“All around this chaos and madness,
Can’t help feeling nothing more than sadness“
Those lines from the Cold Chisel song, When The War Is Over, used to apply to the Eels.
Fortunately the stability that now exists, from Club Directors through to NRL coaching staff, is taking the Eels to the upper echelons of NRL clubs.
It’s evident in a Leagues Club that adapted and navigated through the uncertainty of COVID shut downs and limitations, a football organisation that has surpassed 30 thousand members and formed new and exciting corporate partnerships, and a team which looks destined to achieve another year of finals football.
When you find the right formula, you stay with it. Not blindly, not without evolution or growth, but you do place value on productive stability – especially in your leadership.
Stability is the theme as I cart the ball into this week’s column.
Over the weekend, the Sunday Telegraph published this graphic from Aaron Wallace of Fox Sports which illustrated the correlation between the performance of NRL clubs and the length of tenure of their coaches.
Essentially, clubs such as the Storm, the Roosters, the Raiders and the Eels which are expected to regularly feature in finals footy just happened to have the longest tenured coaches.
Given Ivan Cleary is now in his seventh season with the Panthers, albeit in two stints, it would be reasonable to add the Penrith club to that list.
Are we talking the chicken or the egg here?
Is it the success which determines tenure or is it the stability of tenure which is rewarded with success?
Without question, multiple seasons without finals appearances or evidence of improvement would hardly be the formula for any coach to earn a contract extension.
Yet, there is a case to be made that decision makers saw beyond table position when making calls about the coach at the Roosters, Raiders, Eels and Panthers.
Trent Robinson’s Roosters finished in 15th place in 2016. His club looked at the runs he had on the board prior to that year, and he’s since proven that the near-spoon season was an anomaly.
In his first five seasons at the helm of the Raiders, Ricky Stuart made one finals appearance. It was bookended by three tenth placed finishes and a 15th placed finish. Hardly awe inspiring despite his long term deal. But his club stuck solid.
Brad Arthur inherited a team which had finished with the spoon in the two seasons which preceded his appointment. After immediately transforming the team into a competitive unit, only the catastrophe of the salary cap debacle robbed him of a finals appearance in his third year in charge. Like Robinson, an anomalous season at the bottom of the table in 2018 now sits in the middle of a run of finals appearances for his team.
During his first four year stint at the Panthers, Ivan Cleary only steered the team to one finals series. Still, the club sought his return, and remained patient when his first year back in charge yielded a disappointing 10th place finish. They are now the pacesetters of the premiership.
At any stage, each of those clubs could have hit the panic button and parted ways with their coach. Only those with short memories would forget the calls from the supporter groups to do just that during the lean years for their respective clubs. Indeed, there are still Eels supporters who remarkably believe that greener pastures can be found under a different coach.
As far as I’m concerned, our Eels are now showing the benefits of stability, from club directors to NRL staff.
It’s a path that, as the evidence strongly supports, we need to remain on.
On-Field Patience And Composure
Round 6 of the NRL was easily the best of the season. Matches were action packed, and some teams lifted far beyond what most of us thought they were capable of doing.
As the Broncos went toe to toe with the Panthers, a half time message from Kevin Walters to his team resonated with me.
Television coverage reported that Kevvie’s instruction to his charges was to not get bored with the game plan. They were finding success in taking on the Panthers through the middle and not overplaying their hand. It was important to stay the course.
Ultimately, that proved to be a bridge too far as his players lost their patience at various stages of the second half, allowing the Panthers to secure the lead and the victory late in the match. Had they not unnecessarily shifted the ball or kicked early in the count when camped in the Penrith quarter, the result may have been different.
The last two weeks should also have been a lesson for the Eels.
Against the Dragons there was no shortage of effort, but there was a distinct lack of composure and footy intelligence in the loss.
Conversely, the win over the Raiders away from home was the epitome of a team patiently sticking to a plan. And just like the win over the Sharks, the points flowed late in the match as their opponent succumbed to sustained pressure.
Winning the middle, completing sets, and kicking to the corners doesn’t mean that the team can’t play without flair. It doesn’t mean that unstructured footy isn’t possible. After all, the try scored by Shaun Lane was reminiscent of the magic of the 2009 Eels. Moments like that are possible when the opposition become fatigued by the workload imposed by a disciplined attack.
Hopefully the value of staying the course to produce consistent, composed footy is now crystal clear to the squad.
Sticking With Moses
Did Mitch Moses just find a level in his footy that many believed he did not possess?
I’ve gone on record with my opinion that he is often and unfairly judged very harshly. He’s been labelled a flat track bully and incapable of rising to the occasion in big matches.
In my opinion, Moses has matured as a footballer and as a person during his time with the Eels. From the moment he chose to look in the mirror after the disastrous 2018 season, he’s been on a different path to the one he previously walked.
That said, I wasn’t sure that the Eels half could control a match for the full 80 minutes in the way that he did against the Raiders.
What do I mean by that?
We’ve all seen Mitch Moses deliver big moments in games before. He’s produced man of the match performances multiple times during his career.
On Saturday, his stats were very good without being outstanding.
Yet, his influence on the team was undeniable. Furthermore and most importantly, his role in the victory was not found in a couple of match turning moments – the sort of stuff he’s done before.
Rather, his stamp on the game was present throughout the entire match – from the first to the last minute.
As Cooper Cronk observed, that must now be the new standard that Moses looks to consistently achieve.
Reactionary Change From Officialdom
Stand by sports fans. We need to brace ourselves for a potential welter of sin bins, send offs and suspensions over the coming weeks.
The last two weeks have signalled that the game’s power brokers have hit the obligatory crackdown button – it’s that special switch that sees referees and MRCs focus on an issue for a designated short term period before things return to normal.
In the meantime, players deal with increased penalties for a few weeks and punters navigate the confusion.
Case in point – Ashley Klein. The referee who declined using the sin bin for the elbow wielding Felice Kaufusi, this weekend sends off Jack Hetherington for his high reflex tackle on Val Holmes.
I have no problem with that decision. However, we know that similar incidents will merely be placed on report later in the season.
Even more infuriatingly, Latrell Mitchell escaped any penalty for his indiscretions during his side’s victory just one day earlier. Though he’s since been charged, how does that benefit the Tigers who arguably would have won that match had Mitchell spent time off the field?
Don’t get me started on the Storm getting the benefit of an opposition player being sin binned for a tackle on Munster. Even though Munster didn’t require a HIA!
We know we can expect inconsistencies across a season, but these few examples demonstrate that unacceptable inconsistencies exist across the same round. Furthermore, we have even witnessed a referee applying vastly different judgement to serious indiscretions within a few short weeks.
And as for Dylan Brown’s suspension, I don’t believe I’ve seen a more innocuous tackle attract such a charge.
I’m all for protecting players, but the answer to reducing dangerous play is not found in short term, reactionary solutions. Nor is it found in ridiculous suspensions for unremarkable tackles that are neither reckless nor careless.
Junior Rep Success
This coming Saturday, the Eels Harold Matthews side plays their grand final qualifying match against the Panthers at H.E. Laybutt Field at Blacktown.
The team earned a direct passage to this match when finishing second to Manly during the regular season. They lost to the Sea Eagles in the first round then went on to win seven straight games to climb the ladder from that point.
This will not be any easy match. No clash with our western Sydney rival ever is.
It’s an 11am kick off, and I’m sure the boys would appreciate any support they can get at the venue.
If you can’t get there, make sure you catch Forty’s live blog as he captures the action for TCT.
Go you Eels!
The Eels take on the Broncos in Darwin in a rare Friday Night Footy telecast from the Northern Territory.
Traditionally played on a Saturday night, the annual trip to TIO Stadium is part of the partnership between the Northern Territory Government and the Parramatta Eels. The agreement with the NT Government now stretches back to the 2014 season, a sign of the value that they place in their relationship with the club.
Importantly, with Australian tourism at the forefront of economic recovery, the free to air coverage will be a timely promotion of the NT, as well as providing increased awareness of Parramatta’s rugby league and community programs up north.
The Eels NRL squad will be flying up on Wednesday in preparation for the event.
Elsewhere, both the Jersey Flegg and Knock on Effect NSW Cup teams will be taking on the Rabbitohs from 3:30 pm, Saturday afternoon at Ringrose Park.
After covering the Matts grand final qualifier at Blacktown TCT will endeavour to live blog both of these grades via our resident expert caller, Forty20.