This week I’m naming a “best of” team with a difference. It comprises players who played less than ten top grade games for the Eels.
Apart from not considering any player currently under contract, there are no provisos with this team outside of that “less than ten Eels games” parameter. They can be players who enjoyed great success elsewhere. Indeed, a number of those on this list did just that, and arguably should have been retained by the club.
Players who signed with the Eels at the end of their career and whose best days were behind them by the time they wore the Blue and Gold don’t make the grade for mine – see Origin stars such as Chris Walker and Carl Webb.
It should be noted that I have not considered players from earlier than the 1970s. With all on the list spending such a short time with the club, I restricted my choices to those I could remember clearly, including their time in the lower grades where applicable.
There’s no shortage of individuals eligible for this list, ensuring that valid ammunition can be found by anyone looking to dispute these selections.
So here they are, the memorable, the not so memorable, the could have beens and the should have beens.
Fullback – Matt Adamson, 1 game, 1991
One half of the Adamson brothers combination, big Matt would start his career in the backs, but then go on to greater success in the forwards out at Penrith. Given that he earned selection for both NSW and Australia during his time at the Riff, it’s head scratching stuff that he was allowed to leave. That said, Parra’s record in the early 90s was somewhat ordinary, so the 195cm Adamson probably made a shrewd career choice to shift clubs. With only one first grade game on his resume after two seasons at the Eels, it was difficult to blame him for leaving.
Wing – Louis Takairangi, 3 games, 1987
Not only is Louis the father of current Eel, Brad Takairangi, his three games for the Eels included a very famous match. In round 9 of the 1987 season, the Eels were down 22 nil at half time against a grand final bound Raiders team. In an amazing second half, the Eels scored 30 unanswered points to win 30 to 22. Hall of fame stuff
Centre – John Folau, 8 games, 2015 – 2017
John could have been anything. The younger brother of Israel is still only 25 years of age, so who knows what lies ahead. Debuting as a 20 year old, the 193cm outside back made an instant impact and the Eels had to fend off rival attempts to poach him. However, Johnny never quite found the key to fitness and consistency at the Eels. He certainly never lacked talent.
Centre – Andrew Hill, 1 game, 1993
The current CEO of the Bulldogs was a star schoolboy footballer for Fairfield Pats before working his way towards his solitary first grade match for the Eels – and unfortunately it was the infamous 68 nil thrashing by Canberra in 1993. I recall Hill as a very capable, headgear wearing centre, and I rated his performances in the lower grades. He would eventually sign with the Western Reds before returning to the Eels as a football manager.
Wing – Adam Mogg, 9 games, 2002
After starting his top grade career with the Eels, Adam Mogg would go on to play 96 NRL games with the Raiders and 84 games with Catalans in the ESL. His career hit its high mark with Origin selection in 2006. Another example of a Brian Smith era player who would go on to greater heights away from the Eels. He would have been good value in the lean years of 2003/2004.
Five-eighth – Blake Green, 6 games, 2007
Schoolboy superstar Green was just 18 years of age when he debuted for the Eels way back in 2007. He’s since played for about 72 clubs (actually 8) in a career which continues to this day. If anything, he’s improved with age. Did he improve due to his stint in the English Super League or was it his brief stay at the Storm that made him such a calm and consistent game manager? Regardless, you can’t knock anyone who’s played just on 250 games of top grade rugby league and might yet go on to the 300 game mark.
Half – Kieran Foran, 9 games, 2016
There’s little to be said here. The signing that promised so much, yet delivered so little. What a circus unfolded as the
Eels fumbled and bumbled their way through the contract negotiation process, then a pre-season of rehabilitation and “interruptions” soon followed. Still, when he took the field there were enough moments during Foran’s 9 game stint for supporters to believe that his signature would lead us to the promised land. Coach Brad Arthur went the extra mile to assist Foran with his challenges, something later acknowledged by Foran himself. Damn you 2016, you were a bastard of a year for many reasons!
Prop – Kylie Leuluai, 7 games, 2003
A bit of a journeyman during his NRL career, Kylie became well known for an outstandingly successful 258 game stint at the Leeds. His highlights include six grand final victories, and two World Challenge and Challenge Cup titles. At only 5 foot 10, Kylie wasn’t a tall prop. However, the stories of his weights records at Parra are no doubt evidence of the power needed for his longevity and success in the engine room.
Dummy half – Anthony Mitchell, 7 games, 2010 – 2011
A Queenslander, he first came to prominence for his running game at Parra during the inaugural NYC season in 2008. After debuting in the top grade in 2010, Mitchell would leave the Eels mid season in 2011 to join the Roosters. Returning north in 2012, he finished his brief NRL career at the Cowboys in 2014.
Prop – Richie Fa’aoso, 6 games, 2007 and 2015
In an era of behemoths, there’s little doubt that the 180cm, 100kg Fa’aoso was a prop who played well above his weight. In a 186 game career which stretched across seven clubs and two continents, the Tongan international only made six NRL appearances for the Eels with injury cutting short his 2015 season.
Second row – Danny Sullivan, 5 games, 2001
Danny Sullivan is undoubtedly one of the biggest “could have been” stories from the last 20 years. After debuting for the Eels as a 105kg teenager in 2001, an ACL injury and subsequent staph infection cut short his career after just 5 games. He tried to return to footy in 2004 with the Warriors, but further knee issues forced his early retirement after just one match for the New Zealand club.
Second row – Phil Adamson, 4 games, 1991 – 1992
Like his younger brother, Phil Adamson sought greener pastures at Penrith after only two short seasons with the Eels. And just like Matt, he saw more first grade games and Super League representative honours after leaving Parramatta. A tall prop with a good offload, Adamson went on to play 97 games for Penrith, and seven matches for Manly. That’s not a bad career by anyone’s standards.
Lock – John Wilson, 3 games, 2000
The local junior and back rower was part of a long list of Eels who achieved greater success away from Parra. There was an absolute avalanche of young pathways players who worked their way through the grades during Brian Smith’s era, but the Eels were “forced” to let them accept contracts elsewhere. The versatile Wilson was an ideal bench player as he could cover a variety of positions in the pack and the backline. After playing 62 games with the Tigers, Wilson’s 69 matches for Catalan Dragons in the ESL culminated in selection for France in 2008. Quite a journey for the boy from Wenty!
Reserve – John Mann, 7 games, 1978 – 1979
John Mann was a mobile back rower who’s career with the Eels began with six top grade appearances during the early part of 1978. Back in the mid 70s through to the early 80s, both the Parramatta Eels and the Parramatta Two Blues were very strong. It was not unusual for players to have a background in both codes, and we saw the likes of the Price brothers all try their hand at rugby league after starting in union. So it was with John Mann. Unfortunately his promising start did not carry into future years and he only played one more top grade game, coming on off the bench in a 1979 clash.
Reserve – Greg Heddles, 3 games, 1978
Heddles was a barnstorming centre/backrower from the country whose big moment came in the 1978 finals series. Playing second row in the minor preliminary semi against Canterbury, Heddles scored two tries and turned the match in the Eels favour. With two wins and a draw to his name, he never tasted defeat in Parra colours. He returned to the bush and represented Country in 1982.
Reserve – Jason Stewart, 7 games, 1993
Rumour has it that “Elvis” Stewart, the Eels Career and Well-being Manager, answers his phone with his player number of 516. The 92kg lock and former Northmead High student was a 1989 Australian Schoolboys Rep who started at the Tigers before making his top grade debut at the Eels in 1993. Playing in the record 68 nil loss to the Raiders, Stewart finished his first grade career on a high the following week when the Eels ran out 22 to 16 winners over the Tigers. His page on Rugby League Project reads “what a player – could’ve and should’ve been the next big thing”.
Reserve – Zeb Taia, 6 games, 2006 – 2007
Another Eel to find success elsewhere, Taia has played a total of 296 top grade games for three NRL clubs, and two ESL clubs, including his current contract with St Helens. The evergreen back rower has also earned representative honours for New Zealand and the Cook Islands. If the ESL returns this year, he’ll be one of those rare breed of players to clock up over 300 top grade games.
Coach – Trent Robinson, 1 game, 2002
The Roosters master coach only played four games of NRL, and one of those was with the Eels. Starting at prop, Robinson was part of the Eels team which defeated Souths by 54 to nil. He’s certainly proof positive that you don’t need to have been a star first grader to be a successful coach. Four games as a player, then over 200 NRL games as a premiership winning NRL coach!
Media Manager – Paul Kent, 1 game, 1989
If you blinked, you missed Kent’s only NRL appearance when he took the field in the number 7 jersey against Norths in 1989. Nonetheless, the NRL journo has done what millions of other young footballers have never done – he has a player number for an NRL team which boasts over 70 years of history. Say what you want about him, he had a crack at footy and he (very, very, briefly) made it all the way to the top.
At this moment in time, a total of 805 players have taken the field in first grade for the Eels since the club entered the Premiership in 1947. (There is some dispute over that number as a couple of players, including Ernie Wanka, have apparently missed the allocation of a player number.) It’s quite an exclusive group.
No matter how many games any player clocked up for the club, to be part of that number is an honour, as well as a testimony to the hard work and/or talent needed to get there.
Well done fellas.
I’m looking forward checking out the different opinions of our readers.
My thanks to Parrathruandthru for some difficult to source photos and Photo credits to Getty images, AAP, Daily Telegraph, Eels media, NSWRL and the NRL.