The Cumberland Throw

Parramatta’s 2022 Roster – Decisions To Be Made

The 2021 Premiership is heading to the pointy end of the season, but behind the scenes, clubs are working diligently to shape their rosters for next season.

As far as the Eels are concerned, the majority of the squad are locked in with 23 players under contract for next season.

Those players are as follows: Jake Arthur, Waqa Blake, Dylan Brown, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Bryce Cartwright (to be confirmed soon), Haze Dunster, Wiremu Greig, Clint Gutherson, Keegan Hipgrave, David Hollis, Oregon Kaufusi, Shaun Lane, Reed Mahoney, Ryan Matterson, Mitch Moses, Marata Niukore, Tom Opacic, Isaiah Papali’i, Junior Paulo, Will Penisini, Hayze Perham, and Maika Sivo.

The following players, on either NRL or Development contracts, are yet to either put pen to paper or have any deal confirmed: Blake Ferguson, Sam Hughes, Joey Lussick, Michael Oldfield, Jordan Rankin, Will Smith, Ray Stone, Sam Loizou, Sean Russell, Solomone Naiduki, Nathaniel Roache

With around seven NRL spots still remaining, the Eels need to make crucial decisions about retention to determine what recruitment they will undertake.

Finalising Retention

From the list above, Sean Russell and Will Smith are in the box seat to be retained. Will has proven to be a reliable bench option for BA during his time at the Eels and his contract does little damage to the salary cap. Sean enjoyed a successful NRL debut this season and as a local junior and player of the future, it would come as a massive shock were he not upgraded.

Samuel Loizou

Samuel Loizou has fluctuated between Flegg and NSW Cup this year as he battled an early season injury. Sam is the youngest of the local juniors in the full time squad and has progressed through Eels pathways alongside Jake Arthur, Will Penisini and Sean Russell. Again, I’d be very surprised were he not locked in to a 2022 contract.

Solomone Naiduki was also on a Development deal this year and, like Loizou, has moved between Flegg and NSW Cup. In his last match, against Mounties, he was one of the best on field. Whether the club is looking to upgrade him remains to be seen.

From the remainder of the list, I’d suggest that either Joey Lussick or Nathaniel Roache would be retained.

The decision around Lussick might come down to whether he is offered a contract from another club. Lussick’s form in both NSW Cup and NRL was solid enough to suggest that he would attract interest from other teams. Should this happen, another club might prove more attractive with regard to opportunities to play first grade.

Nathaniel Roache was signed to a Development contract for 2021 due to his history of injuries. Unfortunately for Roache, his well-deserved top grade debut for Parra resulted in a knee injury which has sidelined him for an already extended period. This could prove to be an obstacle to earning another deal, but his future might also depend on what eventuates with Lussick.

Ray Stone has almost become the forgotten Eel. Once again, injuries have played havoc with the tough forward’s season. Although featuring as an NRL bench player in four of the first ten rounds, injury and shut downs mean that he hasn’t taken the field since round 11 of the NSW Cup. Many Eels supporters would hope that he is retained, despite the minimal places available.

Elie El-Zakhem

There’s also the question of upgrades from NSW Cup. The decision for such players could involve Development Contracts. Most of those in contention are forwards such as Makahesi Makatoa, Elie El-Zakhem, Charbel Tasipale, Ky Rodwell, Tasi James and Kurt Dillon.

Charbel and Tasi were each awarded with an NRL preseason coming into 2021. I rated Charbel as the most improved during the preseason, and he and Tasi have spent time in both Flegg and NSW Cup this year.

Makahesi, Elie, Ky and Kurt have formed the nucleus of an imposing Eels pack in the NSW Cup, one which has laid the platform for the team to be placed second on the table when the competition was shut down.

The claims of Makahesi and Elie are difficult to ignore. Given that both are yet to make their NRL debut, they might be ideally placed for a Development contract.

Big Maka has an unbelievable motor and leads the NSW Cup for runs, run metres, post contact metres and decoy runs. His tackle efficiency is a ridiculous 94.2%. Elie is the leading defender in NSW Cup and sits in the top ten in the competition for post contact metres. He’s one of the Eels leading try scorers with seven tries and has the most offloads for the team.

The advantage of offering contracts to any of the players listed above is that they are known commodities for what they offer both on and off the field. There’s also a financial incentive as it’s unlikely that any would command a big salary.

As an aside, not earning a top 30 spot, or a Development contract, does not mean the end of a player’s future with the Eels. Having full control of the NSW Cup side means that Parra can keep players in the system via second tier deals.

Taking Development contracts out of the equation, I’m prepared to say that close to 27 places in next year’s top 30 will go to current full time squad members.

In most seasons that number would be considered to be far too many. It’s always beneficial to introduce fresh faces to any team as it helps the team to continue to evolve and adds a shot of energy to the start of every preseason. In this instance, the club have developed a strong group of players outside of their top 17 and it’s unlikely that better options could be found elsewhere to fill the lower end of the roster.

Recruitment

With external top 30 recruitment likely to be limited to two or three places, the next focus falls on what positions the club would be looking to fill.

If the club is looking for depth players who are NRL standard, then the Eels would need to consider recruiting a five-eighth, an outside back or utility back and a back rower.

Ray Stone

A glance at the list of players off contract for next year is not very encouraging. With that in mind, the club could decide to retain Ray Stone for that back row spot, or look to upgrade El-Zakhem to a top 30 contract. Such a decision would probably add more to the war chest for the remaining two positions.

Originally I had been spruiking about the value of recruiting Anthony Milford. Though it seems he may have already linked with a club, rumoured to be the Rabbitohs, I believe that he would fill the brief of a value recruit, much like Bryce Cartwright.

Such players have proven to be quality players in past seasons, but have failed to produce in recent seasons. The key here is to unlock their best on a contract south of $200K.

Milford can fill a number of backline positions but I’d like to see him tried as a centre where his pace and elusiveness could be unlocked. Moving him away from the halves would also unshackle him from the responsibility of game management, a role that he has clearly lost the inspiration to take on.

This could all be moot if he has signed elsewhere and I certainly wouldn’t want the Eels to enter into a bidding war for his services.

The Broncos well is far from dry when it comes to talent. Tesi Niu is an exciting prospect, especially in attack, and if the Eels still want a back rower, Keenan Palasia has had limited opportunities and might be worth a shot.

Over at Newcastle, Connor Watson fits the utility back bill and is a younger and arguably faster version of Will Smith. After that, the recruitment options are very limited. When it gets to that stage, and without contracted players at other clubs asking for a release, the Eels might fill spots from within and start planning for bigger targets in 2023.

Joseph Manu

Is it possible that the powder is being kept dry for a player such as Joseph Manu?

Though the Eels haven’t featured in any speculation about the talented Kiwi, I’d hope that his name has been uttered frequently during recruitment committee discussions. Manu has arguably become more critical to the Roosters success than any other player, and is earning every cent of his reported $720K contract.

Uncle Nick doesn’t lose players that he wants to keep, but the Eels should make his task as difficult as possible. If they open the cheque book to compete for the signature of Manu, it’s unlikely that any supporters would find fault with that endeavour.

Final Thoughts

With the marketplace as it currently stands, Eels supporters are more likely to receive retention news rather than any recruitment announcements.

In reality, the club will be doing well to retain every player that they hope to keep. Should any external recruiting occur for 2022, it is doubtful that any high profile players will feature.

Supporters can take solace that the club has already retained much of what is a finals standard roster, a task that isn’t easy when the salary cap often squeezes players out of teams.

In the longer term, the club will hopefully keep the powder dry for 2023 and pursue one or two of the code’s elite.

Eels forever!

Sixties

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Soren Lorenson

Geez sixties, not sure about putting the Milf in the centres. I don’t think that’s a risk we need to take.

AJAX

Actually I like the idea! Remember when Parra put Ben Roberts – who was struggling in the halves – in at centre and he carved them up out wide. He all of a sudden was making good use of his feet!

Grunta

…and training the crowd how to catch!
Sorry mate, couldn’t help myself 😂

Pou

You have to remember though, that even when Roberts played centre he didn’t defend at centre. He defended three in, while Hayne or Maitua defended at left centre.

LSB997

I love these posts, wish you could do more and even do a prediction of who you think will be re-signed and let go etc.
Always fascinating to me

Hope El-Zakham will get a look in, seems to be a goer and has durability, plays big minutes

Michael Formosa

I think it’s safe to assume Sam Hughes is gone already. Retention and recruitment use to be one of our biggest problems but that has turn around big time from around our 2018 season for 2019 and onwards, all our recruits have been awesome value and we have heaps of juniors make their debuts. Still dirty we let a couple slip away and to have someone like Stefano comes through and not have him wrapped up was a big mistake.

Pou

If the player was holding out for a huge offer from a more desperate club there’s no way we could have wrapped him up without a stupid offer of our own.

Brissyeel

Sixties, what’s your thoughts on the final Top 30 spot for this year – promotion from within, maybe Makatoa?? Not looking like many other options out there and it has to happen this week. I wasn’t a fan of Milford coming to the Club short term, his defence is beyond terrible (JA is a far superior defender and look at the flack he is copping!!!) and apparently his attitude isn’t the greatest, but having seen what BA has done with the likes of Carty and Papali’i this year, I guess he might be able to work some sort of miracle… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Brissyeel
Brissyeel

Provided he did a full pre-season that is. If he wasn’t motivated to do it for $1 Million a year at the Broncos, the thought of him really putting in for $200K is a bit worrying. That’s always been his issue, fitness.

Colin Hussey

Its sort of hard for the non noticeable players to get noticed when they are stripped of playing the game for a full season, when the competition they are playing in is pretty much dumped 2 years in a row. Trying as an outsider to asses the real attributes and abilities of the lower grade comp, the way it is now, is like trying to see through a louvred window pane that has not been cleaned for years, and covered in spider webs. That said, some of those CC players you mention especially Maka, and Eli are stand outs. There… Read more »

Anonymous

Sixties – Manu, could that be real! A dream come true!
Can I also ask you in all honesty, 9 years of BA and, well can we say a history of capitulation at critical times throughout the season, games we should win we don’t, we don’t go with big leads and top eight teams love playing Parra. Has he got a premiership in him. I cant see it!

Jimmy Corbo

I am a massive Connor Watson fan, put him in a top 4 team and he is in the conversation for an Origin berth, very good footballer.

Centre is certainly an area that requires thought, Blake just hasn’t lived up to expectations and I must admit I thought he was a huge signing and I was shocked we landed him.

Grunta

I agree and have been spruiking as much for weeks. I’d love to see Waqa on the wing and after finally seeing Penisini play, put him in the centres. He is an impressive player.

Jimmy Corbo

I liked what Penisini showed last week.

Jimmy Corbo

I agree on Blake, if he wants to remain in a top side his place is on the wing. If he persists as a Centre he will find himself in a lesser side.

Clive

My understanding is that Kurt Dillon is back playing with Newtown.

Joshuatheeel

Good read.

Perham / Grieg will be like new recruits to the squad, haven’t done an eels offseason.

Tex Hoy could be worth a look at as a utility/back

LSB997

You say Sixties that Cartwright is set to be announced to re-signing, do you know how long for? I’d presume a one to two year deal?

jobe Apogostcogalo

Milford LoL. What a joke. Surely you’re taking his attack over defense as he’s the worst defensive player in the nrl

John Eel

Jobe defence is an effort area. It can be worked on.

People made the same criticism of Cartwright. Don’t hear anybody making that reference now.

It’s a moot point now anyway. He has gone elsewhere. I think.

MattL

I’ve read elsewhere that it’s a moot point.

Colin Hussey

And Souths have signed him for 2022, Oh! its not a joke.

James

I am extremely nervous for Thursday nights game and the future of our halves. Obviously Mitch is locked and loaded as our 7 for the next few years but I think without creating controversy and needing to have a blog locked down.. we might be having some problems with the 6 under the current coaching arrangement. I’m not a coach but I feel like Dylan should have been given the ‘ keys to the team at this time’. As much as people defend Jakobs selection as saying it’sa learning experience for him, it’s having an impact upon current results. Also… Read more »

Milo

Thanks Sixties, i think its important to upgrade some players, particularly the forwards, as I feel this is an area we need to keep on improving, and give some younger guys a go when needed.

pete

Thanks Sixties, Great read and a lot to think about. I guess as you said there’s not much on offer….it seems the Bulldogs and Sharks have picked the eyes out of the player market. Did we not look into Finucane before we resigned Brown? I think Waqa “Gazelle” Blake needs to be moved to UK or perhaps on the wing if Fergo isn’t resigned. I don’t think Fergo will stay unless he takes a pay cut. Joey Manu, would be a great signing…but realistically Will Penisini will be a good centre pairing with Opacic. Opacic has been solid but hasn’t… Read more »

HamSammich

Hi Sixties. They’ve both only played 1 NRL game each so far this season but I believe both Sean Russell and Will Penisini need to be in the starting backline next year. The main thing I noticed about each of them was their willingness to ruck the ball out. Russell, despite his size, was hitting it up like like he was 110kgs; giving him another pre-season he’ll put on weight naturally and those runs will produce a lot more metres. And then you have Will, every time he touched the ball he was troubling the defence. We’ve seen these young… Read more »

Colin Hussey

Ham, agree with you the need for the young players to be part of the NRL squad next year. I have only seen Russel and Penisini in one game but are impressive, Penisini I think is all but ready now, I also believe Dunster needs more game time and was getting better with each game until Fergs was brought back onto the wing.

Depending on how we go heading into the finals, also how far should we make it then they could be rotated week in and week out.

HamSammich

I could see him gaining a lower end top 30 deal, possibly taking Oldfield’s position within the squad. For mine Penisini is the strike centre. He is quick off the mark, can step off both feet, strong, can set up his outside player, and he can and has played both sides of the field. I’m not going to suggest if we don’t use him we’ll lose him but when he’s this close to becoming a regular first grade player buying in someone in front of him would be quite disheartening. If we are going to bring in an outside back… Read more »

John Eel

I agree with Ham. Before his NRL debut I was undecided given I had only seen Will play 1 game early in the season.

In my opinion he is next man up in the backline. Very impressive. We should be giving him an incentive to extend by upgrading his contract for next year.

The Eels have a lot of work to do to re-sign the core group beyond 2022. One obvious way to do that is to sign some of these youngsters on contracts that don’t break the bank.

Guido

Maaaaate u guys really miss those glory days of Watmouth and formefamily. Classy team performed as well as expected given the collision chasing and front ended effort. Top shelf viewing all around.

Anonymous

What are your thoughts on UK players? Are there any potentials there? I think we fall short in Centres and Wingers.

Also, is BA safe for 2022? What about 2023? Are there any potential new coaches you can highlight that would be beneficial…Woolf? The Walkers? Steve Price?? At the very least we need a defensive coach to replace Kidwell.

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