The third strike on the Eels roster has been delivered today with mainstream media reporting the 2023 departure of Reed Mahoney to the Bulldogs.
Needless to say TCT has been bombarded by messages from heartbroken Parra supporters. We can only imagine how Eels reception fared today! Personally, my phone went into meltdown this afternoon and the sentiment has been the same.
How has this happened?
I won’t gloss over the anger of fellow Blue and Gold army members. They want good news and have been delivered almost the complete opposite.
My reaction is one of disappointment.
As supporters we have an emotional investment in our club. Everyone has favourite players, and the three departing Eels are high on my list.
I’ve watched Reed’s journey from a bench NYC player to the Maroons Origin squad. I wrote up his first preseason in my training reports. As a supporter, I have felt genuinely invested in him representing the club.
It’s no different with regard to my thoughts on Marata and Ice. Each of those blokes joined from the Warriors. Each reached another level as players at the Eels. I feel like I introduced both to the Blue and Gold Army via preseason training reports.
Therefore, to write about their future departures is not something that I’m pleased to do. Likewise, the club would hardly be welcoming the news.
However, in expressing my disappointment I won’t be ignoring the big picture.
The Eels have a salary cap policy that they are adhering to. Whether this is the correct path will be determined by the roster for 2023 and beyond.
That’s right, there’s still a 2022 season to play for, but before there’s any suggestion that I’m putting my head in the sand, let me return to this current loss of players.
I could contend that the club should have locked in contracts earlier in the season. Of course, there’s a naivety in suggesting that. Player agents won’t get the best deal without dipping their toe in the market’s waters. We witnessed how attempting to sign Gutho during the season worked out – it was all over the media and did little to help the King or his form.
It could be argued that money not spent on Marata and Ice could have been used towards retaining Reed. This would have meant deviating from the valuation that the Eels placed on him prior to negotiations. In that instance, it would mean making an exception for him in their policy.
Why have a policy that the club won’t be dissuaded from following?
Not too long ago the Eels travelled down the path of recruiting players on huge contracts. Sandow, Foran, Watmough, Hopoate head the list. Each offered something that the club was seeking, and like certain competitors are doing now, Parra paid massive overs.
It didn’t work out too well. In fact it was a complete disaster.
During Bernie Gurr’s tenure, Parra made the decision to focus on being a development club. It was a smarter approach to managing the salary cap, and it meant investing in juniors and adding to the roster with players of potential or unrealised value.
Under this system there are no million dollar contracts. Apart from a couple of upper end outliers, the key players are kept within a range that allows the club to maintain a strong squad year on year.
The consequence is that the Eels face the problem of guiding and developing individuals like Reed, Marata and Isaiah to the point where their market value is astronomically higher than when they joined. And they become a target for clubs placed lower on the premiership table who will pay above that value as they look to bolster their rosters. Much like Parra did not too many seasons ago.
The Eels don’t face such dilemmas on their own. Since dealing with their own cap dramas, the Storm have had a policy of not matching huge offers from elsewhere. It’s seen them lose stars like Hynes, Finucane and Addo-Carr for 2022.
I won’t ignore the tactics of the Bulldogs. The numbers going into 2023 dictate that they will shed players before then. It’s a case of sign a roster now, make it fit later.
The system of signing contracts so far in advance, without needing to meet cap numbers yet, is a farce. But you can’t blame a club for taking advantage of that. It’s probably the topic of a future dedicated post.
Today isn’t a good news day, but 2023 is a long way from being written.
I’ve written about emerging players in the past.
Something tells me that I’ll be doing similar in the future.