For most NRL fans, the start of every preseason brings renewed hope for what lies ahead. After typically winding up the season before with “maybe next year”, we find ways to see the promise in the future.
After hitting the dizzying heights of our first grand final appearance since 2009, 2023 only requires Parra to go one better for the title to be ours.
So how are we travelling right now? What road markers are there to indicate that good times still lie ahead?
From an operational perspective, the news about the Kellyville HQ should enthuse those invested in the Eels long term plans. Equally, the performance of young pathways players getting their first taste of an NRL preseason is indicative of strong succession plans.
Looking at the current squad, the recruitment of a genuine leader could bring immediate dividends, but does the potential loss of one or both halves dampen any enthusiasm?
Like always in rugby league, the future starts now.
It feels like it’s taken an eternity, but the next and final stage in the development of Kellyville Park has finally been confirmed.
After seeing the plans during the season, I was hoping that approval was just an administrative tick away. If you haven’t already done so, check out the virtual tour presented on the Eels official site.
A road works depot full of demountable buildings occupies the site on which the main Centre of Excellence building will be constructed. The upgrade of Memorial Drive was always going to impact the starting date for the Eels new home, but fortunately the project in its entirety now looks likely to commence by mid 2023.
Modular buildings currently house the club’s administration and football operation. The facilities are quite good but not permanent. Furthermore, the grounds do not currently contain a match venue with any level of spectator comfort.
All of that will change come 2025, with a community centre which will include a grandstand, gym, match-day media rooms, change-rooms, café, and parking. Parramatta will then stage regular Junior Representative, lower grade and NRLW matches at Kellyville.
Happy days! Happy future!
Is A Veteran The Key To Parra’s Future?
Those who follow my preseason training reports are aware of my opinion of Josh Hodgson. The English international has made a strong impression at Kellyville from his first day on the training paddock.
Watching him mentor, encourage and drive the young Eels squad has already been illuminating to watch.
Whilst it would be ridiculously foolish to tip a massive season ahead for a veteran player with a history of serious knee injuries, a healthy Josh Hodgson could be a game changer for the club.
I don’t need to rattle off what the talented English rake has produced over the years for the Raiders. Most NRL fans acknowledge the threat that he poses around the ruck. He is a vastly different dummy half to Reed Mahoney, so expect some changes to how Parra will play.
So, what I will tip is that Hodgson’s leadership and desire to assist team mates in becoming better players will bring a different dimension to the team. And for a club looking to take one more step forward, he could be exactly who we needed.
The Young Ones
I’ve made the decision to keep a lid on writing up the young pathways players getting some NRL preseason experience. Many of these lads will return to either SG Ball or Flegg when their NRL training wraps up, so it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves.
That said, I do want to offer my early praise to them as a group. They arrived ready for their first NRL preseason (easier said than done) and are responding well to the challenges put to them.
Those wanting some details on young players to watch and their current level should check out Forty’s Rookie Watch series here and here. Though not detailing every pathways player involved in the preseason, it does identify a number to follow and most importantly provides a realistic overview of where they are at.
By the way, the first of the Junior Rep trials will take place in the middle of this month. Make sure you follow TCT for our coverage.
The Immediate Future Of Contracts
I’m well and truly over the endless speculation surrounding the future of Eels halves Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown. I was therefore in two minds about sharing my takes on the uncertainty of their deals.
But there is something worth reminding people about.
In 2022 the Eels reached the grand final without having one player voted as the best in their position (see Dally M Awards). It’s resulted in a strong and balanced team.
If the last couple of years has taught me anything, it’s that the Eels won’t go beyond market price, and won’t put themselves in salary cap trouble to either recruit or retain a player. Consequently, Parra has lost players to clubs desperate to climb the ladder and willing to shell out significantly more coin for those players.
Both Dylan and Mitch are valued highly by the Eels. I’m confident that their offers are rightly reflective of their worth. If they move on the money will have to be massive and if so I wouldn’t want the Eels to match it.
Looking After The Future Of Those From The Past
In case you missed the images on our social media platforms, the Blue and Gold Alliance (BGA) held their Christmas drinks at the Royal Oak Hotel in Parramatta last Saturday. It was a casual catch up for their members in the lead up to the festive season.
The BGA welcomes all former graded Parra players and officials to be a part of their community. It’s important for people to stay connected and the BGA is building their network of members so that they can regularly check on the well-being of former Eels, both now and into the future.
We’ve previously brought you details on the BGA in our interview with their Chairman Bill Richards, and in our coverage of their annual Eels player reunion. The 2022 reunion was a massive success and the NRL team’s comprehensive victory over the Bulldogs made the day that much sweeter!
Each year their calendar will include the Ted Sulkowicz Memorial Golf Day, the Annual Players Reunion and a Christmas gathering with other events likely to be added. Every gathering maintains and extends their reach.
We have been honoured to attend a couple of their events during this past year and will continue to support the BGA in whatever way we can.