The Cumberland Throw

NRL Nines 2020 – Eels Squad Announcement and Analysis

Here we go NRL and Parra Eels tragics!

The 2020 Club Nines kicks off in Perth this Friday, and for many of us the first serious top grade action of the season can’t come soon enough.

The Parramatta squad has just been announced and it’s an impressive one. Mobility, skill and youth feature prominently in a group of players who should perform well in this version of rugby league.

This is how the Eels will line up:

Clint Gutherson

Having just represented Australia at the 2019 World Nines, Clint Gutherson is a “no brainer” selection for the Eels campaign. Parra’s custodian might not be blessed with the wheels of a Bevan French, but his versatility, insane fitness and capacity to maintain top speed over a longer distance than the average player, holds him in good stead over this short form of the game. Just like in the 80 minute game, he’ll have a big say in Parra’s performance.

Maika Sivo

Explosive power and pace provides Maika Sivo with the potential to be a one man wrecking crew at this tournament. He’s the antithesis of Gutho when it comes to fitness, so his value might be found in high return from short stints. He certainly needs more ball than he received when representing Fiji at the World Nines when his talents were arguably wasted.

Blake Ferguson

A surprise inclusion perhaps (much like ‘Taka’) given his involvement in next week’s All Stars game but ‘Fergo’ should absolutely light up the Western seaboard given his status as one of the NRL’s premier wingers. Look for the superstar flanker to live up to his billing as one of the greatest entertainers going around when (if) he crosses the white stripe!

Will Smith

He might not feature in too many 2020 NRL discussions, but Will Smith would be one of the more natural fits for Nines footy in the Eels squad. Blessed with exceptional pace, Smith is the “Will of the Wisp” type of player highly valued in a game where there’s more space than the regular NRL variety. Time to shine Wilbur.


Brad Takairangi

A star for Cook Islands on day one of the World Nines, it was no surprise to see Brad Takairangi selected for the Eels. Big Taka will be expected to float around the edges, and has that ability to get the one-handed offload away in traffic which can create opportunities for faster supporters. A strong performance in Perth might just secure the versatile Takairangi a spot on the Eels interchange in Round 1.

George Jennings

As a player who can cover both wing and centre, the lesser profiled Jennings brother gets his shot in this tournament. George may possess the ridiculous acceleration of his famous older brother, but is renowned for his courageous carries off kick returns and his cutbacks through the middle of the ruck. This is George’s opportunity to remind the Eels that he can be relied on should injury strike the Eels outside backs in 2020.

Jaeman Salmon

Many Eels supporters will be pleased with Jaeman’s selection. After being groomed by the Eels as a half, and then considered as a potential centre, the acquisition of Waqa Blake and the rise of Dylan Brown has seemingly pushed the talented Salmon out of the NRL spotlight. Though I’d like to see “Fish” settle into a specific position (centre), his versatility should be his strength in the Nines format.

Mitch Moses

The star of the World Nines, Mitch Moses is another essential selection in the Eels team. An argument could be made that the 2019 Dally M Half of the Year is best kept in cotton wool during the preseason. However, any visitor to training would acknowledge that Moses never shies away from collisions. The Eels are blessed with the fastest half in the Premiership and he gets the opportunity to showcase his talents in Perth.

Oregon Kaufusi


The 2020 season could be a breakout year for Oregon Kaufusi and what better way to launch it than with a starring role here. Big Oggy has a good motor and a step before the line, qualities that would be highly valued for a middle forward in the NRL, let alone this shortened game. Get ready for next gen Blue and Gold.

Rhys Davies

Readers of my training reports would be very familiar with the name, Rhys Davies. Close to Gutho class in the fitness stakes, the former half is being groomed as a dummy half option for 2020. Blessed with one of the best defensive techniques I’ve witnessed in a half, there’s no denying that Davies has the basics to be a success in the 9 jersey, but needs every opportunity to gain experience in that position. For that reason he earns selection ahead of Mahoney.

Junior Paulo

A half trapped in a prop’s body – it’s a rugby league cliche that becomes a truism when you’re discussing Junior Paulo. I’ve seen the big unit demonstrate his passing, kicking and goal kicking skills on the training track, and NRL supporters have witnessed his quick feet and ability to link with outside supports. Throw in his stats leading offloads and Junz is potentially the archetypal Nines middle forward.

Shaun Lane

In playing what was arguably the most consistent football of his career, Shaun Lane quickly established himself as an Eels fan favourite throughout 2019. At six foot six, he’s a challenge to tackle, and those one-handed offloads create opportunities for both inside and outside support runners. He could prove a dynamic inclusion on the edges in this tournament.

Ryan Matterson

Matto models the Eels jersey

The inclusion of Ryan Matterson is another zero surprise selection. At 108 kilograms, the former half has the skill set of a playmaker but the size of a middle forward. Tremendous mobility and game sense could make the latest inclusion in the Eels leadership group one of the players to watch in Perth. Welcome back to the Blue and Gold, Matto.

Marata Niukore

I’m really looking forward to what Marata Niukore can deliver in the Nines. The former Warriors centre and now edge/middle forward holds nothing back in his carries, and has retained much of the pace of his outside back days. He’s looked powerful at Eels preseason training and will leave his mark in this competition.

Ray Stone

In my opinion, Ray Stone fitted into the must select category for the Eels Nines squad. Parra continues to upgrade Stone’s dummy half skills at every training session, whilst he also spends time as both an edge and middle forward during opposed work. His mobility and “take no prisoners” attitude in defence will be a huge plus in this tournament.

Haze Dunster

Welcome to the big time Haze Dunster! For many supporters, this might be their first glimpse of this Eels pathway graduate. With experience at fullback, wing and centre, it’s easy to see why Haze has been given this opportunity as his first senior appearance. Watch for his ability to beat the first defender in his carries.

David Gower

The evergreen David Gower is surely the epitome of what hard work and self belief can achieve in rugby league. He’ll once again not feature in NRL team discussions, yet he’ll no doubt answer a top grade mayday call at some stage during the season. And in Perth, Gowie will add leadership, versatility and a surprising skill set to the Eels squad. What a champion!

Stefano Utoikamanu


How good is it to see Stefano Utoikamanu getting a run in the Nines! The Eels young gun has probably featured in the media far more than he’d like to during this preseason, but I can assure readers that he’s a terrific young bloke and he’s been all business, all dedication in his training. Stefano will prove a handful for defenders in the middle.

The Unlucky Player

Watson Heleta

Who? I’m not surprised that people would be wondering about who Watson Heleta is and why I’m mentioning him. This bloke has been on a train and trial with the Eels in the latter part of this preseason. As a reference point, his build is not too dissimilar to Greg Leleisiuao. The former West’s Tigers lower grade back was not contracted for 2020, so I made the decision to not feature him in my training reports. However, he has been very impressive and at one session was my pick as the standout player that day.

Unfortunately, Watson suffered a jaw injury during the Eels Canterbury Cup trial last week. It’s my understanding that he was under strong consideration for a place in the Eels Nines squad.

We wish him well in his recovery.


The Eels in 2016

I wanted to quickly honour the Eels team which won the Auckland Nines in 2016.

It was a shame that the Eels Salary Cap penalty in 2016 extended to stripping the Nines title. I don’t disagree with the NRL Premiership points deduction of that year, nor the other sanctions imposed on individuals or the club.

The winning Eels squad

However, the Club Nines is pure entertainment. It’s an exhibition tournament which gets the fans excited about the upcoming season. It’s not bound by the same eligibility rules as the Premiership, as evidenced by clubs fielding “guest players” who aren’t even registered with their club or the NRL for the upcoming season.

This is the 2016 Eels Nines squad which won that title:

Mitch Cornish, Bureta Faraimo, John Folau, Bevan French, David Gower, Luke Kelly, Cameron King, Manu Ma’u, Tepai Moeroa, Ryan Morgan, Cody Nelson, Corey Norman, Junior Paulo, Semi Radradra, Kelepi Tanginoa, Peni Terepo, Vai Toutai, Matt Woods

More than half of that squad spent the majority of the season in the NSW Cup that year, and Bevan French was yet to play NRL.

They deserved the credit for a job well done.

Final Comment

The Nines format is gloriously unpredictable. On paper, this is a very strong Eels squad, and it’s obvious that Parra is taking its commitment to the tournament very seriously.

However, the bounce of the ball can play an even bigger role in nine minute halves than it does in 80 minute NRL games.

With that in mind, I’m planning to treat the matches as entertaining spectacles and add in a wish that every player in every team enjoys an injury free tournament.

With Parra to win, of course!

Eels forever!



Images courtesy of Eels media and the NRL

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62 thoughts on “NRL Nines 2020 – Eels Squad Announcement and Analysis

      1. Gazzamatta

        I had noted hes wasnt being mentioned in your Training Reports after a very promising start to his pre season. Ive also not spotted him recently in the media pics on the Eels website. Its great to hear he is back at work. From the few occasions I saw him last season I think he can do a job for BA if given the opportunity.
        Cheers mate.

        1. sixties

          I prefer not to write too much about players in rehab, that’s why there was no mention. Whilst I might be aware of the injury, I believe it’s up to the club to report on it, as the process of recovery can change.
          You know my thoughts on Davey Gazza.

      2. Matthew Sweeney

        Parra eels website have put up a revamped nrl player profile list under teams, updates and add ons.
        I count 31 including your man watson heleta, sixties. Hughes but no Hollis . My word the latest training pics show our boys looking
        So powerful, even the king has some guns now. Surely we have the best depth in forwards in the comp.
        I read your comment Sixties mentioning maika not gr8 in comparison to the king in training.
        I was hoping the club were hell bent on getting maika jumping out of his skin with this off season training. I know he hasn’t had a completely uninterrupted one but hell he does look ripped. So do u think he will be able to maintain his speed thru out a game. If we can execute good game plans and come up with some
        Gimmick particular to us like the warriors centering breathing, or an attitude instilled in us by someone like a whisperer like the Stubbs guy I think it will help. Maybe a to head dr. These things seem to help these days, look wat fittler is achieving with the blues , the barefoot thing. I am so pumped for this year , potentially we could dominate every team. Go blue and gold.

        1. sixties

          Hughes and Watson would be Development contracts. Hollis, I believe, isn’t on a development contract. That leaves 29 of the top 30 – which is minimum by round 1.
          Maika is a power athlete. When he hits full pace, you can literally hear the power as his feet hit the ground. This is his first preseason as he was in rehab all of last preseason. Even then, it’s been interrupted. He will be fitter than last year. How scary is that!

          1. BDon

            You just revived a memory sixties. I was sitting close to the sideline at Concord Ovalin the 80’s when All Black 2nd rower Alan Whetton thundered along the edge in open space and I dead set felt not only the ground, but the flimsy grandstand moving. Yeah, Maika’s got that look about him.

          2. Colin Hussey

            Wonder if the new home jersey has no really big sizes as Jnr still wears last years version.

            Would much prefer to have seen that jersey as the away one for this season than the mainly yellow one, would retain two heritage type jerseys. But its what fills them that makes the difference.

          3. John Eel

            I was lucky enough to get into the sheds last year after a game. The first thing that I saw when I walked in was Maika with his shirt off

            I can tell you I would never want that man running at me under any circumstances. He is one scary sight.

            No photos of him can ever do him justice. They say he is the strongest man in the Eels squad. I have no doubt that is true.

          4. Matthew Sweeney

            John Would u say he is quite tall as well or more compact. That fend he put on last year in the process of scoring a try was something I have never seen. Imagine the havoc he would of caused those country boys playing for gundagi.

          5. Matthew Sweeney

            Very scary sixties, just an aside to your comment re maikas power hitting the ground, I remember brian smith once said that when todd Carney ever ran past him at training the ground would rumble and he had never experienced that with another player.

  1. Offside

    Id prefere a cotton wool approach I’m not fussed with 9s
    I do see the logic in taking a strong squad unity cohesion etc..
    I just want the real stuff to start

    1. sixties

      I think we all do Offside. It’s a long season. Given we only have one full NRL trial, I don’t think the players are overburdened. I can assure you, they’re keen to start playing.

  2. Milo

    This is not my most favourite cup of tea with the format being so loose etc. but it creates interest for the game. I only hope we receive no serious injuries in this competition. I would rather a lose a player (if we have to) from an NRL match / trial.
    Its the 20/20 cricket of league.
    Very interesting 60’s about he as tall as GL?

          1. Grunta

            Dyl’s one player I was hoping would be picked as I reckon he’d kill it. Anyway, great to see such a serious team picked.
            GO YOU EELS!

    1. sixties Post author

      Colin hasn’t missed the targets! I think he can sense how I feel about the stripping of the Nines back in 2016. We weren’t advantaged by that squad at all. It was a punishment that didn’t relate to the wrongdoings. Anyway, I’ll move on…

    2. Anonymous

      Not rant facts jon boy , im a supporter and do it whole heartedly , look at the names that squad , players robbed of a dream by a bunch of dreamers

  3. JonBoy

    I get nervous with this stuff and will join the naysayers on the 9’s format as a pre season activity. The players mostly see it as a bit of fun, but if we lost Gutho, Fergo, Sivo or Moses to a season ending injury during this, it would have devastating effects on our Top 4 aspirations. I know, it could happen in a trial game or the first round of the NRL, but…

      1. JonBoy

        Its a “fun” extra-curricular activity. Save it for the post season as something the non rep players can participate in.

      2. matt sweeney

        i think the winners pay chq will be decent, we could use 1 more prize signing.
        but anyway i think we have nearly the best squad and depth in the nrl this year.

        1. sixties

          Let’s hope we don’t have to test the depth too often Matt. The premiers each year normally use amongst the fewest players.

  4. Michael Formosa

    Great write up Sixties! A strong looking team, I’m really looking forward to this weekend.
    I understand injuries are a concern but injuries can happen at anytime. Bring on the footy!

    1. Grunta

      The people’s game. I remember that!
      How good was footy before it was all about the product, the rights worth 2 billion and now as Greenburg put it, “The entertainment industry, we’re here to entertain”. No wonder the bunker makes so many mistakes.
      Anyway, another day…

  5. Milo

    1947, can agree with some of those points. Particularly the one about the business which i can see but also the point about people with little feel for the game.
    Look at the decision made about junior football for Queensland juniors? I wonder who the nrl surveyed or spoke to..?

  6. matt sweeney

    i wonder if terepos days are numbered. some of those penetrating sideways then straight runs he did last year were impressive. also im surprised gower was not picked in the leadership group, unless he didnt put his hand up because he already has an important role off the field for the club. player mentoring or something.

    1. sixties

      Matt, I think Terepo is now behind Oregon and Stefano in the pecking order. It’s tough to comment on Gowie without knowing if there was a criteria with selection. No doubt Gowie already holds a leadership role with his official duties.

      1. Matthew Sweeney

        Thx for responding Sixties but plz never feel obliged to , I know u must be already time poor . Yes , and I wld say Oregon and stefano both have more useful bulk to throw around than peni.

        1. sixties

          No dramas mate. If I have people who take the time to authentically reply to something I’ve written, I think they deserve a reply from me.

  7. Rowdy

    No 1947, very interesting propositions you make there, but I would like to disagree with a couple of them.
    1. I can remember the Western Reds as a franchise that won some exciting contests against teams they were expected to be lapped by. If not for the reconciliation of Packer and Murdock who just happened to OWN the game at the time, we may well have been gifted with a truly National RL by now? BTW, there are numerous entrepreneurs waiting for the NRL to give the go ahead for a “team in the West” Perth has had a healthy junior league for nearly 40 years.
    2. RCG broke his jaw at Penrith the 2nd time, at training. Ryan James just lost his comeback season with another serious ACL. At training.
    Blokes break down in preseason training consistently. I would much rather it happen in a “Nines” competition where the fans at least get to commiserate in “live time” watching the whole drama unfold as a team flying along in the format “lose their best player and any hope of immediate success”. Classic!

  8. Rowdy

    Great read again big fella.
    I can’t wait to see Stephano stand up to be counted in this format. It should be like playing U/20’s for him “knocking over would be tacklers like Ten Pins” with all that space out there in the middle.
    If we play with structure, 2 middles, 2 edges, 1-2 play-makers and a back 3-4 we appear to be very strong and well balanced.
    My main concern is that we have so much talent it could be a matter of too many cooks? With the short format we could be out of contention before we hit our straps with multitude of potential combinations.
    PS; I’ve still backed them into favouritism. After reading this again? I might go and have another $5 on them. 😉

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Rowdy. I’m trying not to think too much about them winning, just going to kick back and enjoy it. I bet that changes once it starts!!!
      BTW – Your $5 bets keep ruining the prices for the rest of us mate! 😁😁😁

  9. parrathruandthru

    Not a bad record in the West 75%

    10/3/89 QR Panasonic Cup Balmain W 22 – 12 WACA
    17/5/91 Round 9 Cronulla W 22 – 12 WACA
    8/5/92 Round 7 Canterbury W 18 – 12 WACA
    21/795 Round 17 Western Reds L 14 – 24 WACA

        1. Milo

          Funny that, i seem to recall when the ARL brought in the ‘criteria” regarding crowds etc. gee that was an interesting era.
          I wonder what sort of criteria this current NRL would put up… doubt something political.

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