The Eels were dealt a heavy blow yesterday as news broke that the club was shutting down star rookie Dylan Brown for an indefinite period as they manage a lower back injury. In their weekly Tuesday live-stream, NRL.com put a 6-8 week window on the monitoring period for the injury but I dare say there are a lot of variables in play at the moment so fans shouldn’t get too committed to any recovery timeline just yet, for better or worse.
Brown had quickly endeared himself to the blue and gold faithful following an excellent preseason that carried through into the first three rounds of 2019. Yet it is easy to forget that while TCT faithful might have been quite familiar with Dylan’s exploits in the lower grades, most fans were unfamiliar with his name until the poaching saga from the New Zealand Warriors catapulted the young play-maker into the spotlight late last year.
The release of Corey Norman to the St George Illawarra Dragons presented Brown with an opportunity. The young Eel took that chance with both hands and as crazy as it seems, he now feels like an indispensable part of this emerging and exciting roster. Yet just as Brown was presented with an opportunity to better himself and earn a place in the NRL, so too does his injury present a new opportunity for another Eel to step up.
Jaeman Salmon, a young man barely older than Brown, is the individual that will heed the call this week as he faces his junior club in the Cronulla Sharks but the concept of opportunity knocking is quickly becoming a pervasive theme for the Eels in 2019.
Second-year starter Marata Niukore and Shaun Lane, a NRL journeyman, are performing more than admirably in the backrow amidst somewhat of an injury crisis there for Brad Arthur. Without the services of Manu Ma’u and Nathan Brown for a good portion of the season and with Tepai Moeroa being game-to-game – the Eels needed these two men to step up and they did.
Look to the left flank and you will see Maika Sivo, an unheralded project pick-up from Penrith, starting to make this mark on the team. Locked out of contact work for most of the preseason due to injury and behind the presumptive start in George Jennings, Sivo has capitalised on the window that George’s knee injury opened for him.
Of course there are also developing redemption arcs for the likes of Mitchell Moses, Michael Jennings and Kane Evans contributing to Parramatta’s early season surge. Hell, Clinton Gutherson’s bristling start to the season after returning to full health from brutal ACL injury in 2017 deserves a big mention here as well. The Eels needed, and still need, these senior players to turn up every week but the fresh blood and new faces are invigorating a team that no-one in the media gave much chance of making any noise in 2019.
So now the same question falls to the likes of Salmon and Oregon Kaufusi as Parramatta draw deep on both their depth and youth due to uncontrollable circumstances. Will they answer the call? Can they turn opportunity into something greater – for both themselves and the team? Obviously I don’t want to burden either player with unnecessary expectation but seeing so many Eels already step-up in what was billed as a write-off or rebuild year has been a fascinating sub-plot to the start of 2019.
There are few tougher assignments for these two young men than the Cronulla Sharks – one of Parramatta’s real bogey teams in recent years. Still, if the form of the likes of Brown, Sivo, Niukore and Lane is any indicator – back them to hold down the fort…and maybe even go a bit better!