It’s the eve of November 1, and right now the silly season is big on recruitment speculation and small on confirmation. We are learning all about “war chests” and little about rosters.
That’s probably fair enough, given that there are internationals to be played and some of the speculation revolves around players yet to finish their playing commitments for 2019.
So, with that recruitment news well being particularly dry, I thought I’d turn the old spotlight onto past Eels signings that have proven to be mutually beneficial – ie it’s worked out well for both the player and the club.
The vast majority of recruits in any club do not fall into the elite category. The salary cap sees to that. Typically, teams add a mixture of proven, solid first graders and those that they hope will be hidden gems.
For those in the latter category, there could be a number of factors around their recruitment or change of club – youth, better opportunity, better coaching, fresh start. The list could be very long.
Regardless, there are players who advance their game and enhance their reputation by changing clubs. They can become representative stars under a new coach. And as their own star begins to shine, their team benefits from what they produce on the field.
Josh Addo-Carr is a prime example. The Fox was a Cronulla lower grade player who then couldn’t lock down a top grade spot with the Tigers. There’s no need to elaborate on his career since moving to the Storm.
Similarly, Luke Keary shifting to the Roosters, Wade Graham to the Sharks, Damien Cook to Souths, and Corey Harawira-Naera to the Bulldogs, were all moves that resulted in career benefits for the players whilst improving the roster of their destination clubs.
The talent of each of these players is undeniable, so their career success could be due to better opportunities or playing with a different roster, but there’s also a fair chance that the key to their best was found under a particular coach.
What we can do, as Eels supporters familiar with our team, is to look at our own external recruits and determine whether they have become better players since joining the club.
For the purpose of this exercise, the signings must be currently relevant – they must be players recruited during the Brad Arthur era and they must be on the roster going into 2020.
We’ll ignore current Eels players who arrived at the club as marquee signings – Michael Jennings and Blake Ferguson. Such individuals were regarded as elite prior to joining Parra, and though both were instrumental in the clubs improved showing in 2019, their personal successes had already included premierships and rep honours before arriving at the Eels.
And because we’re examining external recruits and not local juniors, the returning Junior Paulo will not be included in the list.
Here’s the players that I believe can be placed under the mutually beneficial Spotlight:
Before debuting with the Eels at 24 years of age, Brown had a grand total of 29 NRL appearances at two clubs – one game with the Tigers and 28 with the Rabbitohs. He had a reputation as a player who’s talent was overshadowed by his volatile temperament.
How things have changed under Arthur.
Apart from his recent suspension for a shoulder charge, Brown has become the controlled enforcer and leader in the Eels pack. His combination of fearless charges and ball play add depth to the team’s attack and the defence is always much tighter with him in the middle.
Australian representative honours have come his way this year with selection in the Prime Ministers XIII and Aussie Nines teams. Little doubt his move to the Eels has been mutually beneficial. Hopefully he can have an injury free 2020.
It’s taken Kane Evans some time to find his feet at the Eels. The Fijian international had a restricted 2018 preseason after sustaining an arm injury during the 2017 World Cup and a diabolical wooden spoon season saw Evans looking down the barrel of an early exit from his contract.
However, some honesty sessions with BA saw a revitalised Evans begin to realise some of the ambitions which motivated him to leave the Roosters. In short, Evans wanted to be regarded as more than an interchange specialist. In his 74 NRL games with the tri-colours, only four games featured the big fella in the starting side.
In his 27 games so far with the Eels, Evans has already clocked up 17 starting pack appearances. His 2 metre, 110kg frame provides a body shape point of difference to the Parramatta team, and the Eels were a better side when he took the field in 2019.
Supporters will be looking for more of this next season.
David Gower is surely one of Brad Arthur’s greatest success stories. Obviously, plenty of credit goes to Gowie himself, but without question his first grade career and future has been shaped since joining the Eels.
I’ve previously profiled Gower’s journey here, but in short the erudite prop joined the Eels as a 28 year old with three clubs and only 20 top grade appearances on his resume.
Since that time, Gower has clocked up 98 NRL games over six years whilst earning a reputation as an eloquent club ambassador and potential football administrator.
He’s signed on again for 2020.
It’s doubtful his career would have taken the same path elsewhere.
The King arrived relatively unheralded at the Eels. In an injury impacted three years at the Sea Eagles, Gutherson had accumulated a grand total of 5 NRL games. His signature didn’t raise too many expectations.
But most people didn’t have the opportunity to talk to Brad Arthur about Gutho. I can assure you that the Eels coach was over the moon about securing his services. The only question to be answered was what position suited him best.
Ultimately, that answer became “wherever you need him, but he’ll do better by being closer to the action.”
Now Eels captain, the reliable custodian is on the verge of Origin and Test selection. Try telling supporters in early 2016 that the winger they were doubting would soon be the Parra captain and a popular and highly regarded NRL identity!
The northern beaches boy and Parramatta Eels – who’d have thunk it would be such a perfect union?
Parra via Canterbury, New Zealand and Manly. It’s starting to look like Lane has found a home after bouncing around to three clubs in the previous four years.
In his post for Athlete’s Voice (a tremendous site for reading players’ thoughts on their own careers) Lane described his younger self as “stubborn and just childish” before outlining why he shifted from Manly to the Eels.
“I wasn’t convinced about where I stood in the make-up of the team. I thought it was best for me to go… I had a meeting with Brad and he said, ‘Look, mate, I like the way you play footy. I think you can make our football team a lot better side and from what I’ve been told and what I can see you’re a good bloke too and we need a bunch of good blokes who are also good footy players’.”
Lane was a good footy player. He’s become a better one and a leader at the Eels. It’s no coincidence that left side players such as Dylan Brown, Jennings and Sivo have had such wonderful seasons playing alongside him.
The current Ken Thornett Medallist, Dally M half of the year, and World Cup 9s player of the tournament is no overnight sensation. He’s 25, and played 131 first grade games across seven seasons in the NRL.
He’s always been that player promising to deliver, but “consistent” was never an adjective applicable to his footy.
After a disastrous 2018 and facing the prospect of cutting ties with the Eels, a number of honesty sessions with BA became the starting point for a new attitude and career best form.
The team rode his premiership topping try assists to a finals berth. The personal accolades fell his way.
Find a young lower grade player with potential. Show patience with his development. Don’t debut him till he’s ready.
That’s the path the Eels took with Marata Niukore.
The Cook Islands international had not been a headline grabbing NYC star with the Warriors but he had shown enough potential to earn appearances in their NSW Cup team.
After signing with the Eels for the 2017 season, Niukore quickly grabbed our attention with his physicality at Eels training and his form for the Wenty Magpies. But Arthur didn’t rush him.
Against our expectations, the talented back rower did not make his NRL debut that year. Instead, he consolidated his learning at Wenty, earning their player of the year award in his first season.
Ultimately, Marata would debut in Round 11 of 2018 – a tough season to have your first grade initiation. But he knew he was ready, and when I spoke to him it was something that he attributed to the Eels coaching staff.
Thirty-nine games later, Niukore has created an impact as a interchange middle forward, becoming a fixture in the Eels 2019 top 17.
His addition to the club has already proven to be a success and the best days for both Marata and the Eels are ahead of them.
Taka arrived at the Eels following a chance encounter with Brad Arthur in Bali in late 2014 after the Tigers back-flipped on the contract which had seen him move from the Titans.
I had the opportunity to speak with Takairangi towards the end of his first pre-season. I asked how he was finding the change of clubs, and he answered by talking about BA. He said it was the first time that he had been really coached.
He elaborated further, but that would require too much column space.
Instead, I’ll refer to an interview he did with Steve Mascord in 2015. The Kiwi and Cook Islands international stated, “Brad Arthur is awesome, he’s such a good coach. I learn something new every day under him. You hear a lot of people talk about how good he is but you don’t understand until you’re actually coached by him.”
Though 2018 was a tough year for Taka and virtually all of his team mates, there’s little doubt that 2019 again highlighted the value of his versatility.
He’s added 100 NRL games to his resume at the Eels. That holiday to Bali in 2014 worked out well.
The story of the year! The signing of the year?
If you want the definition of mutually beneficial, I’ve left the best till last.
Maika arrived at the Eels as a 25 year old rugby league novice. He finished the season as one of the NRL’s highest profile players.
Parramatta signed a Penrith NSW Cup squad member and gained a left wing weapon who finished the season as the top try scorer. How the Riff ignored his potential is unfathomable.
Consider what Brad Arthur, the coaching staff, the Eels players and Eels staff have done with this Fijian Phenom. You can literally track the improvement in his game on a weekly basis.
And if that’s not enough, the man who told me in February that he’d run from any microphone has not only got a swag of interviews under his belt, he’s also provided the voice over for the NRL/VB feature on his father’s visit.
I’m looking forward to what will happen with a full preseason under his belt!
Taking out our local system players and higher profiled recruits, that’s a decent crew of footballers whose career has benefited from a shift to the Eels.
Will there be a roster addition for 2020 who will prove to be just as successful?
The next month or so might just provide the answer.