For rugby league supporters, only one thing is better than grand final week, and that’s actually taking out the premiership.
The Eels have featured in nine previous deciders (counting 1977 as just one), winning four. I’ve been to every one of those grand finals.
Each had a vibe of its own. In 1976, there was the joy of reaching the decider, and the positivity didn’t end with a loss. In 1977 there was a greater expectation, and then despair with losing the replay after going so close with a drawn grand final.
To be honest, I had minimal expectations in 81. We had talented youngsters that had yet to fully realise their abilities, and they were coupled with some very senior players. The elation after the win was indescribable.
Once more, I expected further titles to follow, and they did in 82 and 83. The loss in 84 didn’t seem real, as I had thought that the team was near invincible at the SCG.
The last title in 1986 was unlike the previous years. Though the Eels had an outstanding season, to me it felt like we wouldn’t quite get it done. It sounds strange but that was how I regarded that year. Perhaps Canterbury’s titles in 84 and 85 had taken the gloss of my image of the team.
Without question, 2001 easily outstripped 1977 in terms of expectation. Given the records set that year, the first half grand final capitulation was devastating to watch.
Finally, in 2009 Parra hit unparalleled levels of confidence and form late in the season, with Jarryd Hayne at his mercurial best. It was cold comfort when the Storm lost the title due to cap cheating. Had the premiership been awarded to Parra under those circumstances, it would have been a hollow victory and those watching and the players themselves would have no memories of the ecstasy of victory.
This season feels like 1981 to me. A team on the cusp of something special.
Whether 2022 is your first or your tenth grand final, may your memories last forever.
Where were you when the Eels held on for that gripping preliminary final victory over the Cowboys?
We were in Jacks Bar & Grill at Parra Leagues, and I can tell you it has been a long time since I’ve seen such emotional reactions to a game of football.
I’m not ashamed to admit to having tears streaming down my face, and I was simply one of many. The messages that I’ve received, and the videos that I’ve seen since then, have confirmed that thousands of others had the same response.
About half an hour after the final siren, Forty and I attempted to complete our Instant Reaction podcast. Even with the great Steve Ella alongside us, there was little chance of expecting those in the room to stop celebrating.
Hours later, the scenes of unbridled joy outside the club and along O’Connell St were another reminder of how much the win meant to Eels supporters.
Since then, countless supporters have probably reflected on those who are no longer with us. Our thoughts have been with our dear friend Joe Briffa. The term “wears his heart on his sleeve” could have been coined to describe Joe and his passionate support for Parra. He would have enjoyed every moment of Parra’s run to the grand final.
Following your team is both an individual and a community experience, and emotions run deep. I hope that grand final week is bringing everyone much joy.
I’ve already used my Twitter account to praise the post match comments made by Cowboy’s coach Todd Payten, but the class of his reflections are worthy of further commendation.
Without doubt, Payten would have been hurting about the loss. However, though obviously emotional, he found credit for the Eels, acknowledgement for the effort and season his players and a factual appraisal of the match.
Journos attempted to draw him into comments about the Eels forward pass, but he refused to be drawn into it.
This should be music to the ears of Cowboys supporters. You know you have a strong foundation when your coach is not just good at his job, but also refuses to look for excuses.
The growth of Todd Payten as a leader is there for all to see. Last year was not easy, and he would be the first to admit that he probably didn’t get everything right.
But there will be good days ahead for the Cowboys with this bloke at the helm.
Forward Pass vs Interference On The Marker
Is it just me or has there been a ridiculous focus on the forward pass from Mitch Moses? Anyone unfamiliar with rugby league would think that this was one of the worst calls ever perpetrated in a finals match.
The reality is that it wouldn’t get through the qualifying rounds in the tournament of biggest refereeing errors.
It was marginally forward but the passing action made it look far worse than the resulting delivery. When you still frame the point of release, then the point of reception, it’s quite flat. The looping graphics used in media coverage are extremely deceptive.
Interestingly, the same media putting the forward pass in their sights have completely overlooked a far more obvious call.
When Mitch Moses was held at marker, ultimately tripping over in his attempt to free himself from the grip of Hess, it should have led to a penalty. Instead it resulted in a try as the Cowboys took advantage of Moses being prevented from playing an effective role in defence.
And here’s the kicker. Annesley stated that in his opinion it should have been a penalty, and therefore no try, yet his statement and the incident itself has resulted in minimal mentions. Surely it was just as critical.
Annesley also clarified that as the incident technically took place before the ball was played, the bunker couldn’t intervene. I’m not sure whether this is always applied, as I’m confident that such interference has been examined when determining close range tries, especially when scored by the dummy half. And Moses fell to the ground after the ball was played.
So was one missed call worse than the other?
Not as I saw it. And now let’s hope that we aren’t talking officiating decisions after Sunday night.
Open Training Session
Congratulations to the Eels for the staging of the Grand Final Week open training sessions.
Rain made conditions challenging for supporters at the Eels NRLW open session on Thursday night, but a good roll up reminded our players of how the Blue and Gold army will be behind them on Sunday.
Around 5000 Eels fans registered to attend the NRL event in sunny conditions earlier in the week, and the Eels provided entertainment for the kids in addition to the opportunity for the players to interact with those present. Credit must be given to the Eels squad who remained on the field long after they were scheduled to finish.
I particularly liked the temporary fencing (imitation picket fencing) which gave the Kellyville fields a traditional sports field appearance.
The session itself held no surprises. It was mostly skills work, after all the coach is most unlikely to provide a public performance of his grand final plays or tactics.
The Eels will now get into the serious business of match preparation. I attended the Wednesday session and it was a return to their normal routine despite the attendance of a few more spectators than usual.
By the way, what about Ice’s comments about how training is normally watched by a man and his dog. Given that I’m no canine, it seems a cruel comment on my good mate Geoff.
On a serious note, Geoff and I have been regulars at NRL training for many, many seasons. We’ve seen the tough years, and now we’re watching the good times of grand final week. I wanted to send our thanks to all of the staff who’ve made us so welcome over that time.
We were so fortunate to be able to interview assistant coaches Joey Grima, Steve Murphy and Peter Gentle back in 2017. Each of them, and those since such as Ryan Carr and Dave Kidwell have made us feel welcome.
But I also want to thank NRL team manager Craig Sultana for his assistance over many years. Sults has one of the most demanding roles in the footy department, with a remit that always extends beyond squad logistics – especially during the ever changing protocols surrounding Covid. He even dons a ref’s jersey for opposed sessions, and I never scratch my head about any of his calls!
Parra don’t always get it right, but there is a healthy group of Eels juniors taking the field on Sunday.
Will Penisini, Dylan Brown, Mitch Moses, Ryan Matterson, Oregon Kaufusi, Junior Paulo and Jake Arthur all played junior rep footy in the Blue and Gold jersey.
The recent report into Eels pathways found its way into the media for all of the wrong reasons. Parramatta commissioned that report because they want to get closer to their full potential as a development club.
Yet for a club that is often criticised for not doing better on that front, those locally produced players taking the field in the Grand Final could very well be the key reason for the drought being broken.
Nathan Brown Recall
Throughout the 2022 season, Nathan Brown has struggled for form. It’s not surprising considering his 2021 injuries and the resulting surgeries.
This loss of form brought about his demotion to NSW Cup. Plenty has been written about what has since transpired, but let me assure you of a fact that few have acknowledged.
In the week that Brown injured his hand, Arthur had recalled him to the NRL team. When the coach stated that Brown was going to be recalled, but then injured his thumb, some in the media, and plenty of supporters saw that as a smokescreen.
I was at training that week. I watched Brown emerge from the sheds in NRL team colours. Later, I saw him forced from the field with the injury.
In recalling him for the biggest game of the season, BA has placed incredible trust in Brown. If the cyborg produces his best, it could just provide the Eels with a significant edge in the forwards.
The Journey Thus Far
I have been a regular at Eels training throughout Brad Arthur’s tenure as head coach.
The major issues that he has faced and overcome during that period have been well documented, but I wanted to highlight a part of the journey that I’ve witnessed.
Most fans will have an awareness that Arthur inherited a dual “spoon winning” team. The reality is that they were damaged goods. Confidence was low, footy brought little joy, and they were training out of Richie Benaud Oval.
Let’s talk about the facilities there.
There were no dressing sheds. This was an embarrassment. And though the playing surface was reasonable, the squad travelled to different locations throughout the day to undertake different aspects of their preseason.
If these weren’t the worst training facilities in the NRL, they were unquestionably in the grand final. I remember at one session, as Anthony Watmough was looking to cool down, he jokingly asked how far it was to Lake Parramatta.
But this was no joke. This was an NRL team training at facilities worse than some of the local junior teams. Little wonder Ricky Stuart didn’t hang around. But Brad did.
These were primitive conditions. But the staff made the best of it, including drills that brought some fun and ensuring that the players looked forward to the sessions. The team responded by climbing off the bottom of the table.
The move to Old Saleyards was a quantum leap. That said, the team was housed in demountables, and the dressing sheds were not able to accommodate the full squad. Development contract and fringe players were forced to shower in the sheds on an adjoining field. When he first arrived at Parra, Maika Sivo was one of those fringe players.
Despite the improved facilities, the Eels Saleyards HQ did not compare to the likes of the Panthers and other clubs who boasted a centre of excellence.
Since the end of 2019, the Eels have been located at Kellyville. The modular buildings are only temporary, but modern. Parra’s administration is now housed on the same site as the team. And Brad Arthur and his staff have five fields at their disposal, at a facility that will only get better.
The future looks bright, but let’s not forget the challenge of that journey.
Eels NRLW Spirit
Comprehensive. That’s the word that I’ve used to describe the Eels semi final victory over the Roosters.
The tri-colours were undefeated, and worthy favourites to take out the title, let alone the semi. They boast a star studded team and were the reigning premiers.
But maybe, just maybe, they underestimated the spirit in the Eels team. And that allowed the Eels to gain an ascendancy in this match that the Roosters could not overcome.
Parra beat the Roosters all over the park. Parra’s forwards won the collision, headed by Kennedy Cherrington running over 200 metres, most of which I describe as the dirty metres or the tough carries. The Eels spine created the type of opportunities that the Roosters could not manufacture, and Tayla Preston was my pick as the best on field.
And finally, the Roosters glamour centre pairing of Kelly and Sergis were overshadowed by their opposites in Horne and Church, both of whom crossed the stripe.
I could literally name every one of the team for the important role they played, starting with the elusive Broughton, and extending to the bench players headed by the powerhouse Hanisi.
But above all else this Eels team has found its identity, and it’s rooted in their spirit and their desire to passion to play for each other and the jersey.
Congratulations to Parra’s NRLW custodian, Gayle Broughton, on winning the RLPA Rookie of the Year Award.
I feel that we are only just scratching the surface of what Broughton can bring to the team. The Eels are just learning how to read her instincts, and she’s still on a path of mastering the structures of rugby league attack and defence.
The Kiwi fullback is a must for the Eels to retain, as her best years in rugby league are well and truly in front of her. The introduction of four new teams will make player retention difficult for every one of the current six clubs.
Congratulations also to Simaima Taufa on winning the Dally M award for NRLW lock of the year. If I had my way, she’d also win captain of the year.
Dally M Snub
Firstly a congratulations to Nicho Hynes. The Sharks halfback was a worthy recipient of the Dally M Medal and his achievements should be an inspiration to many.
With that accolade out of the way, it was a disappointing evening from a Parra perspective. Apart from Simaima Taufa winning the NRLW Lock of the Year award, the Eels failed to feature in the Dally M Awards.
There are reasons for that, mostly because the Eels don’t have a stand out “superstar” in their line ups, both men and women.
Apart from Mitch Moses polling decent numbers, something you’d expect from a halfback in a top four team, the other Eels NRL players didn’t earn enough points to win a positional award.
However, the genuine snub occurred in the NRL coach of the year “nominations”.
Although Brad Arthur was never going to win this award given that it’s decided at the end of the regular season, he was the only top four coach to not be listed. Trent Robinson is a fine coach, but the fact that he was listed as a nominee ahead of BA when his Roosters finished 6th was quite insulting.
In reality, Brad and the players probably don’t care less about winning an award or not. The real prize is there on Sunday. Still, for those passionate about the club, we can only shake our heads in disbelief.
A Further Note of Appreciation
When the accolades of a successful season are handed out, they will rightly go to the players and the head coaches.
But every club has its own team of support staff, be they team managers, assistant coaches, consultants, doctors, physios, trainers, sports science experts, nutritionists, welfare officers, or operations assistants. Then there is the administrative side of the operation. And each person will have made a valuable contribution.
Every player in the squad, whether they have played first grade this year or not, has contributed to the success of the season. Different players have done their job when called into the top grade. Others have provided the quality to opposed sessions.
Back in 2020, when Covid brought an end to lower grade footy, and the players bubble restricted the squads, it was difficult for teams to stage quality opposed sessions. It was not unusual to see staff take their place in the “Reggies” team, or for props to take their place on the wing. The quality of match preparation just wasn’t the same.
Successful squads needs as many of their players fit, well and happy, on the field and off. This doesn’t just happen. Clubs have to work hard to look after the people within their organisation. It can never be taken for granted.
And when it comes to club administration, people are always quick to point the finger, but never as willing to offer praise. You’ve all seen the varying degrees of social media reactions to losses, to ticketing, to team selections. Guess who bears the brunt of it when supporters look to vent?
So when the Eels run onto the field on Sunday, we’ll be cheering the talent that we hope brings the title back to PARRAdise. And I’ll also be thanking all of the people behind the scenes for their contributions.
Let’s Do it Better
I didn’t want to focus on any negatives in a great week, but there are a couple of things that need to be better, and the NRL needs to raise their hand and own it.
Firstly, the ticketing for finals matches has been nothing short of a disgrace. Anyone would think that this was the first time that the NRL had staged big games!
The NRL want fans to buy memberships, but the benefits of membership were nowhere to be found during this finals series. Unfortunately, the staff at NRL clubs like the Eels have probably felt the wrath of supporters for a situation which was completely out of their control.
Secondly, the NRL also need to ensure that the headlines surrounding the Panthers trainer should never occur.
Supporters have long been frustrated by the level of involvement of certain trainers, notably Alfie Langer. We literally see some lurking on the field like under 6 coaches barking instructions.
But when we have trainers or physios offering opinions to opponents or being loud enough for comments about an opponent to be heard, whether the comments are positive or not, a line has been crossed.
These people are out there to treat their own players. End of story.
The footage of the other Panthers’ trainer exchanging words with Reed Mahoney proved that some heads need to be pulled in. And though I’m using the Penrith trainers as an example, the message must be universal.
Last year, the NRL was forced to take action when the Panthers trainer didn’t follow protocols in stopping play during their finals match with Parra.
The NRL must take the necessary steps to prevent a major altercation between a player and an opposing trainer from happening in the future.
The Forgotten Invincibles
I was speaking this morning to Eels premiership winner and former Kangaroo, John Muggleton. He reminded me of something that appears to be largely forgotten by the media.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the 1982 Kangaroo tour. Yes, the Australian touring team etched in history as “The Invincibles” have reached what should be a milestone year of recognition and celebration, but I’ve heard nothing about any such acknowledgement.
The Eels contributed six tourists in Sterling, Kenny, Price, Cronin, Ella and Muggleton, the most of any club. It was a significant part of the history of our club, and this Kangaroo tour that they were a part of attracted the adulation of supporters throughout England and France as crowds flocked to marvel at their skills.
Their record speaks for itself. In 22 tour matches, the team remained undefeated, scoring 1005 points and conceding only 120.
With this being a Rugby League World Cup year, it’s not too late to celebrate the anniversary of this record breaking Australian team.
The Tip Sheet Podcast
Forty and I will be making our final live appearance for the season in Jacks Bar and Grill tonight.
Mary K will also be joining us as we dissect the Road To The Grand Final for the Eels in both the NRL and NRLW.
But more than that, we’re hoping to see many of you there as we stage a TCT end of season gathering. Join us for a drink and a yarn about the season and Sunday’s big matches.
My nerves are kicking in as the weekend gets nearer, but I regard this as a good sign for our Eels. I’m at my most nervous before important Parra victories.