We’re only three rounds into the 2021 Premiership, and the Eels and the Panthers are the only teams without a loss.
At a time when most pundits are lamenting the gap between the competition’s top and bottom clubs, the likes of the Tigers and the Warriors breathed some unpredictability into upcoming weeks with victories over more fancied opponents.
The Eels have been the subject of speculation, not because of form, but rather due to the key players who are looking to secure their next contract.
I’m as passionate as any supporter about Parramatta‘s commitment to assembling the strongest possible roster. However, I’ve learnt to be more circumspect in recent seasons. More on that later in this column.
As for the footy, you can’t beat that winning feeling.
Time to cart that ball. Bumpers Up!
Sivo To Stayo
The Eels delivered terrific news for their fans during the past seven days with their announcement that Maika Sivo would remain with the club till the end of the 2023 season.
Though rumoured to be in the sights of French rugby, the powerful Fijian decided to commit to the Eels in this new two year deal, continuing his love affair with Bankwest Stadium and the Eels faithful.
Maika is fitter than at any stage of his NRL career, a huge factor in his return to form in 2021.
His retention will be the first of a number of important signing announcements by the Eels.
Matto, Fergo, Brown and Moses
On the subject of such announcements, there was news that the Eels had reportedly withdrawn their offer to barnstorming lock, Nathan Brown.
It would seem that the parties are some distance from coming to an agreement.
However, if players are supposed to be negatively impacted by any uncertainty around their contracts, Brown would unquestionably be the counterpoint poster child.
Over the opening three rounds, the Eels lock has literally been coming off the back fence with his charges into the ruck.
But Brown is no island. Matto, Moses and Fergo have had their share of media focus in relation to their contracts but each has been producing the goods in this early part of the season.
I’ve written before about my attitude towards contracts. There’s a process and everyone has to look after their responsibilities, be they the club officials or the player agents.
But I really didn’t explore the responsibilities of the player.
There’s only one responsibility there – performance. And when it comes to that, supporters would have no cause to question the attitude of any of the players looking to sign their next deal.
Cynics will say that there’s nothing quite like being at the end of a contract for added motivation.
After watching the team over the many years, including training, I’d also suggest there’s nothing to compare to being at a happy club.
Winning is a big part of that. You only had to watch the joy of the Eels during the post match interviews or in the sheds, then reflect back on the misery of 2018, to understand that.
However, in his chat with Fox after Saturday’s game, RCG spoke about something that I regularly observe. The players enjoy fronting up to training, and spending time together, even during the hard slog of preseason.
The club does plenty to make the players and their families welcome.
And Brad Arthur and the football staff deserve congratulations for creating the “home” and values that the players want to be a part of.
One of the best barometers of the popularity of a player within the group can be the celebrations of others when said player scores a try.
It doesn’t hurt when the try contributes to a win, but there are times when the reaction of team mates transcends the typical congratulations.
Case in point, Ray Stone.
Not only is Mr 3:16 unlikely to feature regularly on try scorer lists, he is yet to cement his place in the top 17. Between battles with minor injuries, there’s also been the journey towards defining his role.
But the players obviously love having this bloke in the squad.
His try against the Sharks was special for that step and subtle head fake. (Side note – he delivered a similar move during an opposed session in this recent preseason.) It was just as memorable for the “pile on” of team mates after he grounded the ball.
Despite this, there’s no guarantee that Ray’s name will be in the top 17 for the clash with the Tigers.
But you can lock in the faith that the other 16 will have in him should he be listed.
Much has been written and said about the clunkiness of the Brown Lane/Moses Matterson side swap this season.
This has not been a last minute change. It is a long term investment that I’d suggest is already paying dividends.
The shaky Round One start was more about Shaun Lane’s individual performance than his difficulty of being moved to the right hand side of the field. His focussed efforts of the past two weeks are evidence of that.
Punters might be pointing to Waqa Blake’s absence in explaining the Eels improved right side defence.
Instead, I believe that it is the presence of Dylan Brown which is a major contributing factor.
When a problem occurs out wide in defence, you often have to look at what is happening inside them. And not just what is executed, but also the faith the outside men have in the person who’s beside them.
I’m not suggesting that Mitch Moses was accountable for any defensive deficiencies on the Eels right. What I am postulating is that Dylan Brown is close to the premiership’s best defensive half, and his team mates are acutely aware of that.
Saving tries is just as important as scoring them. And the new combination deserves an early tick in that department.
How good was it to not just have a curtain raiser to the NRL main event, but to have the Eels players in the NSW Cup competition wearing the Blue and Gold jersey.
After a decade and a half of wearing the Wenty Magpies jersey and playing most matches out of Ringrose Park, there is now a clear distinction about being a Parramatta Eels player. From Junior Rep teams to the NRL, the teams wear Parra jerseys.
And on Saturday when the NSW Cup team defeated the reigning premiers, the Jets, they were able to enjoy the win with more than just family and friends watching on. They even had the Parra theme song playing after full time.
Just on the reserve grade team, I have to give coach Ryan Carr a plug for that first up performance. Due to a first round bye and then the atrocious weather, the team hasn’t played since the Penrith trial – and that was a shellacking at the hand of the Panthers.
There were TBAs when the team was announced, indicative of the roster pressure that many clubs are facing. Furthermore, a number of the players train with the NRL squad, leaving limited time to train as a united team.
Though their big lead was being run down by the Jets late in the match, this was probably indicative of a team that had minimal match fitness due to circumstances beyond their control.
Just quickly, I also want to highlight the performances of Haze Dunster and Will Penisini. Their right side combination proved a constant threat for their opponents.
Haze returned an outrageous 241 running metres, including 81 post contact metres. Will ran for 173 metres, 65 of which were post contact. There are improvements they need to make, specifically in defence. However, both have had bright starts to the 2021 season.
I’m looking forward to watching more match days of two or three grades at Bankwest this year.
The upcoming return of Ryan Matterson, Bryce Cartwright and Waqa Blake will provide Brad Arthur with a very unfamiliar selection headache.
With Marata Niukore more likely than not to return to the forwards, and BA very keen to inject Cartwright into the squad, a player or three might find themselves missing out on a top grade spot.
Given the form of the players, and the cohesion in the team, such an outcome will have to be considered as extremely unlucky. The concussion to Mitch Moses emphasised the value of retaining a utility such as Will Smith on the bench. His inclusion makes the competition between the forwards even tougher.
That said, the NRL season always takes its toll on every squad, so opportunities are bound to again come the way of any player who misses selection in the coming weeks.
PLC Election Result
Finally, The Cumberland Throw extends its congratulations to incumbent Parramatta Leagues Club directors, President Greg Monaghan and Sue Coleman, on their recent election success.
This past election was the first of the new triennial elections which are at the core of the club’s governance reforms. Every year, one third of the seven person board (2, 2 then 3 directors) must stand down and then their place on the PLC board is up for election.
The introduction of electronic and postal voting resulted in more members casting their vote than was typical in past elections.
The convincing result reflected member confidence in the new Board of Directors, and the first AGM under their control deserved praise for being highly informative.