“A champion team will always beat a team of champions.”
Over the past few weeks, I have sat back and listened to all the experts as they desperately find ways to discredit the Eels superb start to the season.
From the Stands it annoys me.
I am the first to admit that our club made huge mistakes in the past and I’ve never shied away from the assertion that the team has had a soft underbelly. I have openly written about this numerous times, all the while maintaining my support for the club.
But this team is different and the agenda and click bait stories churned out by many so called experts is wrong and fails to give our team or the club the credit it deserves.
In 2018 we came last by a long way. I attended all but one home game and five away games that year and it was hard to do. I can only imagine how hard it was for the players and coaches to go through that. It was not that long ago and the way our club has rebuilt both within the squad and in the front office deserves so much credit.
There have been some acknowledgements, such as the piece by Michael Chammas and the good news stories from Adrian Proszenko, but overall the credit falls far short of what is deserved.
The storylines since the resumption of the competition have been very predictable: we have not left Sydney, we’ve played at home, we’ve had an easy draw and of course we can only win from in front. The NRL media are like sheep; once it becomes the narrative they all follow without a second thought. So let me correct a few of the mistruths.
After nine games, our team has left Sydney three times. During the last seven games, they have played the Sea Eagles, Panthers, Roosters, Raiders and Knights. The only serious title threat or top team the Eels have not played yet is the Storm.
And here’s another fact – no Sydney based team has left the state and/or Sydney area more than the Eels. In fact, Penrith have played all of their games in Sydney (at three different grounds). Yet Penrith are lauded for their performances far more than the Eels. And if you check the Panthers draw for the rest of the season, you’ll be hard pressed to find a team who will offer much resistance, other than the Eels in their return match.
And the venues for other Sydney teams have been fairly similar. Manly have only travelled as far as the Central Coast for games. The Rabbits have played six games at their home grounds, one at ANZ and five at Bankwest. The Tigers have played all but two games at their home grounds and have left Sydney once. The Bulldogs have left Sydney once and the Sharks just twice.
I encourage Parra fans to fact check the media stories by checking simple facts like the draw. Parra have not had a soft draw, and have not had an unfair advantage in playing at a home ground without fans.
The final mistruth relates to the Eels only being able to play from in front. Any journalist or commentator would only need to check first and second half match points to find this out.
This year, the scoreboard has rarely recorded Parra enjoying big first half leads. It has been our second half in which we have heavily outscored the opposition. We have stuck to our game plan, played with discipline, tired out our opponents and come home strong. Did we not come home strongly after being down by ten against the Panthers?
These untruths are churned out almost daily by so called experts so the real question is, why?
Is it possible that the truth lies in the not so hidden agenda held by many media commentators?
I laugh every week when Greg Alexander tips against us and scrambles to come up with a valid reasoning. On a cold winter’s night, at a slippery Bankwest, with fans back in the stands for the first time, he picked the Cowboys to beat us. Just think about that for a moment.
I listen to and read Gus Gould criticise Parra for being too inexperienced to match the Roosters and Storm, then listen to him say the Panthers have a huge chance to win the competition because of their youth and potential to improve. You cannot have it both ways.
So many commentators have based their job around criticising Parra, after all we sell papers and get clicks. In the past we have given them much to legitimately criticise, but to watch them now struggle to give our team the credit deserved is both hilarious and worrying.
When reading or watching media coverage and opinions, it’s worthwhile reflecting on what Denzel Washington once said: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed.”
I should not really care, and there are advantages to flying under the radar. But there is a serious, related side to this.
I have concerns about the potential influence that the media has regarding some decisions made in our game. If you doubt this, consider rule changes that have been brought about by media pressure, representative selections fuelled by the media pushing certain poster boys, disciplinary action resulting from media headlines.
Is it unreasonable to question the strength of the media’s influence?
That’s not to say that the consequences are always bad. Andrew Voss’ campaign to take the corner post out of play for try scoring situations was a fantastic result from media pressure. But if we accept that influence can create positive outcomes, we must also accept that the other end of the spectrum is also possible.
Some of Mr Annesley’s responses to refereeing controversies have only served to fuel my concerns.
Annesley literally contacted the broadcaster whilst that Parra/Manly forward pass decision was being vehemently criticised on air to say that the touch judge had erred. No waiting till his usual briefing. No waiting to confer with others. No defence of his official for a split second decision on what was a line ball decision. To my recollection, such action was unprecedented.
Contrast this with his report on the Raiders try off a blatant forward pass against the Eels, which he first of all conceded was probably forward but then defended the decision because Badger was in a good position to adjudicate.
He has also been very quick to say that key decisions made against Manly and Canberra were incorrect. Though I concede that those clubs have been on the wrong end of a couple of calls, so too has every other team. But it’s no coincidence that the media has taken up the cause of a couple of “much loved” coaches and the response from the NRL appears to support their calls.
I pose this question with regard to inconsistencies. In what world does an angered and intentional off the ball incident like Mitchell’s high shot on Reynolds draw the same penalty as Nathan Brown’s accidental contact with a falling Victor Radley? The two incidents are worlds apart.
All of this leaves supporters, like myself, questioning the influence of the media and their agendas. I decided to write this week with a focus on calling out the media because it does matter and it does impact us. It shouldn’t, but it does.
Enough of the negatives.
I began this post with the maxim that a champion team beats a team of champions.
I feel that is the Eels real strength, and something that is due more credit.
Few teams can buy superstars. History shows this to be true. But for a few exceptions, probably Teddy and JT, most superstars come into a team young and stay there.
Most clubs will do almost anything to keep superstars. Parra doesn’t have any superstars at the moment. We have a few who could become one but not just yet. That is why we have so much strength and potential across the field.
When you play the Storm you need to stop Cameron Smith and if you can, you will probably win.
When you play the Sea Eagles, you need to stop Tommy. When you play the Panthers, you need to stop Cleary.
Most NRL teams have those 1-2 superstars. They command big dollars and have a huge influence on the result.
Who do you need to stop to beat Parra?
Even with my blue and gold eyes I can honestly say this is a hard one to answer. If you focus on Moses, Brown and Gutherson can take over. If you focus on Nathan Brown, RCG and Junior can take over. If you focus on kicking away from Sivo you are kicking towards Fergo.
The Eels are so well balanced. We have talented individuals that could become superstars, but they are not on million dollar contracts and thus we have a potentially champion team.
Of course the team we must beat to win this year is a champion team – the Roosters. They have a well balanced team with a few players that have gone from potential superstars to superstars. They let Mitchell go because they understand a champion team will beat a team of champions.
We are not on the Roosters level yet but we are travelling down that road. The media won’t acknowledge it, but the fans need to.
I am proud of my club and this team. They are giving their all each week, they are talented and are being led both on and off the field by people with good football brains. They are not beyond criticism. When players are being interviewed they themselves know the areas for improvement. But if you listened to certain quarters you might believe that luck and being favoured by the NRL draw has led to the Eels table-topping position.
We won a game last Sunday, we would not have won in the past. This is a story reflective of our season. We are now winning games in situations we have found too difficult to overcome in our recent past.
I am proud of my team and luck has nothing to do with it. They are sitting first because they have worked hard, recruited well and are playing as one.