The Eels victory over the Tigers at Stadium Australia was not pretty but our team are now four from four – a decent start to the year.
Across town, those Tigers people aren’t happy – something about being robbed of victory. Really? You’ve gotta love footy opinions!
In all seriousness, Parra did enough to win and our fan base should know that collecting points at the start of the year is all that matters.
No one will remember the ebbs and flows of this game come finals time, just the result. The Eels also escaped without any major injuries and that was the icing on the cake.
But this week I want to focus on recent discussions about the gap between the top and bottom teams within the competition.
I have to admit to being somewhat annoyed but mostly amused.
Of course there is a gap. There will always be a difference between the best and the worst. I have laughed at the calls for a draft. Evidently that will fix everything.
Professional leagues around the world that have a draft system, such as the NBA and NFL, still have a big gap between the best and worst. So does the AFL.
When was the last time Carlton or the New York Jets made the finals despite numerous top draft picks? Over ten years ago is the answer. A draft system is not the magic bullet. Why would the Panthers or Eels continue to spend millions on junior development if there was a draft? Who is going to make up that spending short fall?
The reason for the difference between the good and bad teams starts and finishes in the boardroom and offices at those struggling clubs.
Of all fan bases, we should know and understand this, and until those struggling clubs and their fan bases also realise this, they will stay at the bottom just as the Eels did for over a decade.
If you watched Parra’s first half on Easter Monday, you could see why we are counted in the top tier and why other clubs are not.
Knowing what type of player you need to recruit is key. Bernie Gurr addressed that during his time as Eels CEO when discussing our position as a development club. He talked about getting a balance between bringing through juniors and recruiting from outside to fill a need.
Even the Panthers, a renowned nursery for junior league talent, have recruited very well. They obviously knew they had some really good prospects like Cleary, Fisher-Harris and Luai coming through, but they also knew they needed some seasoned professionals to help them transition to first grade, so they recruited James Maloney and James Tamou.
Our western Sydney rivals achieved two things with smart recruitment; they bought time to develop their juniors to be able to survive the rigors of first grade, both physically and mentally and they started to get success on the field which encouraged the supporter base.
Let’s then focus on such astute recruitment in our own club.
To begin with, it’s worth noting that against the Tigers, all four of the Eels first half tries were scored by targeted recruits. Each player has their own story.
Marata Niukore was a young, lower grade Warriors player. At the Eels he has been given time to develop. Each year his time on the field has increased, his defensive reads have improved as have his ball skills. He was not thrown to the wolves too early and Eels fans would be well aware of the care taken with his development.
Tom Opacic arrived this year via the Broncos and Cowboys. He scored two tries yesterday but I don’t think he was brought to the club to score tries. He plays inside Maika, one of our best attacking weapons but also someone who needs a good defensive centre inside him. Whilst certain clubs might spend up big on strike centres, the Eels recruited the type of centre needed for our team.
Isaiah Papali’i departed the Warriors with barely a ripple of reaction about his release or his recruitment. Yet Parra Papa has made a fantastic start to the year.
If you go back to 2017/2018, a valid criticism of Parra’s pack was that it was one dimensional, both in size and ball skills. Papali’i complements the other middle and edge forwards wonderfully. Along with obvious skills and commitment, he physically offers something different to the pack.
Compare the Eels ability to handle injuries in the second row with the struggles faced by Manly. Parra brings in Papali’i and puts Stone on the bench whereas Manly are playing one of their most promising five-eighth prospects in the second row because they have not recruited or developed a well balanced roster.
The Sea Eagles team imbalance has nothing to do with rule changes and everything to do with poor management. From the stands, my view on the rule changes is straightforward; they have highlighted the poor roster management decisions not created them.
If you want any further proof about team success being about development, recruitment and retention, then look no further than Reed Mahoney.
Once again, the Eels dummy half was outstanding against the Tigers.
Mahoney came to Parra via the Bulldogs NYC team. They did not want him. He played in Parra’s under 20’s and earned a train and trial NRL preseason. He took advantage of this opportunity and Brad Arthur slowly exposed him to first grade.
Reed has improved across every season. In the first year he simply worked on his defence. He no longer gets run over on the try line as he once did. In the second year he worked on his passing game. Now in his third year he has obviously worked on his running and kicking game.
It’s obvious that once the club decided he was the number 9 going forward, structures and programs were put into place to help him continually develop his game.
As Reed has improved so too has Parra. In contrast, the club who didn’t want him has not been able to settle on or even find a first grade quality dummy half. Their decision had zero to do with any rules.
Parramatta are not at the top as yet, but the summit is getting closer. Ultimately, the Eels recruitment, retention and development is producing players that fit the club’s needs.
Instead of complaining to the media about the lopsided competition those struggling clubs need to work out how they want to play, then recruit and develop the type of players that suit their needs, and stop looking for the quick fix.
Take some free advice from this punter in the stands. After watching my club fail to climb from the bottom of the ladder for far too long, I can verify that quick fixes don’t work. You can’t spend up big on players that don’t address your specific needs. Such a policy only serves to cement your basement location for years to come.
They say there are three R’s in learning. Well I say there are three R’s in creating sporting team success. Roster = Recruit and Retain.
Get that right and the odd rule change won’t be a factor in the success or failure of your season.