was mad for gridiron football, specifically the Houston Oilers.

There’s a story that right after I was born he had a vasectomy. It wasn’t a simple outpatient procedure back then and the doctor told him to take it easy, but the next day he was at an Oilers game. The only time I saw him cry was when the Bills came back to win 41-38 against the Oilers in that miserable 1993 playoff game.

For many years, the NFL and MLB were it for me. I started cheering for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the Oilers moved to Tennessee and became a Seattle Mariners fan after I moved to Montana.

Then I fell out of love with the NFL. 

If players weren’t getting involved in acts of violence, they were scrambling their brains for the sake of billionaire owners who it seemed viewed the players as interchangeable cogs in their money-printing machines. I turned off the NFL and focused solely on baseball for a while.

Then in the summer of 2017, I read an article explaining the rules of rugby union on Deadspin. It had a brief section on the difference between it and rugby league, but kind of disparaged league.

A few weeks after reading the article I happened across a union match between Italy and maybe New Zealand while in a hotel room in Kalispell, Montana. I watched for a bit and enjoyed it enough that when I got home I set the DVR to record any instance of “rugby” over the weekend.

I wound up stumbling across something called the NRL with a matchup between the Raiders and Storm, the one where Iosia Soliola’s arm firmly acquainted itself with Billy Slater’s head. I’d recorded a few other NRL games and watched them intently, too.

I fell in love with the game – 80 minutes of almost nonstop action, quick passes, big hits, and close enough to gridiron football that my dumb American brain could grasp it immediately.

I went looking for a team to support.

In the States we have enough Broncos, Cowboys, Titans, Panthers, Raiders, Jets, Bears, and Eagles (be they Sea or other). I had no geographic ties to any suburb or state, so I chose one with a pleasantly goofy name: the Parramatta Eels. Blue and gold have coincidentally always been colours of the schools I’ve attended, to boot.

Go Semi!

I watched some clips on YouTube of highlights, including the 2009 comeback season and highlights of a superhumanly fast Fijian named Semi Radradra scoring boatloads of tries. I loved hearing Ray Warren shouting “Radradraaa!”

Late one night I tweeted to my handful of followers that I’d discovered this thing called rugby league and that I was thinking of supporting @TheParraEels. Within a few minutes my phone dinged with an alert: the Parra Eels’ Twitter account had replied, welcoming me to the fold. It was a simple thing, but that little welcome cemented my fandom for me.

When I woke in the morning, I’d been retweeted and replied to and followed by what seemed like half of Sydney. There were lots of people saying “Welcome!” and “I’ll buy you a beer if you make it out here,” and that kind of thing.

There were also a handful of “Oh boo the Eels,” and warnings that the Eels were perennial losers and that misery lay in my future. Of course as a Bucs and Mariners fan, misery was in my blood. When you’re at the bottom of the standings, it makes those brief flirtations with success all the better.

Of course the Eels had a deep run in the playoffs that year and we were all excited for another shot at it in 2018, even if Semi was eating baguettes in Bordeaux. I now had my jersey and was a dues-paying member. The day I got my membership package I went on Twitter to post pictures and saw that Jarryd Hayne was facing what was to become the first of his legal issues.

The coffee mug put to good use!

Not a great start to 2018, and the on-field news didn’t get any better for the Blue and Gold either. As the season progressed, a lot of people chirped about wanting their membership dues back, but I never did. I was proud to have the member sticker on the back of my car, proud to wear my tie to work, proud to wear my jersey sitting at home watching the game on the Watch NRL app, 12 or more hours after the actual end of the game.

In fact, I’ve become a sort of league evangelist in the short time I’ve been a fan. I took my soon-to-be wife to Denver and met some friends there for the test match last year. I send my fantasy football league NRL highlights to my friends; they enjoyed Adam Reynolds’ three field goals in the playoffs over the Dragons.

Tepai is gearing up for a big season

And while this off-season has been brutal for the NRL, it’s not all bad news for league fans and especially Eels supporters.

For one, it’s literally impossible for us to finish any lower on the ladder than last year. And we’ve got some great guys on the team. We’ve got talented big boys like my favourite player, Tepai Moeroa, and Daniel Alvaro. Importantly, Clint Gutherson ought to be back to form with another year removed from his knee injury.

Dylan Brown is an exciting young prospect and on our veteran list there’s noted good guy Tim Mannah. He may have lost a step with age but his Wikipedia page doesn’t have a “Scandal” section and that deserves to be celebrated.

I’ve put 2018 behind me, and now look ahead to the coming season.

I’m ready to watch my team remind opponents how it feels to try to go toe to toe against the Parramatta Eels.

Neil Tredray

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Milo
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Milo

Hey Neil
Great read mate and what a pic of you wearing the eels jersey in the snow! It is a great game and we are very glad to have you on board the Parra train.
I recently got home from NY where we exp snow and that cold air was something good compared to the 100+ degrees here in Australia.
TCT is a superb site and your story is a beauty- thanks for being an eel.
What major sports are in Montana? Baseball? Ice Hockey?

Neil Tredray
Guest

Hey Milo, We have a minor league baseball team here and little league/high school baseball is fairly popular here too. Hockey’s got a following, too. We have a junior travel team in town that draws pretty well. There’s actually an annual amateur rugby union meet in Missoula called MaggotFest. I’ve yet to go but this summer if I can swing some time off work I might go. We took the photos today; I think it was about -5 Fahrenheit (-20° C) at the time. It’s a winter sport, right? It’s an honor to be featured on TCT, and thanks for… Read more »

Milo
Guest
Milo

Sounds like a good place to live Neil. The temperatures sound nice and cold. It was good to experience some of the winter while i was there. Nothing like our winters here with temps varying between 17-20 degrees C or so during the days.

Jack
Guest
Jack

Hey mate, it’s funny thing, how the love for eels grows and infiltrates your life and daily thoughts no matter the time of year. I completely echo your sentiments having supported them though the testing years having success in 2017 was incredibly refreshing. I often joke that you wouldn’t by choice support the eels unless you born in the area or where attached to club via a relative. It would be much easier for your mental state to support the storm, roosters or broncos. But I love the eels, I can’t help it! They test your character, your love and… Read more »

Neil Tredray
Guest

It is funny for sure because I feel a strong affinity for them and I’ve never been to Australia, let alone cheered them since the 80s or suffered after or anything like that, but I know I’ll be cheering the Blue and Gold until I die. I’ve never been a supporter of a dynasty like the Patriots or Storm or the Yankees. I think it messes up your perspective and eventually any season in which you don’t win the title is a disaster. It’s especially a problem in college gridiron here. If Alabama went 9-3 and missed a shot at… Read more »

Anonymous
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Anonymous

On ya Neil

panic
Guest
panic

Good onya Neil. If you’re looking for a blue and gold US based team to follow, try the Brooklyn Kings. Great new team (got the USA Grand Final for the first time this year but lost) and nice blokes to boot. If you get in touch with them, say g’day to Matt Bailey for me.

Neil Tredray
Guest

Funny, I’d mentioned on Twitter that it’s actually harder to watch games from my own country than Australia or the UK but since I used to live in Brooklyn I’d support the Kings. Didn’t even know they were a blue and gold team!

I’ll be in NYC this summer; if the Kings are playing, I’m at the game.

Nigel Wilbow
Guest

Good on you Neil!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Cheers, as y’all say.

Longfin Eel
Guest
Longfin Eel

Great story Neil. Hope you enjoy a good season in 2019! You’ll have to see them live some time (and enjoy some warmer weather – it doesn’t snow in Parramatta!).

sixties
Admin

Hi all. There’s a bit of a time differential with the USA. I’m sure Neil will reply to these messages when he gets the opportunity.

Neil Tredray
Guest

Plus there was a football game on tonight that took up most of my attention.

Neil Tredray
Guest

It’s definitely a goal now to get to the new stadium and catch a game. Let’s lobby for Magic Round 2020 in Western Sydney Stadium, eh?

Peter Zuccolotto
Guest
Peter Zuccolotto

Good on you Neil. You need to come to the new stadium yo watch a match

Neil Tredray
Guest

I’d love to! It’s definitely a goal to get there someday. The future wife and I couldn’t swing it for our honeymoon this year but we’re saving up.

Graham
Guest
Graham

All the best Neil

Rocket
Guest
Rocket

Welcome Neil.
Enjoy the roller coaster ride of being a Parra supporter.
Ive been going around since 1969. Im sure there will be plenty of people who will shout you a beer when you eventually get over here!

Neil Tredray
Guest

I sure hope I can get 50 years as a fan too.

It’d be awesome to meet everyone at some point. A trip to Australia is definitely in the cards.

colin hussey
Guest

Neil, welcome to the eels as a true supporter of a great club. I’m an eels tragic now just a month shy of 72, my parents and everyone in the family even my godparents were eels supporters. My late dad was very much involved in the support base in getting the eels, then a small local team in Parramatta finally admitted to the then NSWRL, Sydney Competition, same year as the sea birds over on the peninsula, the year being 1947, the year I was born, so I could not pick any other team to follow. My dad never lived… Read more »

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks so much for sharing your story! Pretty cool that your dad was instrumental in getting the club to where they are today.

Do you follow MLB at all?

colin hussey
Guest

Neil, there were a heck of a lot of dedicated people who worked hard, a lot of time in raffles and other gatherings to rally the local population into raising money and getting the signatures from people to get the Parramatta side into the competition, my dad was but one of them. The existence of the eels owes a debt of gratitude to all of them for their time and efforts. There are several names I remember and many I forget, but I can remember in the 50’s that each year these people and families held a Christmas party for… Read more »

Neil Tredray
Guest

Yeah it’s a shame there’s not a wall or plaque somewhere with everyone’s names listed who gave something. But it’s noble to have contributed for love of the game and not for recognition of having done so. I’ll keep those nameless folks in mind when I watch the Eels play.

Grunta
Guest
Grunta

What a story.
Awesome.
Welcome aboard the misery train Neil!!!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks! Which way to the dining car on this misery train btw?

Maihi Dixon
Guest
Maihi Dixon

Awesome story Neil hope to see you one day at our new stadium in Parramatta. I follow NY jets so I know misery

Neil Tredray
Guest

Ouch that’s some misery there as well. I lived in Brooklyn when Chad Pennington was the quarterback. I went to a draft day event and ran into Joe Namath.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

We welcome you with open arms champion, maybe on day you can join the blue and gold army at our new stadium 🏟 GO THE MIGHTY EELS!!!!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Keep a seat warm for me; I’m coming eventually!

Tom
Guest

Great story and glad to hear you fell in love with our great game of NRL.

Hope you make it to Sydney one day for a game and some beers.

Follow me on twitter – @aussiebeastmode if you don’t already .

Neil Tredray
Guest

Done!

Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Welcome aboard

Neil Tredray
Guest

Glad to be here!

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru
colin hussey
Guest

PTT, As I am no fan of the DT and do not buy it unless there is something in it regarding the eels, I am more stringent these days on that than in the past as the contacts I had with another DT reporter back in 2009 when the fans rebellion was at full steam, things have not changed there much these days and the fellow who wrote the article, wont comment on him. The article suggests Frilingos put the eels name up, wonder how old he was, and the year that the name tag came into being for the… Read more »

Steeleel
Guest
Steeleel

What a great response Colin! I remember that chant as a young tacker at Cumberland with great nostalgia. Thanks for reigniting the emotion!!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks for the links! I’d looked the name up and learned about the meaning of Parramatta.

The name is so different from any team mascot in what we call our Big Four sports here, it drew me in. I also liked the Rabbitohs for that reason. But in the end I obviously made the right choice.

rowdy roddy
Guest
rowdy roddy

What a top fan, this bloke Neil Tradray is a natural for Parra!
And I am only half way through his story.

Thanks for the rest of your post in advance Neil, I’ve been following Parramatta since 1965. I could really relate your comment that having been a Bucs and Mariners fan, misery was in your blood. Us rusted on footy fans are like that eh?

rowdy roddy
Guest
rowdy roddy

If I could add a little encouragement Neil, Parrathruandthru is THE ultimate knowledge-bank on all things Parramatta Eels. He would have much info and Parrafenalia on the Eels that you won’t find even on Google. Well worth taking any opportunity to engage with this man as a mutual Parrafanatic.
Once again cobber, welcome to the Parra fan club and thanks for sharing your unique story.

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks for that tip as well. I’m definitely into retro memorabilia.

colin hussey
Guest

Neil a bit of trivia and add to the memorabilia, The way things were back in the 70’s and up until early this decade, Parramatta had a leagues club (PLC) that was effectively a licenced social club its charter included the promotion and support of the senior team as well as junior league in the district. Running in a sense alongside the PLC was the Parramatta district rugby league football club, (PDRLFC). To be a member of the football club you had to be a member of the PLC, being in the football club meant you could stand for the… Read more »

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

If you come across a spare 1988 PDRLFC badge Col and are happy to part with it I would be interested in it. It’s the only one I need. PDRLFC badges ran from 1984-2014

colin hussey
Guest

Mate, I have the 1988 badge, so when I kark it will ensure my wife gets it to you.

Having joined the football club at the same time as leagues club, age 21 as you had to be in those days to be a member of a licensed club, I don’t remember badges in those days but thought they came in, in th 70’s.

My 1978 leagues club badge had me as 4139, when the change in the system came about I became member #13359. In all the PLC badges they have the old jersey moniker on them.

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

Hope there’s plenty of days left in you yet Col
PLC member badges ran from 62-87 PLC associate members badges 73-87.
Good to see you keeping your stuff mate. Most gets chucked away at years end

colin hussey
Guest

Thanks mate, not planning on departing anytime soon. As I continue to unpack boxes I will carefully look for any of the badges I have, and should have all up to 2010 the later is the last one. I have some other club badges that I collected over the years that I was a member of when working in those locations. If none of my family wants them, will let you know and you can have them all if you want. Highly unlikely they will want them though, as its very much a throw away society these days, and only… Read more »

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

Thanks Col appreciate it 60″s can pass on my contact if you need it.

colin hussey
Guest

Will do.

Anyone know what’s going on on the 1eeyed site, not missing it that much but when I try to bring it up, it is nothing more than horizontal bars in sections, top 1/4 in white, nothing on it, then a small hotizontal dark blue box across the page, then under that is main area with blogs on it all in dark blue, and black print. Clik on anything and nothing happens.

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

yeah doing strange stuff for me too. I figure I’m not missing anything. I would be more concerned if it was here

colin hussey
Guest

Not that worried anyway, its an eels supporter base, or at least it should be, so I check every couple of days to see if there’s anything new. I guess the new page shows a change, but so soon after the last one??/

colin hussey
Guest

PTT, guess what? I found another badge. Its very much what was a traditional type we got as school badges like a shield, the outside is green in colour and with the aboriginal spearman in the canoe, deep blue at bottom section and sky blue in the top section, around the outside it has Parramatta Leagues Club

Date may interest you, as its 1963 the member #882 is my late dad’s badge.

parrathruandthru
Guest
parrathruandthru

Sorry if we are clogging up the thread
This site may interest you Col
http://badgesofleague.com.au/PARRAMATTA.html

Neil Tredray
Guest

No need to apologize as far as I’m concerned. This has been fascinating.

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks for the comment! We are indeed. Someday when the Mariners make the playoffs again, it’ll be so sweet to make that trip to see them play October baseball.

And when the Eels make the Grand Final, I’ll do everything I can to be there too. Maybe Todd Greenberg will have the GF in the States that year.

McPrawn
Guest
McPrawn

I just got home from spending the day celebrating and enjoying Super Bowl (crap game today, I know, but anyway) I love American football, and live for Super Bowl day every year (haven’t worked it since 1995 – Niners, I know, again). And I’m so stoked to see an American that loves, not only rugby league, but our Parramatta Eels. Thank you Neil Tredray, and TCT for bringing us this story.

sixties
Admin

You’re welcome McPrawn.

Neil Tredray
Guest

I take the day off as well. I cook up some dishes from each team’s city/region and have a feast with a few friends over. That way even if the game is a dog I still have a good time.

Anonymous
Guest
Anonymous

Welcome aboard

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks, good to be here!

Warwick Procter
Guest
Warwick Procter

Bonza Neil, you little ripper!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks, man!

The rev aka Snedden
Guest
The rev aka Snedden

Hi Neil good read mate. I like many have been a Parramatta eels fan from the time I was born. 1977 My reason well my late mother’s idea was my dad goes for the dragon’s so they thought our (boy) being me can go for the other team. In the 1977 grand final between the St,George dragon’s vs Parramatta eels it’s like your super bowl eels lost in extra time. It was replayed like 3 day’s later When you talk about the Parramatta eels to your yanky friends what do they think do they give you this look 🤔. The… Read more »

Neil Tredray
Guest

A lot of them do look confused for sure, but I send links to highlights to them as much as I can. I’m trying to get an NRL fantasy league started up but so far no takers amongst my friends group.

Nick
Guest
Nick

Welcome Neil awesome to hear you started supporting the mighty eels. I hope the off season stuff didn’t deter you from the sport probably the same everywhere these days but you never hear about the positive stuff the team’s do in the community anymore. I think the two you pick as your favourite players tepai and Tim are genuinely good guys unfortunately the action of others can ruin it for the good ones. I always think it’s a shame the people running our game(particularly in the nrl\australia) seem to have no interest in trying to expand the game over there.… Read more »

colin hussey
Guest

Nick, one problem I have found with most in the U.S and that means listening to commentators from there, as well as those I have met cannot distinguish between League and Union. They only refer to Rugby, not the code and differences. No better and recent examples is with the JH dream, every time his name was mentioned with the NFL they said he came from Rugby. This is where the limited RL game in the U.S also has problems as its an identity thing really. The Canadian game seems to be going better though. Union would have a leg… Read more »

Neil Tredray
Guest

Spot on, Colin. I didn’t know there were two different codes either.

Stop/start in union is similar to the NFL but a lot of us in the States HATE that. We complain about touchdown/commercial/kickoff/commercial. It’s gotten a little better but my fiancée and I prefer to watch RL because it’s almost non-stop for 40 minutes at a time. The faster game would, I think, appeal to more Americans.

Neil Tredray
Guest

Hey Nick, I know a lot of the off season stuff is drummed up by hack journalists looking for clicks online- like the Bulldogs’ mad Monday. Bad behavior but nobody got assaulted. My view on expansion is a little skewed, I think. I’m used to the NFL, MLB, and NBA having literally billions of dollars in income each year so if they want to play a game in London (NFL) or Australia and Tokyo (MLB), they can spend the money to do so. I get the distinct impression the NRL’s revenues are smaller by a factor of ten if not… Read more »

Anthony Plater
Guest
Anthony Plater

Love it!

Neil Tredray
Guest

Thanks, Anthony!

Steve
Guest
Steve

Good on ya mate, I’m not a Parra supporter but the backbone of any club are the fans, wherever they may be

sixties
Admin

Thanks for taking the time to reply here Steve.