Even at the height of finals footy, it seems that the media and the public can’t get enough of player market speculation. In the wonderful soap opera of the NRL, the all too frequent “early release” seems to be dominating media space that’s usually reserved for tales of mad Monday mayhem.
That’s probably not such a bad outcome.
Typically, the Eels are featuring in such rumours, with players such as Ryan Matterson, Tyson Frizell and Jai Arrow linked with a move to the blue and golden west. Meanwhile murmurings about Crichton’s fit, or lack thereof, at the Roosters continue to bubble away. Though the drums are now beating that Matterson might be heading north to the Titans, it’s unlikely that talk of potential signings will ease up any time soon.
And there’s a logical foundation behind it all.
The departure of the 3Ms (Mannah, Ma’u, Moeroa) has seen roster space created. The middle forward spots are close to full with RCG and Utoikamanu to take their place in the top 30 (Kaufusi already enjoys top squad status), but a hole now exists in the back row.
Cue the list of second rowers – whether they are contracted or not.
What type of player would Parramatta be interested in?
Shaun Lane has provided an attacking force on the left side of the field, including an average of 108 running metres, 1.3 tackle breaks, and 0.8 offloads per game, along with a season tally of 4 try assists, 6 line breaks, and 7 line break assists. In defence, he averages just on 27 tackles per game.
On the right side, the Eels need to at least replace Manu Ma’u’s returns.
The Tongan Terminator averaged around 117 running metres with 2.1 tackle breaks and 2.1 offloads, coupled with season totals of 4 try assists, 6 line breaks and 7 line break assists. Defensively the right side required more work, with Ma’u averaging 32.7 tackles per game.
Should the Eels not sign a replacement, Brad Takairangi becomes an option, though he’s likely pencilled in for a bench role at this stage.
So, do you sign someone to replace what Ma’u provided for the team or do you look for something different?
Would the likes of Frizell, Matterson, Arrow or even Crichton fit the bill? Would they add something to the Eels starting 13? Conversely, is there anything that potentially concerns you?
For mine, Tyson Frizell brings impact and Origin experience to the table. His explosive potential running the ball down the right edge (a perfect fit bearing in mind) in tandem with his utility factor to double as a middle forward hold plenty of appeal for any team. 2019 wasn’t the most fruitful season for Frizell but given his pedigree over the last few years he definitely earns the billing as a blue-chip player and an immediate boost to any forward pack in the competition. In many ways Frizell is the simplest player to write about because the body of his work speaks for itself
In contrast, Ryan Matterson brings finals experience and a different kind of versatility; he is quite comfortably the most talented play-maker of the lot. Matterson is coming off a brilliant individual season and even if Luke Brooks took out their Player of the Year gong, there is little doubt that he was the joint-venture’s best player in 2019 as club politics ruled the day once the relationship between player and franchise soured.
There are some potential red flags though…Matterson is already on the outer at his third club in his budding career (the first of which was of course the Eels) with various media sources citing conflicting reasons for his desire to leave the Tigers. Furthermore, the Tigers are believed to be pushing for compensation, be it monetary or prospects wise, from any serious suitor. They extracted a $250,000 transfer fee from the Penrith Panthers at the climax of the Ivan Cleary saga so that looms as a precedent for the Eels while media reports have them eyeing off one of AJ Brimson or Jai Arrow as trade candidates from the Gold Coast Titans. If the Tigers stick to their guns, and they are well within their rights as Matterson’s contracted employer, the price of admission could be too high for the Eels.
Speaking of Jai Arrow, despite his Origin appearances, this young bull still feels like a work in progress with the potential to improve at a stronger club. He possesses a superb motor but do not type-cast him as a pure workhorse, Arrow has the athletic potential to be deployed across both the forward pack and the football park. The biggest concern here for Parramatta, beyond taking on the rawest prospect of the four, is the prospective cap hit of Arrow’s new contract. Arrow has regularly been evaluated in the media as a player that would command in excess of $800,000 per season on his next deal…would the Eels pay that? It could also be a completely moot point. As alluded to above, Parramatta might not even get the chance to sign Arrow if the Tigers and Titans strike common ground over a player swap.
Finally we come to the much maligned Angus Crichton. Crichton has struggled mightily at the Roosters this season. Although he finished the year in much better shape he spent a hefty chunk of the year riding the pine and looked a shadow of the breakout superstar that he was at South Sydney. Rumours of a divorce between Crichton and the Roosters have been floating around intermittently all year – would the Eels take a nibble here over any of the other back rowers listed above?
Let me give you two reasons why they might. Firstly, Brad Arthur would back himself and his coaching staff to get the best out of any recruit they targeted. It has been a rocky path for some of them but Clinton Gutherson, Nathan Brown, Mitchell Moses, Kane Evans, Shaun Lane, Maika Sivo and Waqa Blake have all elevated their games after joining the Blue & Gold. If Crichton was their guy it would be largely on the belief that they could get him back to, and likely above, the form he showed at the Rabbitohs.
Secondly, Crichton represents an interesting opportunity for the Eels to capitalise on yet another contract subsidy as they look to maximise their salary cap. Parramatta’s lack of TPA pulling power is no secret but after making out like bandits in the Waqa Blake deal this year and then pulling off a similar feat to secure the services of Reagan Campbell-Gillard…perhaps the Eels have found their answer for how to level the playing field? Identifying talented but under-performing (or unhappy) players and offering to take on the brunt of their contracts – so long as their current employers are willing to carry a nice chunk of the freight.
If the Roosters were willing to subsidise a healthy portion of Crichton’s contract would that get you on board?
If you were in O’Neill’s role, who would you target? Would you chase one of the aforementioned or perhaps there’s someone else?
Who would add the most to the Eels roster and help the club move to the next level?
Over to you.
Sixties and Forty