The Cumberland Throw

From The Stands – April 6, 2021: Getting Smart In Recruitment

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.

Cash Mahoney

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.



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Oh, we all remember the “quick fixes” of years past. Great post. May I add that the other thing I like about the Eels recruitment is that extensive contract negotiations are no longer played out in the media. Even when a player manager drops something in the media trying to influence the process the club refuses to play along. Very refreshing.


The past is too recent for the fan base to forget. When managers play games the fans will side with the club. I also think BA is a huge factor, you can see the players trust and respect him, you just have to listen to players when they leave they always go out of there way to praise him. I am sure that helps keep and attract players.


Yes, I still bear the scars of the past (don’t we all?). There was an old interview with RCG where he said to Hindy he would never consider playing for Parra. Hindy asked him about that recently and RCG said all it took was one meeting with BA to change his mind.

John Eel

Shaun I think that the current chairman of the NRL board is why these contract negotiations are not played out in public anymore.

I have read that he is one of the best negotiators in the business

Colin Hussey

Excellent blog Shelley.

Looking at both Marata and Reed, the club has allowed & encouraged them in their development and while Marata, same as Oregan could have been brought up earlier, having them take time to develop but more importantly mature as players is where the club really is at.

Its been a long hard and frustrating journey since our last trophy, especially so the last 10 years but as the journey continues the scars of frustration are healing, and both in the stands and on the paddock.


There are so many players in our team that other clubs discarded or simply did not offer contracts to. In fact 3 of our 4 spine players there previous club did not offer a contract to or told them to look somewhere else. Add to this Nathan Brown, RCG, Papali’i, Maika all unwanted or playing reserves. Sprinkle in some really good juniors with smart development procedures and our success is no surprise. Our coaches/ recruiters can obviously spot talent that others cannot see. Importantly we have played the long game and just as importantly the board has allowed this to… Read more »


You need the right type of coach to adopt the policy we have , theres only 2 in the comp , bellys the other one , they coach not poach !!! They turn lead into gold .

Last edited 2 days ago by Anonymous

I agree but that is no surprise. I have always supported BA and I hope others can see that being a head coach also includes helping to set up a club up for future success. If you’re a player with talent why would you not want to come to Parra, BA has proven he can help you reach your potential.


Yes fair enough but Bellamy has also been allowed to bring wrestle tactics into the game much to the detriment of the game and let alone injuries to other players. Yes he’s a good defence coach who’s done well but he’s bent the rules big time and also cheated.



Jpe Briffa

Well written shelleyi also remember way back when old Jack always said that winning starts with the top office we now have that in place and our coaches led by B.A. Are working well how good is it that the news hounds have other teams to pick on.Keep up the good work


I was thinking about Jack Gibson also when I wrote this. Our board and football staff do there job, are professional and united.


Jack Gibson was the original Wayne Bennett. He had a style that appealed to players and he surrounded himself with good knowledgeable support staff. Paramatta’s four premierships were built on the back of polished juniors and smart recruitment but not superstars who helped hold the team together. Some of those juniors were together for years as team mates. The secret to Parra’s giant improvement of the past four to five years is the retention of a coach who has the dressing room and is seen as someone who has the players back and cares about them. There has been some… Read more »


Well said Anon. On the Tip Sheet pod, I called for the club to extend BA by one year before the end of this season. Why? Because I don’t think it benefits any team to go into a season with the coach not secured beyond that year. Next year is the end of BA’s current contract. I hope that we maintain our current stability by extending him by a year, and continuing to do so whilst the team continues to place itself in finals footy.

Longfin Eel

Looking back on Parra’s development as a club, it’s clear that the policies put in place a number of years ago are coming to fruition now, despite the original players now not part of the mix. We have created a culture where young players are given the time to develop and eventually shine without the pressure of having to be at their best right now. Throw in some experienced players around them and careful coaching and they have all the tools needed for development. It’s also interesting that Parra and Penrith don’t have many (if any) top echelon players in… Read more »


We are definitely emerging as a club Shelley.Throw the salary cap into the discussion and it really exercises your mind on how to recruit and retain to build a strong roster. I feel the game as a whole is still learning how to bring all the pieces together.Rosters are being squeezedthrough impulse buys,poor negotiation, poor club stewardship,but mostly, failure of many clubs to understand or respect the hard economics of the business of football. We learned via Covid that NRL is a high risk business model. Parra supporters should be comforted by our on and off field shape.

John Eel

Another thought provoking piece Shelley. I wrote this somewhere else recently that the club thanks to our current board had an awakening that came out of the 2018 nightmare. The club made the most of that bad experience by conducting an independent investigation. From that point the club, without throwing the baby out with the bath water, went into a reset and came out the other side with a new structure and philosophy. I think that it is fair to say that the club has added quality to the nucleus of that 2018 team and it is fair to say… Read more »


I think we are controlling the things we can. To win the premiership you need a good roster, luck and I think in recent times the right match up. I read recently that the Rabbits have lost 12 games straight to Melbourne and would want to avoid them comes finals time, we however struggle with the style of play from South’s. While there may be a difference between best and worst I can make a genuine case for 5 teams winning overall. In years gone past it was either the Storm or Rosters and daylight second. On us I think… Read more »

John Eel

As an aside but in line with Shelley’s post. I just read an article regarding a player swap between the Broncos and Warriors. The Broncos player Reece Walsh said goodbye to his teammates in camp in Sydney and is now on his way to the Warriors. The Warriors player was about to head to Brisbane when he was informed that they had no cap space and could only offer a “Train and Trial “ contract This is an absurd situation that may see the Warriors end up with both players. How does a professional club like the Broncos get themselves… Read more »


Their demise has been astounding John.


Very good article and I am glad you addressed this. Also annoyed at the gap argument. Not sure any one has actually put forward a compelling argument that a permanent gap is actually appearing. Clubs like Manly, Brisbane and NQ have been around the top for large slabs of the last 15 years. A couple of lean years are due. Whereas Eels and Panthers have risen in recent years and GC, for example, are on the rise due to good recruiting. The normal ebb and flow of competition. Nothing to see here.


Great read

Last edited 8 hours ago by Joshuatheeel
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