News that the Eels will hold off contract negotiations with Brad Arthur until June has put an end to recent speculation that a coaching decision was coming within six weeks.
When speculation of a first quarter review of the season and Arthur’s tenure started to gain traction amongst supporters, I personally found the rumours to be puzzling.
It was a timeline that would have placed Eels coaching dramas on the sporting front pages in the very week that the club was staging its inaugural match at the new BankWest Stadium. It made zero sense.
Even more concerning, any discussion around the coach’s future so early in the season would only serve to destabilise the building blocks of the 2019 campaign. The repercussions would effectively consign another season to the scrap heap and make a mockery of the staffing and structural changes which resulted from the 2018 review.
The discussions around the disasters of 2018 have been numerous and are now consigned to history. I regarded last season as an anomaly, but one which provided invaluable lessons for Arthur and the club.
The Eels had previously been on an upward trajectory under BA’s coaching, even overcoming the 2016 salary cap scandal roadblock. Not too many coaches have been subjected to the penalties imposed on the Eels during that season. A collapse in 2016 and 2017 would not have surprised but the opposite transpired.
Disappointingly, the 2018 performances bore no similarity to the teams of the previous two seasons. But they did push the structure of the football department into the spotlight, and highlight the need for a better resourced operation.
Moving into 2019, the staffing changes and restructures resulting from 2018 need time to take effect. They don’t need the disruptions that follow any change in coach and the resultant loss of support staff.
Stability is paramount for the Eels, especially at a time when Arthur’s investment in youth is just coming to the fore.
Since our inception, The Cumberland Throw has consistently reported that a talented group of juniors was progressing through the Harold Matthews, SG Ball and Flegg teams. It has required an element of patience from supporters, especially if those supporters had never seen these youngsters in action. But the evidence is now there in the composition of the full time squad.
This progression has taken time. The right youngsters had to be identified by people such as Anthony Field. Quality coaching was needed. The JETS program was implemented by Joey Grima (now the Eels Elite Pathways Coaching Director). The NRL staff mentored elite players at Old Saleyards.
It’s been a five year process. The goal – a greater percentage of Parramatta developed NRL players within the Eels Top 30. The club has confirmed the philosophy by identifying itself as a “Development Club”.
The Cumberland Throw has been an unapologetic supporter of Brad Arthur because our writers have witnessed his investment in development first hand. BA has been instrumental in driving change in how the club develops players. Along with Bernie Gurr and other NRL staff, Arthur can be seen at virtually every junior and lower grade match that doesn’t clash with first grade. The Development Club philosophy is evident.
Make no mistake. This is a crucial year for the Parramatta Eels.
Young players such as Mahoney, Salmon, Niukore, Stone and Kaufusi debuted last season. Brown and Sivo – a recruit identified and targetted by Grima and Arthur – have kicked off the 2019 debuts. The changing of the guard is in progress. The next 24 months will shape the future of the Eels.
This last pre-season has been unlike any I’ve witnessed before. The intensity of the sessions and the resolve of the players was inspiring to watch.
Round one needed to produce a victory. Others may say that evidence of a new attitude was enough. I reckon that after last year, we could not risk that monkey on the back becoming a gorilla. The win loosened his grip. That performance must now be backed up on a weekly basis, and I’m confident that it will be.
I welcome Bernie Gurr’s announcement of a more reasonable time frame, but remain staunch in my opinion that Arthur is the right man to take the club forward.
By the middle of this season we will hopefully have this confirmed.