Recently, I’ve written and spoken about the evolution of Parramatta’s NRL roster. In doing so, the changes since 2017 have been referenced.
However, there’s an amazing statistic that I seem to have overlooked.
Only two players from the current squad have registered over 100 NRL games with the Eels. Just Clint Gutherson and Michael Jennings can lay claim to that honour, and a huge cloud now hangs over whether Jenko will add to his tally.
It’s a reflection of the revolution of the playing ranks since the 2018 wooden spoon season.
Here’s how the current 27 players line up when it comes to years and games with the club, along with their path to the Eels. Please note that Nathaniel Roach is not listed as he remains on a Development Contract at this point in time.
|Player||Eels since||Eels Games||Background||Notes|
|Waqa Blake||2019||30||Penrith||Mid season 2019|
|David Hollis||2021||Nil||Pathways||Dev 2020|
|Joey Lussick||2021||Nil||Manly/Salford||Eels NYC 2014/15|
|Reed Mahoney||2018||56||Eels NYC|
|Ryan Matterson||2020||19||Roosters/Tigers||Eels pathways to 2015|
|Mitchell Moses||2017||83||Tigers||Eels/Tigers pathways|
|Marata Niukore||2017||56||Warriors junior|
|Junior Paulo||2013/19||99||Pathways||Raiders 2016-18|
|Jordan Rankin||2020||Nil||Titans/Tigers/ESL||Mid season 2020|
|Maika Sivo||2019||46||Penrith CC|
|Ray Stone||2018||19||Eels NYC|
Just seven players can trace their NRL history with the Eels back to 2017. Of those only Clint Gutherson, Michael Jennings and Junior Paulo were with the club in 2016.
Big Junior has the earliest debut with the Eels – 2013. However, the Origin prop departed the club during 2016 and did not return until 2019. It should also be noted that Paulo will crack 100 games with the club in his next appearance.
Don’t misconstrue the relatively low number of games with the Eels as a lack of experience in the squad. Ten first grade players have reached that sweet spot of 100 NRL games on their resume, with Shaun Lane just five games short of that mark.
But here comes the most salient point.
Though the top 13 looks quite established, their combinations are still comparatively new. The spine of Gutherson, Moses, Brown and Mahoney have not played two full seasons of games together. As they continue to build their experience as a unit, and as they enter their second year of specialist coaching under Joey Johns, their effectiveness will continue to grow.
Furthermore, key forwards such as Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson have only played 21 and 19 games respectively with the Eels. They too, and especially Matterson on the edge, will benefit from greater familiarity with their team mates in the coming season.
Of course, the great unknown remains the new additions.
As things stand, nine players are yet to pull on a top grade jersey for the club. Haze Dunster only has one NRL appearance to his name. When the roster is finalised, we can expect a further 3-4 players to fall into the category of zero experience with the club. That injection of new blood represents almost fifty percent of the NRL squad.
Additionally, a further 10 pathways players have been involved in their first preseason, be they development contracted or at the next stage of their pathways experience. It’s certainly a nod to the caliber of young players that hold the key to the Eels future, and adds to the youthful energy at Kellyville.
Will that level of change be beneficial to the Eels campaign in 2021?
The more conservative analysts might rightly suggest that Parramatta are still twelve months or more away from optimum combinations or career sweet spots. Should injuries strike, that level of understanding and communication that exists with regular team mates would drop and the Eels are short on players with that level of familiarity.
Alternately, one could take the perspective that the influx of new faces had become essential for the Eels to take the next step.
The new NRL squad members are on average about 2.5 years younger than the departing players, and bring different energies, physiques and skill sets to the squad. Remember, it’s not just by performances on the field that squad members contribute. If they can apply pressure through lower grade results, and lift the quality of the opposed sessions at training, that creates competition and improves the team’s preparation throughout the year.
And rather than the team being 12 months or more away from a title chance, the freshness of this squad might just be extending the period of any potential window.
Of course, there are still questions remaining. Three roster spots remain unfilled and they could have a huge impact on the season. Should Michael Jennings return a positive B sample, that’s another spot to be filled, not to mention the loss of a left side combination.
Every club has some level of uncertainty as they approach a new year. Maybe it’s in a key position. Perhaps they’re taking a punt on a new recruit, or juggling the egos or ambitions of players competing for a first grade berth. The Eels are no different.
As fans, we always start every season with renewed hope. And there is a genuine excitement about this Eels squad. There is stability in the top 14 – 15 players, the class of four current Origin squad members, and that influx of fresh faces. I reckon it’s a group with the capacity to use the last two years as building blocks.
I’ve said it before – bring on 2021.
Images courtesy of Eels media