I’m stunned by the number of pundits prepared to write off the Eels chances in 2023 well before a ball has been kicked in anger.
Such opinion is mostly based on the number of forwards who departed the club at the end of the 2022 season. Essentially, the Eels have lost two starting forwards and two bench forwards from their grand final team.
However, I’m not too sure how much analysis has gone into weighing up the merits of the Eels new recruits. But fear not, there are numerous candidates for the vacant positions and I’ll delve into that today.
The thing about a premiership window is that qualifying for finals footy keeps the window open. Parra will be shooting for their fifth consecutive finals series in 2023, and I’m confident about their prospects. They also continue their succession planning via the NRL staff working with talented pathways players.
Lets get into what’s happening in PARRAdise.
Here’s a quick story, one that I thought pertinent to share at this time.
A few years back, a young five-eighth named Dylan Brown was generating quite a buzz in junior representative footy, having starred in Parra’s Harold Matthews and SG Ball teams.
The Eels knew that they were on a winner and were upgrading his deal. It was an increase, but it was still much less than what he was likely to attract from certain clubs who pay massive coin for talented players from Sydney’s west and south-west.
Dylan’s parents were there as the contract was presented. The Eels official was up front with the young man, advising him and his parents that bigger offers were available and were very likely to come his way.
That didn’t matter. Dylan requested the pen to sign the contract stating that he’d achieved nothing yet and wasn’t interested in such offers. His parents echoed his sentiments.
Not long after that his decision was rewarded. Dylan’s junior contract was superseded by richer deals with Parra on the back of an NRL preseason and his elevation to a top 30 spot.
Why am I sharing this anecdote?
As speculation first mounted about Dylan fielding contract offers, he spoke about his decision not necessarily being about the money. That’s been his way to now. The club has looked after him, but he’s also not been one to seek greener pastures.
His manager has said that up to ten clubs have expressed an interest in signing Dylbags. We should also be confident that the club has offered him a strong deal.
Obviously, I’m hoping that he stays. Whatever his decision, he’s been up front about not rushing it. And being up front is Dylan being Dylan.
Gutho Back At Work
With a cadre of NRL players due back on December 7, it was no surprise to see Clint Gutherson joining in a field session two days prior. The bloke is the ultimate professional and when it comes to his preparation he’s one of the most dedicated in the NRL.
Interestingly, Monday was one of the more subdued training sessions I’ve ever seen from the King.
To clarify, Gutho is usually the hype man at training. His mix of banter, encouragement and demands constantly echo around the Kellyville complex.
On Monday he was pushing to lead the runs. He was busy in the drills and immediately competing at a high standard. But his talk seemed all business. There wasn’t too much banter going on.
Come Wednesday, we started to hear more of the Gutho we know, talking it up during the structured and unstructured footy being played. It might be a little unfamiliar for Gutho at the moment. The absence of a couple of his usual targets in Moses and Mahoney could mean less banter.
But I wouldn’t be taking any bets on it.
Anyone fretting about the future of the Eels need only catch an Eels training session (or read about it here) to have any fears quelled.
As far as the immediate future is concerned, the Eels have recruited most astutely. Josh Hodgson is an outstanding replacement for Reed Mahoney, but his leadership and skill is also an investment in the future as he has already begun to mentor the young players at the club.
Matt Doorey is the likely replacement for Papali’i, more on him later. Likewise, J’maine Hopgood, Jack Murchie, Jirah Momoisea and Ryan Matterson will vie for the lock and bench roles, alongside the upgraded Toni Mataele.
One only has to think about the development of Kaufusi, Stone, Papali’i and Niukore under BA’s coaching to understand the potential in these players.
Throw in the returning Bryce Cartwright, Kye Rodwell, Wiremu Greig, Ofahiki Ogden, and Makahesi Makatoa and the forward depth looks at least as strong as 2022. And that’s not factoring in promising second tier players such as Elie El Zakhem, Dan Keir, Brendan Hands, Jayden Yates and Luca Moretti.
As for the longer term, the younger group participating in Monday’s field sessions join full preseason pathways players such as Charlie Guymer, Ethan Sanders and Jock Brazel in representing Parramatta’s succession planning.
I have deliberately avoided talking the pathways blokes up individually as I don’t want to add too many expectations or pressures to their journey.
That said, the Eels have pulled the right rein by following up the JETs program, which virtually all participated in during the middle of the year, with exposure to an NRL preseason. You can literally watch the learning curve in action with every passing week.
More Pathways Investment
In case you missed it, the Eels official platforms shared images of NRL coaching staff at Parra Junior Rep training. This is not to be confused with the Eels pathways players participating in the NRL preseason, but is in fact further input for other junior rep players.
This was a terrific experience for the young players as well as the rep staff and is a measure of the whole club philosophy that permeates at the Eels.
The first of the trial matches for Parra’s development squads and Junior Rep teams will take place on December 17. Of course TCT will be there to provide our takes on the matches.
The returning Eels junior is a unit.
If Parra was looking for a powerful runner of the footy to replace Ice I’d suggest they’ve found it. Doorey is listed as 185cm and 100kg. I’m not sure how accurate those stats are, as he appears to be bigger than Isaiah Papali’i whose stats come in at 182cm and 108kg.
Check out this shot of Matt Doorey at Eels training. I don’t think we’ve lost any size in the pack should he earn the back row position.
Parra Leagues Community Christmas Dinner
Last week, Forty and I were privileged to attend Parra Leagues Community Christmas dinner. As many of you are aware, TCT is invested in covering Parramatta Junior Rugby League, from local clubs to Eels pathways.
Over the last six years, Parra Leagues has donated around 5.5 million dollars to community groups via their Club Grants Program.
Of that, $1.8 million has been given to grassroots rugby league clubs. Junior Clubs featured in our Parra Stories have made the point of thanking PLC for that yearly support which makes the cost of playing rugby league significantly cheaper for families.
The diversity of the community groups present on the evening emphasised the importance of volunteers, whether it be in education, health, general community, sport or specific rugby league programs.
There is so much done by individuals or groups, but financial support is unavoidable. Supporting the needs of the community comes with a price tag, something that the Club Grants Program aims to assist with.
And when everyone is brought together via such functions, the networking that occurs brings the community even closer together.
Your Vote is Needed
Just on Parra Leagues Club, they are looking to amalgamate with Dural Country Club. By now all Parra Leagues Club members should have received information about why this is being proposed.
Recently, Dural Country Club members voted unanimously in favour of the amalgamation. It is now the turn of PLC members.
Like any member decision, higher vote numbers means a better representation of the wishes of members. Likewise, being informed is also important, so to help with further details or questions, the PLC directors are holding an information evening in Sterlos Sports Bar at Parra Leagues on Thursday December 8 from 6pm.
Due to the nature of the proposal, Members must be present at either Parra Leagues or Vikings on Tuesday, December 20 to vote. The General Meeting will commence at 7pm and we encourage Members to attend.