Over the last few rounds the Parramatta Eels have delivered a host of unacceptable performances. I’ve questioned the resilience of the players and feel perfectly justified in doing so.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve even sensed that supporters are more upset by this year’s results than they were with the cellar dwelling 2018 season. On reflection, I’m definitely guilty of expressing greater disappointment in this season’s defeats.
Then today I looked at the ladder.
Coming into Round 14, the Eels will still be in 8th place. What? What!
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a “forget about the losses, look where we are” post. I intend addressing massive areas of concern.
But at the end of last season, if you’d been told that in 2019 the Eels would be in the Top 8 after Round 13, I reckon you’d have gladly taken that – and stuck a cherry on top of that sweet treat.
That the 2018 wooden spooners would play without their best forward and one of the best young five-eighth prospects in the NRL for nearly all of those rounds, with contract speculation about the captain, the coach, and most of the team playing out in the media, probably makes a current Top 8 position defy all logic.
The odd form of other teams has undoubtedly contributed to the Eels retaining their position despite the losses, but that’s footy.
Like most years, 2019 began with hopes of a better season ahead. After the first eight rounds, such hopes began to turn to expectations. Those (unrealistic?) expectations are probably a huge factor in the disappointments.
Truthfully, I still believe that the team has the capacity to finish close to the top 8.
There’s nothing astounding about my reasoning. It’s obvious that Parra love the downhill run. Put them in front, with things going their way, and they’ll look great. That will happen in some games. They’ll win those – an average winning margin of 18 points is an indicator of that likelihood.
Now for the reality check.
Throw some challenges in the Eels direction and watch them collapse faster than a sand castle at high tide. You don’t go close to competing for a title if you demonstrate almost negligible tenacity, and the averaging losing margin of 19 points is testimony to players having no desire to grind out a win over 80 minutes.
The words of Brad Arthur from this week’s press conference nailed where the team is at.
“We have got to decide if we want to be a full-time team or a part-time team,” Arthur said.
“Full-time is all the time, every week. We are training well, we are preparing well but coming to games, when things don’t go quite our way we need to harden up there.”
People close to me know that I haven’t held back in my opinions about the roster changes that are needed. We have too many players incapable of producing quality NRL football on a weekly basis. The talent might not be in question, but their resilience definitely is.
Lack of resilience is a cancer. It manifests in multiple ways in games, but it’s insidious in its capacity to poison club culture.
Every team will face its share of adversity. Poor refereeing decisions, injuries and an unlucky bounce of the ball will fall upon everyone. It’s how a side responds that will determine their fate.
For the Eels, failure to respond to adversity has become our hallmark.
The cracks show up in the same places in every defeat – the defence.
Opposition runners are allowed to quickly stand after being tackled and play the ball with up to three Eels players lying prostrate on the turf. Then, with the defence line down in numbers, spaces are opened up with defenders isolated and or retreating. Players start bouncing off like they’re made of rubber. Offloads flow. Cue the floodgates.
As a regular at training, this is incredibly frustrating. I cannot possibly imagine the frustration of the coaches.
Throughout the pre-season there was a strong emphasis on both defensive technique and defence specific conditioning. That dedication to detail has been maintained every week during the season proper. Line speed, communication, contact, wrestle – it’s all coached – and critically, ensuring that defenders aren’t left on the ground always features. Yet the issue persists.
Players must be held accountable.
Can we identify those most at fault?
If the video reviews highlight individuals, there’s one place for them – Ringrose Park – playing alongside those on part-time contracts.
Make no mistake, every player in the squad has the talent to play first grade. You don’t get to put NRL appearances on your resume without it.
But playing NRL on a regular basis requires much more than talent. It requires a level of resilience sadly lacking in a team which only performs every second week.
As supporters, we can accept that this team is re-building. The Eels will be beaten by better teams. We’ll make mistakes in games.
But the inability or lack of desire to compete every second week is simply unacceptable.
As Arthur said, “We can’t start well one week and then dip the toe in the next week. I don’t want to have to keep making changes every week because that doesn’t give you any continuity or combinations.”
So what can he do? Where to from here? Is changing the team an option?
Let’s consider minimal changes. As we’ve witnessed this season, turning up with intensity and winning every second week will keep you in the running for the Top 8, maybe, but this isn’t what supporters deserve nor is it planning for the future. And it will get harder to maintain as the second half of the season rolls on.
The alternative of significant change could be explored. Arthur could turn to the youth right now, even if they’re not quite ready, and sacrifice this year for a potentially better future. But remember, add too much youth at the same time and you can pay a price – see Brisbane’s own wildly fluctuating form this year.
In truth, it will be damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
Personally, I’m ready to see whether the Eels current crop of young players has what it takes. That can only be determined in the NRL.
Once they prove they can handle the physicality of playing against men, young players won’t learn about what’s required in the NRL by playing with and against part-time players in the Canterbury Cup. It’s a stepping stone from age football, but it should not be a long term destination for the genuinely talented.
That’s the decision to be made for the remainder of 2019.
The decisions to be made going into 2020 will be even more crucial.
Coming into 2019, Sivo, Ferguson, Paulo and Lane were added to the roster. Every one of those players has contributed to the Eels climbing off the bottom of the table. Paulo has upped the second phase potential, Lane has become the team’s most consistent forward, Sivo sits at the top of the try scorers list and Ferguson has posted the metres missing from last year’s set starts.
But that was last year’s recruitment.
The recruitment and retention process has since been changed as a result of the 2018 review. There is now a committee of five making such decisions. They’ve already earned some praise for standing their ground in negotiations with Gutherson and Moses’ extension has recently been sorted.
However, the bigger work lies ahead. This roster is in need of an overhaul. Players proven to be without resilience must be released. New talent needs to be added to the Top 30.
With so many off contract, and therefore so much potential to reshape the team, there’s massive decisions to be made over the next two to three months. That’s not a long time frame. Hopefully we get some recruitment news soon.
In the coming weeks, Arthur will probably start to signal his intent via team selections. If he wants to use rookies, he’ll have to wait till after June 30. There will be pros and cons, no matter what he decides.
Are you expecting changes? Do you expect a rebuild year or a finals appearance?
It could be an interesting set of team list Tuesdays ahead.