The 2023 NRL pre-season is due to commence for some players and clubs in early November. Those that didn’t qualify for finals football will be amongst the first to return to the training track.
For the Parramatta Eels, early returns will be restricted to train and trial pathways players and potentially some new recruits. The vast majority of Parra’s NRL squad will either be back in December, or in January for those involved in the World Cup.
Much publicised departures mean that spots will be up for grabs in the top 17, and with just 26 players currently under contract for 2023, there are also roster places to be filled.
Some uncertainty surrounds players on that current 26 man list, especially Nathan Brown. If he stays with the Eels, and has a good preseason, our favourite cyborg is probably a certain selection. However, I expect him to ink a deal elsewhere so I won’t include him in my predicted team list.
Ryan Matterson’s three week suspension will create an opportunity for a forward. For the purposes of this post I’ll bracket him in my Round 1 team list.
Bear in mind that this top 17 only relates to those currently under contract and without one minute of the preseason under anyone’s belt. My opinion will be subject to change based on observations of training throughout the summer.
Predicted Round 1 Eels Team
13 Murchie (Matto from round 4)
18 Matterson (suspended rounds 1-3)
Confirmed extended squad
26 N. Brown
Development/Second Tier/Potential Top 30
33 Rankin (also pathways coaching)
I believe that you can lock in both Zac Cini and Toni Mataele as part of the full time squad in 2023, though I’m not sure whether that will be Development or Top 30. Both progressed in leaps and bounds during the year. Mataele’s bounce back from preseason injury was highly impressive and it would not surprise if he pushed for a first grade debut in 2023.
Tevita Taumoepenu should be part of the full time squad in some capacity. He was given a shot at NSW Cup level in 2022 and took it with both hands. Jordan Rankin will revert to a second tier playing role, and continue his transition towards a career in coaching via a role with Eels pathways. Jayden Yates will be part of the group returning to training in early November.
Other regular NSW Cup starters have been listed in spots 35 to 42. I am yet to receive confirmation on their status for 2023, but I hope to be able to provide an update by the start of the preseason.
There will be other players graduating from Jersey Flegg into NSW Cup in 2023, such as Flegg Captain Corey Fenning and probably halfback Ethan Sanders. Expect pathways players not listed above to participate in the NRL preseason. Some of those were involved in the 2022 JETS program.
However, my goal for this post was to identify those who are likely to play NRL this year and those are going to be drawn from the full time squad, either in the top 30 or as Development Contracted players.
Will the 17 players likely to get the early running for first grade be able to at least emulate the performance of the 2022 Eels side?
There is roster space available, so do the Eels need a significant signing or two to maintain the momentum of this last 12 months?
Perhaps the last two questions will be dependent upon finalising the contracts for both Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown. Any upgraded contract might include 2022 to spread the money across more seasons, and if so, that would impact the 2023 salary cap.
Given that so many players have moved on, and with a number of currently vacant roster spots, the obvious question mark lies around depth. As things stand, the starting 13 will be very comparable to 2022, but opportunities exist for some of the younger players to force their way into the top 17.
Jack Murchie and J’maine Hopgood have both been purchased as NRL players. Neither are anywhere near their potential, but development of such individuals is right in BA’s wheelhouse. Jirah Momoisea could be the surprise packet, and I’ll track his preseason with great interest.
The major selection debate will be around the centre and wing positions and also the bench. Preseason form will go a long way towards determining who gets the first shot. Adding a centre and a back rower to the roster probably remains a priority.
The 2022 salary cap will increase, but the final figure is yet to be confirmed. Having the World Cup in full swing and other players on holidays probably doesn’t help to get contracts sorted, so we will likely get player movement happening a bit later than we normally expect.
Rugby league’s rumour mill isn’t short on suggestions. Jake Simpkin from the Tigers and Jaydn Su’a from the Dragons have both had potential moves to the Eels rumoured on social media. Believe what you will from any of that!
Regardless, my early take is that Parra’s window most definitely remains open. Whether the Panthers allow any other club to get a look in is a topic for another post.