The Cumberland Throw

The Spotlight – Building A Successful Roster: Evolution or Revolution?

Question time.

With the Eels 2021 roster approaching its finalisation, how is the squad looking?

Does it look like a successful roster?

How is a successful roster created?

What defines success?

Addressing the latter question first, the simplest definition is winning titles. And when it comes to premierships, two clubs define the past decade – the Storm and the Roosters.

Over the last ten seasons, each of those clubs has held the trophy aloft on three occasions. The Storm emerged victorious on Grand Final day in 2012, 2017 and 2020. For the Roosters, it was 2013, 2018 and 2019.

But what about the years when they weren’t winning titles?

It probably wouldn’t surprise punters to know that the Storm have featured in every finals series from the past decade, whilst the Roosters have been finalists in seven of the past eight years.

The long term success of these clubs has been founded by their consistent appearances in the big end of season games.

Perhaps that means sustained success is first achieved by finals consistency.

Of course, the rosters of these clubs have evolved over time.

From the outside we marvel at the success of a club such as the Melbourne Storm. No doubt we look back in anger at their salary cap breaching days, but few could argue with their capacity to discover young talent or the extraordinary ability of Craig Bellamy to get high value from low cost recruits.

An example of the changes at the Storm can be found in looking at their 2017 grand final side:

Slater, Vunivalu, Chambers, Scott, Addo-Carr, Munster, Cronk, Bromwich, Smith, McLean, Kaufusi, Harris, Finucane, Bromwich, Glasby, Asofa-Solomona, Griffin.

Eight of those seventeen players were not part of their 2020 campaign, but how has that change occurred?

For the Storm, nine players made their club debut in 2020. However, three of those players made their first grade debuts with other clubs.

It’s worth digging further into the path of Storm debutants towards being regular top 17 players. It’s actually a much slower burn than many would realise.

In 2020, only one club debutant featured regularly in the NRL, and that was Branko Lee, an external recruit with NRL experience.

Of their 2019 debutants, only Papenhuyzen and Fa’asuamaleaui earned regular NRL spots in 2020, with Justin Olam being the only 2018 debutant to secure his place this year. An examination of the 2017 new boys only adds Hughes, Brandon Smith to the list, with Addo-Carr being an external addition to the squad.

When it comes to player development, the story at the Roosters is not dissimilar. Eight players have made their top grade debut at the tri-colours over the past two years. Of those, only Sam Verrills could be considered as close to an established NRL player.

With that in mind, although the Roosters have nurtured their own talent, they have undoubtedly found success from signing a couple of significant recruits each season. It could even be argued that the addition of Flanagan, Morris and SBW did not have the required impact in 2020, and this was exposed in the back end of the season. The stay of both Flanagan and Sonny Bill consequently became short term.

So when it comes to sustained success, that development of a strong playing roster is the first challenge for all clubs, and the Storm and Roosters have done well over a long period to retain players who were key to their strength. Gradual change has obviously helped them to maintain it.

Craig Bellamy

But there is another factor to success which must be highlighted. Ultimately, the defining common denominator for both clubs has been the stability with their coaches. Both Bellamy (18 seasons) and Robinson (8 seasons) represent long term coaching investments by their clubs.  They have a dedication and passion for their roles and their clubs, and it’s rewarded by an unwavering respect and loyalty from their players.

It’s surely no coincidence that sustained success has gone hand in hand with the stability of the person guiding the players.

Where do the Eels sit in comparison?

Though the Eels finished top four in 2017, the wooden spoon season in 2018 was not going to be a strong foundation for sustained success.

It should come as little surprise that plenty has changed since that year when the following players were involved in the squad:

Alvaro, Aukafolau, Auva’a, Brown (Nathan), Davis, Edwards, Evans, French, Gutherson, Gower, Hayne, Hoffman, Jennings, Jennings, Kaufusi, King, Leleisiuao, Mahoney, Mannah, Matagi, Ma’u, Moeroa, Moses, Niukore, Norman, Pritchard, Salmon, Scott, Smith, Stone, Takairangi, Terepo, Vave, Williams.

Of the 34 players listed above, only ten (including Michael Jennings) are currently named as Eels players in 2021. Of those, Stone, Niukore, Mahoney and Kaufusi made their NRL debuts in 2018.

If we go back even further to 2016, only Alvaro, Gutherson, Jennings, and Paulo still remain, with Paulo spending two and a half seasons with the Raiders during that period.

There’s no ignoring it. From the low base of 2018, the construction of the Eels squad has been more revolution than evolution.

So, back to the question – Does the Eels roster look like a successful one?

After a spoon season, finals appearances in successive years is a good start. Finishing fifth and then third in the last two regular seasons reads well for the Eels placing themselves as regular finals contenders.

Brad Arthur

There is then the vital stability in the coaching staff, with Brad Arthur approaching 200 NRL games in charge, and potentially breaking Brian Smith’s record of 244 games down the track.

And finally, we address the players themselves. Maintaining the core of the top 17, especially the spine, was an important goal which has been achieved.

Opportunities for a top 17 spot on the bench seemed to be the attraction for recruits. The likes of Cartwright, Papali’i, Lussick and Hipgrave should fill that brief. At the very least they add significant depth with all boasting top grade experience. Roache provides surprisingly good value for a development contracted player.

The unexpected hole will likely be at centre. The club hadn’t planned to be without Michael Jennings and should his B sample return a positive result, finding a similarly talented and experienced replacement will not be easy. With respect, Opacic and Oldfield have not produced similar highlight reels to Jenko. Both are terrific signings, but they cannot be expected to provide the equivalent impact or experience of Jennings.

It also seems that in the short term, Will Smith will be the back-up option in the halves.

Should the Eels continue to look for external recruits, I’d have to expect that a centre or another back-up half might be targets.

What of the injection of youth, and the blooding of pathways players?

As we’ve seen from the Storm and the Roosters, such players are usually a slow burn. The Eels have lost two of their 2020 debutants in Andrew Davey and Stefano Utoikamanu. However, Dylan Brown, Reed Mahoney, Marata Niukore, Maika Sivo, Ray Stone, Oregon Kaufusi, and Haze Dunster have all debuted within the last three years and remain with the club. This number is comparable with Melbourne and Easts.

Dave Hollis and Sam Hughes will be the next in line to press for a top grade appearance, and there will also be a wealth of young players undertaking the NRL preseason.

The majority of the bases seem covered in the roster, and the concern around dummy half depth seems to be addressed with interest.

And with a spot or two yet to fill, and the Jennings issue yet to be finalised, there’s still more Eels roster news to come.

Personally, I’m champing at the bit for the preseason to start.


Eels forever!



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Colin Hussey

Interesting post 60’s. I note the club has listed 27 players on the team page which naturally includes MJ, the team list includes both Hughes and Hollis who I hope get shots in the top side through the season, and hopefully not in the last rounds either, but that could be said for any of the players overall. With nothing yet on the Cartright signing, it doesn’t leave too much room for other new signings though. It seems that the signings so far are all pretty much based on one year deals, something that’s more than understandable, and that raises… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Thanks for that sixties. I am somewhat mixed regarding Cartwright, I remember watching him at the Riff and was doing ok, whatever the real reason behind him being let go to the GC, he never really kicked on, I guess if he gets a good dose of the Mountain air, or close enough, and can reproduce his early form will be a good pick up, perhaps a year at a time. I would have liked to have seen Asiata targeted although I do remember his name and the eels being mentioned together. The other player I hope is targeted is… Read more »

The rev aka Snedden

Colin Hussey there is 1 player that we should go after is young Bronco Jarmanye osako his a excellent goal kicker n can play wing , centre , fullback.

I just think a change of clubs will freshen him up

Last edited 5 days ago by The rev aka Snedden
Colin Hussey

The rev aka Snedden.

Cannot find him on any team lists, is he out of nappies yet?

The rev aka snedden

Really you haven’t heard of him.

Colin Hussey

Heard similar with his want to be in the starting line up, & wonder what his best position is, given how well the move that had Lane go to the bench a few games back and how well that worked, perhaps that could be a good arrangement if Asiata came to the eels. No doubt there is a bit of a queue for Staggs, my big concern with him though is his injury history, however its not something that is not a Robinson Crusoe issue with young players, but most generally seem to come good. The question though is how… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Fair call sixties. Jnr has the ability to play big minutes and that is value for a big beast.


Does this mean Hughes and Hollis are both apart of the top 30?

Also do to the lack of footy I have no idea about any of the lower grade players. Is it too early to say who we should be looking out for and what position they play?

Keep up the good work mate,

The rev aka Snedden

This looks like a weaker team then last year. I do hope Oldfield gets a shot he has great speed n can leap high for kicks unlike sivo. I like hipgrave but I think we can transform him into a prop what do you think sixties. Papali’li is a great signing by far our best so Far. For next year that is. I like most think we should chase a back-up halfback not a makeshift half back. Why didn’t we resign salmon for 1\2 yrs I think his a really good 5\8. Dani Levi why didn’t we Chase him instead… Read more »


I want some of what you are on Rev if you think Oldfield would be better than Sivo in the first grade side. He played half of 2020 busted, don’t write him off just yet.

Asiata is no chance, asking too much coin, Levi wants a first grade spot that we can’t guarantee him. It sounds like Cartwright is a done deal, but he’ll be playing for a case of Jacks Pale Ale and free parking at the leagues club on game days.

The rev aka snedden

Oldfield just needs a chance gol. Just like we gave sivo.

Wile we talking about sivo when did he score a long range try ? When did he ever have to run 50+ metres to score a try ? When did he ever leap for a ball n run 30+ metres n score ?.
Semi is so much better then sivo in every way every day of the yr.

Did you watch sivo run in a game looking to pass instead of running hard n fast yet the pass went to ground.

Last edited 5 days ago by The rev aka snedden

And some of Ken’s specialties too Sixties (mornay and beef)

The rev aka snedden

Thanks. With the DH we had pj Marsh n drew yet we can’t do it again because of why salary cap


Papalli, roache – like
Cartwright – pls say it’s a horrible joke. Does his work ethic, mental toughness and attitude fit in with the squad. It’s a Hell no for mine.
Oldfield – yeah, no, pass.
Hipgrave – borderline. If he can channel his aggression and attitude, may be an astute purchase, I worry he has too many brain snaps and concussions in him.
I get value buys but they’ve got to add something. Hopefully there’s some big buys coming too.

jack herd

Thanks for the post sixties. I think the club has done relatively well in filling in the back end of the top 30 list. We have added some depth with some handy pick ups (given our coaching staff can work their magic on them). It will be interesting how the Jenko situation plays much as I would love to see him line up for us come rd 1 next year, these cases rarely get overturned. We need to be in the market for a strike centre…who is out there that we can turn to? Is there a possibility we… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Will look forward to that. One question though is have we kept the same coaching staff from this year, going forward?


Our forwards were great this year, and its the backs who need to be defensively better as a unit; some speed out wide is also needed and we are in limbo while we wait on the MJ saga, hence speed needed.
The next season will define the coach imo, and his staff. We need to be better between the ears and in crucial moments. I thought a change of assistants may be required but it seems maybe not…proof will be in the pudding.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x