The Cumberland Throw

Bumpers Up – November 14, 2021: Departures, Arrivals, and Development

The old cliche that a week is a long time in rugby league seems to be as true for the off-season as it is for the premiership rounds.

Last week, a barrage of Eels news released on Friday resulted in an early edition of Bumpers Up.

This week, a rush of Eels announcements over the last few days has again resulted in a bumper issue of this column.

As expected at this time of year, there are arrivals and departures to discuss. It’s good news and not so good.

There’s also plenty to update on the pathways front and you’ve come to the right place to be informed.

Bumpers Up!

Keegs Calls It A Day

It was with sadness that I read of the forced retirement of Keegan Hipgrave.

A serious concussion in the final round of the premiership led the tough Eels forward to undertake serious discussions with his neurologist and ultimately that decision to finish his rugby league career at just 24 years of age.

Keegan made 9 appearances for the Eels, and until that final round had not faced NRL defeat in Eels colours. His NSW Cup appearances yielded a very similar return.


Some might wonder why that call would be made by someone so young, but when you factor in that Keegs is undertaking an MBA it’s easy to see that there’s too much of his future at stake should he suffer further concussions.

Importantly, the Eels have stated that they will support Hipgrave in his post footy transition, an indicator of their strong commitment to player welfare and their family club ethos.

I’d like to extend to Keegan, Izzy and Franklin the best wishes from myself and the rest of the Cumberland Throw crew. I’ve been fortunate to meet the family, including his father Bill, mother Lesley and sister Katie. The support from family provides a critical role in everyone’s lives, including NRL players. From the first junior footy days through to the pressures of professional rugby league, they are a huge part of that ride.

The Hipgrave family are wonderful, friendly people and I hope they will continue to hold a little bit of Parra in their hearts.


A Future Farewell

Marata Niukore’s 2023 return to the Warriors on a massive $2.5m, 4 year deal has finally been confirmed, ending months of speculation about the popular forward’s future.

Personally, I’m not looking forward to the day that Marata pulls on a different jersey. The football career of the powerful Kiwi first developed, then flourished, because he shifted from the Warriors to Parra at the end of 2016.


From his earliest opposed sessions at the club, The Cumberland Throw watched Marata rattle some cages as he slammed into team mates with all of the ferocity that he became renowned for on match days.

Whether he was carrying the ball or meeting others in defence, there were no half measures. Yet, on the occasions that we were able to speak with him at Old Saleyards he was too humble to accept any of our praise, and was always quick to identify something that he needed to do better.

Despite his future departure, myself and thousands of Eels supporters will be wishing Marata, his wife Nikki and their growing family much success in their return home – except of course when the Warriors play the Eels.

For now, that move is 12 months away and there’s a job to be done in 2022.


A Key Arrival

The latest Andy Patmore Eels NRLW recruit has been announced, and it’s one of the most experienced players from the women’s game, half back Maddie Studdon.

Maddie joins a group of high profile players at the Eels including Tiana Penitani, Botille Vette-Welsh, Simaima Taufu, Kennedy Cherrington, Filomani Hanisi and Rikeya Horne.

The signing announcement

Studdon has played at the highest levels in Women’s Rugby League, representing and captaining NSW in addition to earning 6 caps for the Jillaroos. As such her addition to the squad is part of building that core of experience and leadership in the new NRLW franchise.

As coach Dean Widders explained on the Eels official site, “Maddie will be an asset to our team and a leader both on and off the field. Our women’s team is a positive influence on aspiring female players in the western Sydney region who are looking for a pathway into the NRLW.”

This Eels NRLW team definitely has plans to hit the ground running in their debut season, and with the roster they’ve assembled, few would doubt their credentials to challenge for the title.

Rumoured Arrival

Woolford the coach

The Mole has declared that the latest NRL identity to join the Eels coaching ranks will be Raiders legend, Simon Woolford. It’s rumoured he will be handed the reins of Parra’s Jersey Flegg team.

Although the club are yet to confirm the appointment, the credentials of the fiery Canberra hooker would make for a strong addition to Parra’s pathways. Woolford played over 250 NRL games for the Raiders and the Dragons, and has been in the senior coaching ranks since 2016, coaching Newcastle at NSW Cup level, then Huddersfield in the English Super League.

Former Eels Flegg coach, Dean Feeney, took on extra responsibilities at Parra, working for the club in player welfare. Though I don’t expect Woolford to work in that space, it would not surprise should his role involve more than just coaching the Flegg team.


Eels Female Pathways To Set The Standard

The exciting news in the women’s game is not limited to the Eels senior ranks. In keeping with their Development Club ethos, the club is establishing female pathways that will set the standard for other NRLW franchises to follow.

Eels Elite Pathways Coaching Director, Joey Grima, this week confirmed with The  Cumberland Throw that commencing in 2022, Parramatta will establish under 16 and under 18 female development squads. From these squads, the Eels will select an Under 17s team to compete in the Lisa Fiola Cup.

Tarsha Gale 2021

The Eels will once again field a team in the Under 19s Tarsha Gale Cup and of course 2022 marks the first season that the club will be a part of the NRLW.

The NSW Harvey Norman Competition currently forms part of the bridge between the Tarsha Gale and NRLW competitions, and with Parramatta district teams entered in that Harvey Norman Premiership, there are options for the club to consider in placing female pathways players after the Tarsha Gale competition ends.

What’s also encouraging is that many of the Junior Clubs in the Parramatta district are looking to expand their girls programs. The Toongabbie Tigers and the Kellyville Bushrangers have demonstrated that clubs can be energised by keeping female players involved past the age of 12.


Further Pathways News

Over the last two weekends, the Eels pathways players have undergone their final preparations in the lead up to their respective preseasons. This has included inductions and documentations, NRL workshops and physical and cognitive testing.

The results from the fitness testing (SPARQ and Yo-yo) were outstanding. You can listen to Joey Grima provide an overview of those tests in our latest episode of The Tip Sheet.

However, the other test undertaken by the players is an extremely important one. As Joey explained, the CSX test is a cognitive assessment which provides baseline data and the testing tool in following concussion protocols.

CSX assessment helps to track individuals’ brain health over time and screen for sudden changes after a potential brain injury that may require additional medical attention.

Used as an app, it runs through a series of tasks which cover key areas commonly affected by brain injuries: balance, reaction time, coordination, short-term memory, long-term memory, color recognition, impulse control, pattern recognition and problem-solving.

At a time when we have learned of the difficult decision made by Keegan Hipgrave, it’s reassuring to know that concussion injuries are closely monitored and data is being kept on the cognitive health of young players.


Parra’s Junior Commitment

Over the last year, TCT has been profiling the Parramatta District Junior Rugby League Clubs. Forty and I have long taken a strong interest in Eels pathways and we’ve been able to take our coverage a step further via speaking with club secretaries and presidents and writing feature articles.

What we’ve come to learn is that there is firstly a huge financial commitment to junior rugby league via the annual club grants provided by Parramatta Leagues Club.

Secondly, the elite pathways comprises over 90 staff and 350 players across all of the squads. All up, every group has seven staff (coaches, trainers, manager) as well as logistical/gear staff. The mix of paid and volunteer staff provide these young players with the best possible opportunity to succeed in the Blue and Gold.

The club isn’t infallible. They won’t get everything right when it comes to identifying or retaining every player that they should keep. But, there is no questioning that the club is committing to being the development club that it claims to be.



This week we learned that five young Eels players have been identified for Fittler’s Emerging Blues program.

Larry Muagututia

First grade debutants Sean Russell and Will Penisini will be joined by Jersey Flegg Players Larry Muagututia and Jock Brazel and Harold Matts representative Blaize Talagi.

Larry plays in the engine room at prop and was this year selected to represent Sydney under 18s. He was also named the 2021 Eels SG Ball Players’ Player and Player of the Year (joint).

Jock Brazel was recently selected in the Australian Schoolboys merit team. The tough back rower played SG Ball last season and will be elevated to Flegg in 2022.

Currently 16 years of age, Blaize started the 2021 season as a super sub in the Eels Harold Matthews (under 17) team. As the season progressed he took over the five-eighth position and impressed with physical displays that were reminiscent of Dylan Brown at the same age. He was one of Parra’s best in the Matts grand final loss to Manly and went on to represent Sydney Under 16 in the national championships.

All five will participate in the upcoming camp for emerging players.

It’s early days for all of them in their rugby league journeys, especially Larry, Jock and Blaize. However, it’s pleasing to see Eels juniors kicking some goals and being given the opportunity to participate in external elite development programs.

Eels forever!


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27 thoughts on “Bumpers Up – November 14, 2021: Departures, Arrivals, and Development

  1. Graz

    Thanks Sixties. A well rounded Bumpers Up edition. I do reply on TCT to know which youngsters to keep an eye on these days, especially when games can be scattered all over the place on different days.

  2. Offside

    Good write up.
    For Keegan it’s a shame but the right decision was made. In terms of replacing him I suspect Ky Rodwell will take his top 30 position.
    Excited about Woolford coming on board there has been lots of positives said about his coaching.
    The flip side to that is Dean Feeney leaving he is a top Bloke and leaves a big whole behind the scenes.

    As for Marata I just haven’t accepted it yet but good luck to him I must say with his judiciary record the money he is receiving is arguably hes on overs but best of luck to him

    1. sixties Post author

      Offside, Dean is a top bloke. Dean messaged me to advise that he had parted ways with Parra and to thank me for TCT’s support of himself and the team over the years. Dean was always approachable to talk about the team’s performances and made us feel welcome at training or on match days.
      Like Marata, we wish him well.
      As for Keegan, I can understand how heartbreaking it would have been, but I agree. It was the right call to look after his future health.

  3. Colin Hussey

    Great post sixties, as per usual.

    The news overall has been good, except for 2 areas, firstly the lose of Keegan, its a sad issue for him to have to retire at such a young age, its really something that as you mention re the pathways and younger players in the lower grades, they need to watch their plays and the way they are tackled and also tackle the opposition, as it could be any number of others who go through the same issues, sadly some ignore the warnings, and the NRL protocols have been a good start, but I wonder if its enough at times, especially with some players in the game.

    The loss of Marata while sad for the eels but VG for him, was not really unexpected, I guess having RCG commit, helps soften the loss, the biggest sorrow I have ATM is the circus that surrounds the signings of 3 of our players. I sincerelly hope they each stay, but I like possibly many others will be hoping to keep them, but there is a pretty long list of others that are also worthy of getting extensions beyond next year.

    For me I see the development players filling spots with the eels, and to get them up to NRL standards and moreso abilities, should help keep the circus down somewhat. The worst I think in being a development club is that it provides too easy a future for our quality players to be kidnapped by crazy coin which I have just read with Manly signing a 16 year old to a longish contract.

    The Eels womens game will be interesting to watch, as some of the opposition teams are pretty brutal, wouldn’e want to argue in the kitchen with them.

    1. John Eel

      Sixteen sounds awfully young. My assumption is that it would be on minimum coin. Where did he come from Colin, do you know?

      1. sixties Post author

        John, Latu Fainu is quite a Player. He was an absolute standout in Manly Matts team. And yes, he’s from western Sydney.

        1. Big Derek

          John, the Fainu family all started their footy at Mounties, then when they attended Westfields Sports as the next step, they were taken into the fold by Brett Fulton as Manly smartly appointed the sports coach at Westfields into their recruitment team, the 4 boys are all now contracted at Manly. Part of the weekly coach journeys from Western Sydney to Brookvale for training which have happened for the last 7/8 years.

          1. sixties Post author

            I’ll be interested to see whether that type of scenario will change in future years.

          2. Achilles' Eel

            Latu was lost to the Eels when his older brother Manase missed out on selection in Parramatta’s SG Ball squad in 2016. Manase then trialled with Manly on the advice of John Hopoate, and the club has looked after the family ever since.

            That said, Latu’s current lucrative deal is a sign of two things: his undeniable talent; and the obvious demand for his services.

          3. sixties Post author

            There’s a bit more to it as Manase was part of the SG Ball squad and was wanted. He was a year young when part of the squad and at that stage Dargan and Doolan were the halves. His manager used a situation and lack of patience to take Manase and his good mate Tevita Funa from Parra to Manly.

          4. Achilles' Eel

            I wasn’t being critical of the Parramatta club. I was merely out to suggest that in this league no team is immune to plunder. There’s no sinister plot to take from us whilst we remain idle and besieged. Our club is as active as its rivals are in the procurement of talent.

            (Now here comes the controversial part to my argument) The loss of Latu stems from the loss of Manase. So, whatever the reasons are for Manase’s departure (and there seems more conjecture surrounding this than there are Elvis Presley sightings), Manly got lucky with him, and then had the smarts to capitalise on its good fortune when discovering who else was in his family. In fact, Manly itself has lost two of its very own juniors to the Roosters for next year’s Harold Matthews Cup, including ‘Freddy’ Fittler’s young boy.

          5. sixties Post author

            Achilles, I didn’t take it as a criticism of Parra. Just pointing out that there was a bit involved in the circumstances around it. It would require about a page of writing, but needless to say, taking large numbers of western Sydney boys in a group will yield some returns, but will also lead to some false hopes.
            Parra can be proud that they let their young charges know that very few get to NRL level and having a Plan B via education and career is critical

          6. Achilles' Eel

            Sixties, you made mention of Dargan and Doolan and it reminded me of Travis Turnbull. Can you imagine if Travis Turnbull had kicked on? He’d have been a ready-made replacement for Will Smith by now and quite dangerous under the current rules.

    2. sixties Post author

      Thanks Colin. Firstly, the women’s game is often a more pure form of footy to watch. Less wrestle or nonsense – just good tough matches.
      Being a development club has that inherent cost of developing players for the entire code, not just the Eels. All clubs that invest heavily in juniors bear that cost. The process that you try to get right is to make players Parra aspirational, and to identify and keep as many of the best as you can.
      Think that the NRL and NSWRL take head injury quite seriously and I’m confident that the Eels do too.
      As for the circus, the ringmasters are definitely the agents and a responsive media. Fortunately the Eels decision makers don’t react to that type of pressure.

      1. Parra Pete

        Tess Staines from Yanco Wamoon (Leeton) is a speed machine, a noted try scorer and will be sensational for the Women’s side.
        Really pleased to see Simon Woolford join the Club as Jersey Flegg coach (reportedly)..Germ is a terrific bloke and a successful coach (assistant) in the NRL and in the ESL (head coach). Easy to get along with, and a great communicator.

        1. sixties Post author

          It’s interesting to see a roster assembled from scratch Pete. We’ll look out for Tess’ pace next year.
          it will be interesting to have two “crafty” dummy halves on the coaching staff next year.

      2. John Eel

        It is a lot of money to invest on such a young player. i see that there are strings attached so I guess he will have to perform to earn it.

      3. Colin Hussey

        Could this be the worst orf season ever, in regards to player and so called managers? It very much reminds me of the old fairy tale of Jack & the beanstalk, where the primary storyline was getting the goose and all the golden eggs. Seems that the managers realy think that players and clubs are the golden egg to feed the giant managers, the attempt by the giant to get down the beanstalk and return the egg, knock over Jack and family who fade into oblivion, however, as we all know the giant had a big fall and lost it all.

        How some of the managers think they are giants in the game and what they do, really makes for a think golden book for their own desires and like to change the story for themselves, I would see some of them having a big fall, as they are only there for themselves.

        The NRL needs to really have a big look and investigation into them, along with setting standards for them and the players. Unless something happens, what sort of future is it going to end up in, and same with the players, who are happy to be in the Gimmee team?

        1. BDon

          It’s hard not to have this opinion Col, even allowing for the ‘it’s a business’ throwaway line. I knew a high profile player who whose family (with good commercial acumen) advised him early on but when he eventually got in the grip of one of these blokes, his own persona changed. I don’t think they add value that players think.

          1. sixties Post author

            There are some who definitely don’t seem to act in the best interest of players.

        2. Shaun

          Well said Colin. I like Gutho a lot but I’m at the stage where I don’t care if he goes now. The media coverage does not help Gutho one bit nor is it likely to influence the club.

          1. sixties Post author

            I think that there are many who share your opinion Shaun. Personally, I only care about contracted players performing at their best when they pull on the jersey. But if Gutho’s agent thinks that the fans will pressure the club to find more money, he’s probably mistaken. And I believe that the club is acutely aware of that.

          2. Shaun

            The club is doing well to hold their ground. And I agree that the agents have misread the fans’ mood. I do hope the players in question stay but if they go then they make their last season with Parra a memorable one.

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