The Cumberland Throw recently highlighted flaws in the Eels development pathways which have resulted in the loss of younger key players. It provided little joy for us to publish this post, nor to read the mainstream media coverage which followed. We are currently monitoring whether the Eels review their processes.
But there is still a positive light on the Eels Development Pathways horizon. In 2020, Parramatta will be entering a stand alone team in the Canterbury Cup, an exercise which removes a disjointed step in their players’ pathways to the NRL.
Back in 2018, I authored a series of posts (found here, here and here ) which campaigned strongly for an end to the partnership with Wenty. Those posts highlighted the reasons for, and the importance of, fielding an Eels team at that “reserve grade” level. I admit, I was like a dog with a bone on this topic, so I was overjoyed when news of an Eels Canterbury Cup team was eventually announced.
The joint venture with the Wentworthville Magpies had aligned the Eels with its most powerful, wealthy and famous junior district club. Unfortunately, this union brought little success and saw far too many players take the field with no connection to Eels pathways.
Consider this statistic.
Back in 2018, a staggering 52 different players were used by the Wenty Magpies in NSW Cup. A figure like that is absurd, and when you consider that there were a number of Eels Top 30 players who didn’t play a single game for Wenty, it’s indicative of how many different Ron Massey Cup standard players were called up. How many of those had any connection to the Eels pathways? Not many!
Based on those figures, you’d think that the Eels would need to have around 30 players on second tier contracts. However, with greater control over the players made available for Canterbury Cup, a more realistic number is about 15 to 16.
Where will the players come from? How will this work?
In any season, the ideal scenario is for the injury list to be insignificant. This happened for Wenty in the 2019 Final Series, when only Will Smith was unavailable for selection. Incredibly, just three players not on Eels contracts were named in the 19 man grand final squad.
The full time NRL roster consists of around 36 players – 30 on NRL contracts and six development players. Depending on their age and individual circumstance, the development contract players could find themselves playing Flegg or Canterbury Cup.
Given that 18-19 players might be kept exclusively for NRL duties in any given round, the best case scenario is that 17 full time players will be available for reggies. However, that doesn’t take injuries into account or even the respective positions to be filled in the team.
And though Flegg players are often elevated, the more likely scenario is that you need virtually another team of players on second tier deals so that all positions are covered for Canterbury Cup.
I expect relationships to be established with a number of Ron Massey Clubs, not just Wenty. This will allow second tier Eels contracted players to be spread around and not overly strengthen a single feeder club, or conversely weaken it, when player availability fluctuations occur.
At the local level, this would be a healthier arrangement as it removes perceptions of favouritism towards the Magpies.
When it comes to recruiting second tier players, the first port of call should be graduates from Flegg. This keeps players in the Eels pathways, which was a motivating factor in the decision for the club to field their own CC team. This source has been somewhat diminished for 2020 as a result of the recent exit of young players, as reported by TCT.
The next port of call would be known Wenty players – that is, players who’ve pulled on the joint venture jersey in recent years and have proven their worth.
Finally, you’ll have players cut by rival NRL clubs, at either senior or Flegg level, who’ll be looking to continue their career. It’s possible to pick up the occasional hidden gem via Ron Massey Cup (see Maika Sivo playing CC for Penrith after time in Shield and Massey levels) but the most likely scenario is that players will feed back to Massey Cup rather than players being discovered from that competition.
Whatever the source of the talent, just like at some NRL clubs, there are players currently going through a train and trial process.
And just like NRL clubs, the final roster for the Eels Canterbury Cup team has not been finalised as yet. We hope to report on that, and players to watch, when details are known.
Looking ahead to the 2020 season, it will be an exciting prospect to watch our “reserve grade” team playing in Parra jerseys at Bankwest Stadium. It will also be a positive for fringe players to be pulling on a blue and gold jersey at the same venue as their NRL cohorts. And for those weeks when the draws don’t align, it’s my understanding that a healthy relationship has been maintained with Wenty so that Ringrose can be utilised as a venue.
We will probably never again see the three grades of Eels football on match days, and there may still be roster or organisation teething problems that will make the job a challenging one for new coach, Ryan Carr.
Nonetheless, this back to the future move gladdens the heart of an old timer like me.
See you there at the curtain raisers in 2020.