You best believe the Parramatta Eels are fired up when it comes to bouncing back from the disastrous ventures of the 2018 season. From a forensic review and audit of their football operations to arguably their strongest recruitment class in Brad Arthur’s tenure at the club, the Eels have levied all resources possible to reset, rebuild and retool for 2019.
Underpinning all of this is the fruit of nearly half a decade of work overhauling junior pathways, talent identification and development. It has culminated in a wave of young talent hopefully ready to lead the resurrection of the Golden West. So in the run to Round 1, join me as we delve into the new faces ready to make a mark on the 2019 season.
Dylan Brown has understandably captured all the media attention in recent times as the intense scrutiny over Corey Norman’s replacement coupled with the outrageous poaching attempt by the New Zealand Warriors catapulted him into the national spotlight. However, not only have TCT already profiled Brown recently (as written about in this excellent Watchlist from Mitch late last year) there is another boom rookie that has captured my eye and has arguably improved his stocks at the club even more than Brown over the course of the preseason.
That young man is Ethan Parry.
For the vast majority of fans Parry burst on to the scene with a two try haul in Parramatta’s opening trial of the year against the Canberra Raiders. A consummate diving finish early in the right corner and a comparatively breezy effort to put the capstone on some brilliance by Mitchell Moses made for an extremely tidy debut performance for the young back.
It was also a hell of a payoff after a horrific leg injury sustained at a schoolboy carnival in which he fractured both his fibula and tibia and dislocated his ankle derailed his development midway through 2016.
Ethan Parry’s name will be familiar to long-time TCT followers who will no doubt be aware of his exploits through the District Representatives and the Jersey Flegg. He has been one of Parramatta’s blue-chip prospects ever since starring on the wing in a talent-laden Harold Matthews squad in 2015. That team would ultimately lose the grand final to the Cronulla Sharks that year so it was only poetic that two years later Parry would cement his triumphant return to full health and form with a match-winning hat-trick effort against the very same club in the 2017 SG Ball Grand Final.
Physically, Parry is everything you look for in a modern back. His height (~190+cm, unofficial) makes him both vertical threat and a defensive tower in the kicking game in either red zone while his weight and powerful build (~100kg, unofficial) means he can hang with the big boys in the middle when it comes to ruck work. While he won’t challenge Josh Addo-Carr for the speed crown in the NRL, he carries his frame well and is far from sluggish with his feet.
At times Parry has moonlit at fullback for the Eels in the Jersey Flegg but he is far more experienced at both wing and centre. Obviously he featured at wing in the trial against the Canberra Raiders but projecting just where his best position lies in the future is an interesting proposition.
Some of the premier teams in the competition feature tall, powerful and hyper-athletic centres. No where is this more apparent than the defending premiers the Sydney Roosters with Latrell Mitchell (193cm, 102kg) and Joseph Manu (192cm, 98kg) or the runners-up the Melbourne Storm with Will Chambers (190cm, 100kg) and Curtis Scott (188cm, 90kg). These players enable their respective teams to not only exploit physical mismatches out wide in man-to-man scenarios but to compete with and even dominate opposition backrowers on both sides of the ball.
Parry’s build and athleticism are equally at home on the wing in the modern game. Given that wingers have more possessions than any other non-spine player, it makes sense to put the ball in the hands of one of your most athletic players – as evidenced with both Semi Radradra and now Blake Ferguson. Furthermore, his aerial prowess garners more value on the flanks where his value is not only is his ability to post points from attacking kicks but the ‘hidden points’ he can accrue defensively by defusing bombs in his own red zone.
What further clouds the situation for Parry is the duality of the depth at either position for the Eels. While Parramatta are relying on experienced but weathered campaigners like Brad Takairangi and Josh Hoffman to deputise Michael Jennings and Jaeman Salmon, there is a glut of young contenders vying for a spot on the wings with Haze Dunster and Maika Sivo joining Parry in the queue behind Ferguson and George Jennings.
Ultimately, and as is so often is with rugby league, injuries could very well be the deciding factor in a prospective NRL debut for Ethan Parry.
There is also something that makes Parry a little bit different from most young prospects…he is vocal. Not just vocal but vocal. He communicates relentlessly to team-mates throughout the course of a game, constantly relaying defensive calls and team patterns. It shouldn’t shock you in light of his boisterous on-field persona but he is also a fiercely competitive individual. Plenty of rookies are at risk of being over-awed as they enter the bright lights of the NRL but I think Ethan Parry is as well equipped as any young player to handle the pressure that comes with answering the call.
Right now the biggest hurdle facing Ethan is the fact that he sits outside the Top 30 for the Eels. Following the promotions of Dylan Brown and Reed Mahoney to the full-time roster this preseason there is now but one vacant position available. With a significant portion of their salary cap open following the departure of Corey Norman, the Eels have signaled their intentions to venture into the player-market and sign a difference-maker to bolster their ranks at either prop or hooker.
However, after narrowly missing out on George Burgess and with the Warriors looking to re-up Isaac Luke’s cut-price contract in the wake of Parramatta’s interest it is debatable whether there is a player available that provides the Eels with requisite value and impact to warrant chasing. Even with the latest salary cap developments involving the Cronulla Sharks and Melbourne Storm the names bandied about are less than inspiring with the likes of Sam Kasiano and Ava Seumanafagai listed as potential cap casualties.
If Parramatta fail to find to a suitor in the coming weeks there is a strong case to be made for promoting Parry to the full-time roster. Following that outcome he immediately becomes a top contender at both wing and centre should injury or form warrant his call-up. As it stands fellow rookie hopeful Maika Sivo edges him out on the strength of his Top 30 spot but Parry could quite possibly be a cornerstone piece of Parramatta’s backline for years to come.
Finally, finding official black and white confirmation of the change from the NRL is difficult but a media piece by the Canterbury Bulldogs in November last year references a new allowance to play any of the six development without restriction in the NRL post June 30. Should this be the case, Parry (and any other Development 6 player) obviously becomes a factor for first grade.