The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – Pushing The Advantage

“In football, if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards fast.”

Jack Gibson

The master coach applied this philosophy to his passion for innovation in rugby league.

Yet, at a most basic application, its truth can be found in the yearly task of compiling an NRL top 30.

Maintaining a match ready NRL squad has never been tougher than right now, but has there ever been a more challenging time for NRL clubs to secure their top 30 squad for the following season?

COVID-19 has certainly impacted top grade NRL. But when lower grade and junior rep competitions were shut down, rugby league’s pathways systems were stripped of critical player development and assessment time.

Parramatta is no island in this regard. However, for a club which has only recently come to grips with the challenge of compiling a competitive roster within salary cap restraints, the next four months could prove to be most crucial.

At the time of writing this post, 14 members of the Eels full time squad are listed as off-contract at season’s end. Those players, in alphabetical order, are:

Andrew Davey, Rhys Davies, Haze Dunster, Kane Evans, Jai Field, David Gower, Watson Heleta, George Jennings, Reed Mahoney, Jaeman Salmon, Will Smith, Ray Stone, Brad Takairangi, Peni Terepo.

Reed Mahoney

I’m expecting the likes of Mahoney and Stone to be priority signings. Kane Evans is in the final year of a lucrative deal which, given the current pattern of tightening contract values, is unlikely to be repeated. If he decides to remain, it won’t be on the same coin. Brad Takairangi and Peni Terepo could possibly expect one year offers, and it’s unclear whether that will be their best options.

Unfortunately, for both the players and the club, the other off-contract players have no opportunity (outside of training) to push their claims for a new deal. There’s no Canterbury Cup, and in the case of younger fringe players, no Jersey Flegg. They are effectively out of the game for a year. It’s tough for both the young and the not so young.

In a season which is potentially the beginning of a premiership challenging window, Parramatta’s upcoming decisions about retention and recruitment could determine whether that window lasts for one year or multiple years.

Thinking back to 2017, the club performed well above expectations to finish in the Top Four. Moving into 2018, the senior signings were Kane Evans, Jarryd Hayne and Tony Williams.

Oregon Kaufusi

That season, there was a talented group of young players just below first grade. Dylan Brown, Oregon Kaufusi, Reed Mahoney, Ray Stone, Ethan Parry and Jaeman Salmon were expected to feature from 2019 at best. The fact that Kaufusi, Mahoney and Salmon debuted in 2018 was a credit to each of them, but the reality was less about them being ready and more about the circumstances of that year.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Through it, we can look back and see that injuries were the risk factors in adding two players over the age of 30 to the roster. Throw in Evans missing a chunk of the preseason after joining the club on the back of a World Cup injury, and our recruitment shortfalls became part of a range of contributing factors leading to a spoon season.

Targeted recruitment coming into 2019 was critical in correcting the club’s trajectory. Ferguson and Sivo addressed the kick return yardage. Paulo and Lane added skill and starch to the pack, Brown replaced Norman and straightened the attack, and Blake’s mid-season switch provided additional strike-power out wide.

The Eels didn’t rest on their laurels coming into 2020. Attracting two quality starting forwards in Campbell-Gillard and Matterson has transformed the current Eels pack into one of the most imposing group of forwards in the premiership.

It’s all looking terrific isn’t it!

One eye on the 2020 prize, the other on recruitment

Well these Blue and Gold eyes are currently doing their best impersonation of Marty Feldman. One peeper is looking joyously at my team sitting pretty at the top of the ladder. The other keeps its focus on any news about next year.

Nearly every player outside of the Eels top 17 is off contract, and though we can feel pleased that the majority of our key signings are done, the Eels did enter the current season light in depth in and around the spine.

The words of CEO, Jim Sarantinos should be significant: “We want to be a top-four club, every year, on and off the field.”

If we call that a mission statement, from the top, then the decisions made around retention and recruitment would be centred on locking the club into a permanent Premiership window. This doesn’t mean that the club wins a title every year, but rather, like the Storm or the Roosters, the club expects to feature in finals football every season and steps are taken to ensure that.

What is likely to lie ahead as next season’s NRL squad is assembled?

Given the club’s priority on development, we can lock in a repeat of recent pre-seasons.

Talented pathways players will be elevated into an NRL pre-season. Some will sign Development contracts, whilst others will be trialling for one of those contracts or possibly a lower end Top 30 deal.

Kyle Schneider

Players such as Dave Hollis and Sam Hughes will probably be joined in pre-season by the likes of Johnny Fonua, Sean Russell, Solomone Naiduki, Sam Loizou, Jake Arthur, Charbel Tasipale, William Penisini and Tasi James. I’m hoping that Kyle Schneider, who’s currently on a development deal, and Harry Duggan, are also retained. This was an important year for both after recent injuries, and neither have had the opportunity to push their claims with the loss of lower grades in 2020.

With these younger players not engaged in any competitions, I’d expect their  pre-season to commence in November with NRL players returning after the Christmas break.

But the transition of that group to full time training does not address the immediate first grade requirements for 2021. All of those younger players are at least one to two seasons away from an NRL debut. Players will need to be signed to strengthen the current top 17, as well as provide depth and pressure on key positions.

Decisions around which of the off-contract players are retained will obviously determine some recruitment decisions, but at the very least I’d expect the addition of a quality prop, definitely an NRL experienced dummy half and outside back, and perhaps a depth back rower.

The timing of negotiations could prove to be interesting. Rumours of disgruntled players looking for a change of scenery are likely to reach new heights this year as those currently out of favour find themselves watching from a sedentary sideline. Throw in a number of underperforming clubs who will be looking to make significant changes to their rosters, and it could be a very active player market.

For the Eels, the landscape is much different to the not too distant past. The club has become high profile for the right reasons. The table-topping team plays out of a state of the art stadium, with highly respected coaching staff and first-class training facilities. All of that adds up to a quantum leap in Parra’s capacity for attracting quality off-contract players without breaking the bank.

Forty years ago, Jack Gibson’s words rang true, and they are just as true today.

It’s time to push our advantage to keep moving forward.

Eels forever!


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Thanks Sixties, great write up…
just a quick one, do you know whether the club is looking at feeding our surplus squad players to clubs competing in the NSWRL newly formed presidents cup competition?


jake arthur?

!0 Year Member

Thanks for the article sixties. Not only do we need to consider the players, the staff as well. It appears we have harmony between coach, football ops, CEO at the moment. HOW do we maintain that and not let factions cause issues, who would ever forget spags being a manager of a player in the team, ludicriuous. Lets not kid ourselves, BA is a huge influence across the whole organisation but will he be here forever? if Sheedy could do 28 years with the Bombers, there is nothing to say BA cannot do it either, but will he?. So its… Read more »

Colin Hussey

I like the way that BA has answered the unnumbered amount of criticism levelled at him in the past as he could not coach and no ability to identify players who will bring the club up as a genuine top of the table club.

There is little doubt that he will in demand from other clubs once his contract ends, but, I do not see him leaving any time soon though, & I’m sure that he’s not a wandering coach as some others are.

Colin Hussey

I certainly had my belief in his overall abilities but the one dud year which brought on the spoon was one where I had my say on him, however I also felt that he was let down from sources that I believe put a dump on him. That year feels a long while ago now but in reality only 2 years back. Last season and this one so far has shown how far he has come, and I don’t see him going backwards either, all he needs is the club and players behind him, and yes he needs to be… Read more »

Jpe Briffa

Hi mate what chance of the club retaining Kyle Schneider i certainly hopethat we are able to keep him. Great post as usual hope to see you on Friday

Colin Hussey

Well put together and thought making post sixties, much appreciated. I have been following the off contract list for a while, and my primary disappointment is not seeing Reed being resigned as yet, certainly hope he’s inks with the eels again and is not lost to the club, same with Ray Stone. While the so called Presidents cup comp will be good as it brings some regionals into playing RL but I think the NRL and through V’landys has missed a more important opportunity (at least in my IMHO) by not introducing a Canterbury Cup or some other name for… Read more »

John Eel

The last thing we want to do is go down the path of the Broncos where they are suffering at the hands of player managers. Whether or not there was a clause in Batemans contract to allow him to renegotiate mid term I doubt. However if it was there the club got what it deserved. It is no less stupid than allowing a player to sign with an option in his favour at the end of the contract. In the case of Reed I am not sure what is holding up his signing but if it is the Player Manager… Read more »


Interesting sixties. If our cap is fairly full,you can take a helicopter view on the standard cross the squad and what it takes to elevate to being a contender, and ask the question- how do you continue to improve if money is finite? You’re dancing with this question, my key board attention span isn’t great, so I”ll leave it to you, and maybe have another quick look at The Chats as encouraged by Forty.


For mine davey ,davies ,gower,,george jenk ,, salmon, smith , taka and peni all go ., obviously few dollars for reedy & kane but if there not a fair bit of coin left over for a few handy purchases then the cap is still be mishandled !!!!!!!!


Bit of poor grammar there,sorry .


Interesting peice Sixities, it highlights the balancing act between priorities signings and those who will chase the dream elsewhere coupled with balancing early career, and those in their prime & twilight years. Arguably that balance was missing in 2018 but IMO BA may have stayed loyal to the twilight players rather than injecting hungry younger players into the mix. For mine, the evolution of BA was demonstrated in this weeks team selection at #7. Another factor for consideration is contract timing and structuring; there’s no coincidence that the 14 players off-contract are predominately not in the run on-team, 1 year… Read more »

John Eel

My understanding is that Hughes has been extended but Hollis not?

The interesting player for me is Salmon. There just does not seem to be enough opportunity to use him. It seems that BA sees him as a centre. Hard to see where he goes.

The rev aka Snedden

Sixties I thought field was on a 2 yr deal not just for this year. I agree with you about retaining stone n Mahoney but in saying that I’d also retain salmon n Field the rest can go done with peni n takarangi. Just wanted to know your thoughts on swapping Stefano with Benji. The reason I say is because it gives us a backup experience half n they get a young Stefano who by the look of it won’t be playing a game with us this yr. I think we should chase Josh Addo car in place of Ferguson.… Read more »


Maybe waqa could be our next big bodied winger and we should be looking for a centre

The rev aka Snedden

No Waqa is more centre then winger.

The rev aka Snedden

True with the big wingers but as they say you can’t teach speed n that’s what we need imo. Not saying Ferguson is slow n he can find the try line but his form seems lacking in confidence ATM.

Colin Hussey

My gut feeling with Fergo is that he knows Waga is a liability in defence and why he goes in more than he did last year with the eels.

Waqa does have good attacking ability (mostly) but its pretty obvious when watching the opposition as to which side they now target in attack, and that is the right side, meaning Matto has to cover for the both of them.

Colin Hussey

I agree with you sixties that the issues can be fixed, and it seems to primarily be the defensive aspect that is the problem.

Waqa does have a pretty fair running game from what little I have seen of him, early days and here’s hoping for the fix.


I’d drop Blake until he learns to tackle and bring in Salmon in his stead. He is not as fast but can tackle and has other skills he can utilise that Blake doesn’t have.

John Eel

The older players in the top 17 include M Jennings and Ferguson. Who knows how long they will continue for. Beyond that there is no obvious opportunities emerging. Of course BA may see some weaknesses that he is wanting to fix. But based on all this there is not a lot of opportunity for player recruitment for the 17.

A young player may wait around a year or even two however beyond that they are going to look elsewhere

See you at Bankwest on Friday

Go Eels

John Eel

Sixties I agree with you on that point. It goes back to Jack Gibson’s comment of “In football, if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards fast.” no different to being in business. The point I am trying to make is that there are no glaring weaknesses like in the past. I would argue that there are some areas we could improve. I take your point on pushing players to hold their spots. Given our current status at the top of the table, this could be a good time to get some young quality players into the club at the right… Read more »


TONS of opportunity’s , 60,s nailed it , a backup No 9 utility type ,At least 1prop , definitely backrowers and an outside back , who covers those positions when the inevitable injury’s prevail , they dont have to be top of the crop players just ones the coaching staff can take to the top , our squad finishes at 16 with 1 reliable backup , the ideal squad is nothing less than 20 fighting for their spots , the idea is to develop better than you have within the salary cap to replace the ones you cant afford or… Read more »

John Eel

They really have there salary cap in good order don’t they the Roosters.

Aubusson has been good for the Roosters. Quality clubman


I’d go hard for Xavier Coates either as a winger or centre.

Achilles' Eel

Parra has done quite well these past five years in building a team and hiring suitable backups. When the team qualifies for the semi-finals in 2020 it will have done so in three of its last four attempts. Obviously I expect them to make the semis from here. (Surely a Kamikaze wind won’t blow in and scuttle their campaign at this point in time!) It’s just the year they didn’t make it in 2018 that’s left lingering scars and cause for doubt – and a horrible season it was, too! Nevertheless, I’ve since come to look on 2018 as not… Read more »


I see this as a real test of the board and the football department itself , are the board commited to giving the supporters a great football team or is the club just a money thing ,then is the football dept capable of of securing quality players similar to way the roosters operate , has the football dept got the salary cap in position to continue building our roster , all these questions need to asked and answered truthfully by management !!

Achilles' Eel

Pathways have been deeply affected for all clubs due to the lockdown, but at least we are blooding youngsters into a winning team these days. I should have looked this up, so forgive me, but hasn’t Dylan Brown won sixteen of his first twenty-two games in the NRL.

Achilles' Eel

Yes, Dylan has an exceptional strike-rate, and is very dedicated and deserves his success, but can you imagine him having to come through in 2012-13?

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