A flurry of news caught the the attention of all Parramatta fans yesterday as NRL.com reporter Michael Chammas led with the story that the Eels were close to brokering a deal for South Sydney prop George Burgess worth $1.8 million over three years. The blockbuster deal would have seen Burgess join the Eels immediately for the 2019 season to headline a revamped forward pack alongside Junior Paulo. Unfortunately, the deal would fall through with George choosing to stay with his brothers and roll the dice on earning a lucrative deal elsewhere.
Still, this was the clearest indication of the recruitment strategy moving forwards; build this thing inside-out and and from front-to-back.
That isn’t to say that the Eels would turn their nose up at premier talent in other positions if they were to become available at the right price but adding both consistency and explosive play-making ability to the forward pack has clearly been identified as a key moving forwards.
The near-miss for newly established Head of Football Mark O’Neill is unfortunate but the vision should not be faulted. A consistent ruck platform is almost always one of the hallmarks of a premiership contender and a recruit like George Burgess would have simultaneously augmented the Eels’ forward pack from Day 1 while also acting as a bridging piece to facilitate the development of young players like Oregon Kaufusi and Stefano Utoikamanu.
So where does this leave the Eels as we head into the 2019 season?
We know that they have a considerable chunk of their 2019 salary cap still available at their disposal following the departure of Corey Norman. However, there is no guarantee that the Eels will be able to spend it externally on a difference maker in the forward pack given that we are but three weeks out from the first round.
Resources would have already been allocated towards promoting Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown into the Top 30 for this season but there is also the consideration towards looming extensions for both these young men and potentially the likes of Clinton Gutherson, Mitchell Moses, Daniel Alvaro and Tepai Moeroa.
Still, we live in an era of unprecedented salary cap and roster volatility. Even as I blog this short piece the Cronulla Sharks and Wests Tigers are still under investigation for alleged salary cap breaches levied against them by the NRL in 2018. The player market could be blown open on any given day and the Eels are at least positioned to make a play for any premier talent that is forced out by the pinch of the salary cap.
Corey Norman (St George Illawarra Dragons), David Klemmer (Newcastle Knights), Shaun Johnson (Cronulla Sharks), Josh McGuire (North Queensland Cowboys), Jordan Kahu (North Queensland Cowboys), Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad (Canberra Raiders) while the media are also speculatively billing Robert Jennings (Wests Tigers) to move on in the coming days.
David Klemmer stands out as the biggest miss there for Parramatta but it should be remembered that we did not have the requisite funds available at the time as Corey Norman was still on our books. Klemmer himself also professed a need to get out of Sydney.
Ultimately, we now have a sound recruitment strategy that if executed well will build around key pieces that are already at the club. In that light, who do you think the Eels should identify as a key recruitment piece for 2020? Or is there someone that you think will be available this season? Do they revisit the off-contract George Burgess or is there another forward that you think could be the difference-maker for the Blue & Gold?