The Cumberland Throw

The 2023 Eels Pre-Season Training Awards

As most TCT readers are now aware, the Eels are now in match preparation mode, and training for specific opponents. Consequently my preseason training reports have ceased.

My goal in writing these reports is to provide details about training structure, individual player progress, player attitudes and application, in addition to highlights from sessions.

The content is designed to keep Eels supporters informed, without crossing the line of revealing the “trade secrets” of Parra’s preparations.

Before I get to my preseason gongs, it’s important to note that this has been a shorter preseason for many NRL players. Those clubs which provided large numbers of World Cup participants were the most affected, with some stars not returning to club duties until January.

Parra used this opportunity to provide exposure to NRL training for their promising SG Ball and Flegg players. That group added energy to what would have been a small crew of senior players.

Once we hit January the young blokes were gone, and within a couple of weeks all of the top squad had returned. That’s left me with a shorter time frame to make the following calls, but I’m confident that a few more weeks wouldn’t change my mind.

This year I’ve named the awards in honour of former Parra players. Actually, a current player is also in that mix for obvious reasons.

Here are the winners:

2023 TCT Pre-Season Awards

The Mark Laurie “Best In Pre-Season” Trophy –  Josh Hodgson

A snap of Hodgson, why not! (Image via Eels media)

Hodgo has been an absolute revelation at Eels training. He arrived fit and confident and immediately made an impact.

At first it was his leadership that stood out. Then it was his skill set that had me in awe. Finally it has been the way he has seamlessly become an integral part of the Eels spine.

The true test will come in the Premiership proper, but I don’t believe I’ve witnessed anyone make such an impression on arrival.

King Gutho “Best Conditioned” Crown – Jayden Yates


Yates in action at dummy half

Jayden Yates isn’t familiar with the term “off season”. The Eels utility fronted on day one of the preseason ready to make a statement. If commitment and desire count for anything, then this bloke deserves success and hopefully that starts with more regular appearances in NSW Cup in 2023. From there, who knows what he could achieve.

Unlike the Top 30 stars, Jayden completed a full preseason, thereby edging him ahead of the King and Jake Arthur.

Daniel Wagon “Most Improved” Medal – Dan Keir

Like Jayden Yates, Dan Keir presented on day one in outstanding shape. His superior conditioning assisted him in making some big effort plays during opposed work or in other training drills.

After arriving at the club in 2022, Dan has had limited opportunities even at NSW Cup level. Again, like Jayden, I hope to see him feature more regularly in NSW Cup in 2023.

Ed Sulkowicz “Best Back” Award – Clint Gutherson

There are a number in contention here.

In a recent interview, Josh Hodgson referenced Jake Arthur amongst those he’s appreciated working alongside during the preseason. This is because Moses and Brown were missing for an extended period, leaving Jake as the main man in the halves. When I spoke to Trent Barrett, he also praised JA.

Since returning from the World Cup, Mitch Moses has enjoyed the best training form I’ve ever seen from him. Any dramas around his contract have not derailed his focus.

Likewise, Will Penisini has trained like a seasoned professional. He has trained consistently well and even carved them up in a number of opposed sessions. You’d be forgiven for forgetting that he only turns 21 this year.

But ultimately, it’s impossible to go past Clint Gutherson. The King has always been the premier trainer, but this preseason there’s been less banter, and Gutho has been in outstanding form in opposed work. He seems primed for a big year.

Dick Thornett “Best Forward” Award – J’maine Hopgood

Before the preseason began, I rated Hopgood as a chance of playing back row, with Matterson at lock. Half way through the preseason, I changed my mind, wanting and expecting our Panthers recruit to play a middle role. The more he gets his hands on the ball, the better Parra’s attack. He threatens when running, when linking, when offloading.

Phil Mann “Next To Debut” Award – Toni Mataele

From his first game back in the Blue and Gold in 2022, Toni Mataele has caught the attention of many Eels supporters. During this preseason, the 20 year old back rower has run great lines and proven a handful to contain. Look for his combination with his team mate from Junior Rep days, Jake Arthur, to be a NSW Cup highlight.

Krisnan Inu “Break Out Player” Award – Jack Murchie and Sean Russell

I couldn’t separate these players for this gong.

Jack Murchie has been one of the most consistent performers throughout the preseason. He was a mainstay in the middle before Junior and Reg returned from the World Cup.I find it hard to believe that he hadn’t caught the attention of other teams prior to landing at the Eels.

Injury robbed Sean Russell of his potential break out year in 2022. He’s filled in admirably across multiple positions during opposed sessions and I’m tipping him to start the season in the top grade.

Mick Moseley “Watch This Space” Award – Jirah Momoisea

This bloke has been trying to establish himself at Newcastle for a number of years and was seemingly at a dead end. From opposed sessions, he looks to have Marata Niukore’s versatility, and I think he’s destined to play more NRL at Parra than he did at the Knights.

There we have it. My awards are done and dusted for another year and it will be interesting to see who backs up their training track form with a big season.

My thanks to Eels staff for the welcome and the insights provided.

Most importantly, a huge thank you to the TCT community. The training reports have generated unprecedented reads, with nearly all going past 3000 views, and some breaking the 4000 mark!

It looks like being a huge season.

Eels forever!


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43 thoughts on “The 2023 Eels Pre-Season Training Awards

  1. Martin Pluss

    Three crucial factors for any player. Wonderful to read and I hope contagious.

    “ At first it was his leadership that stood out. Then it was his skill set that had me in awe. Finally it has been the way he has seamlessly become an integral part of the Eels spine.”

  2. luk3_182

    Cheers mate! Good to hear some positive news in between the constant Mitch speculation. Very excited for Hopgood and with a decent turnover it’s going to be very interesting year.

    1. Dave

      More and more I’m convinced that there’s no way Moses is leaving. I just wish the media would just chill tf out and stop badgering them all about it.

  3. Anonymous

    Any news on Jock Brazel?
    He looked to be training well in earlier sessions.
    Will he be a nsw cup player this year?

    1. sixties Post author

      i caught up with Jock last week. He’s been training with the Flegg team for the last few weeks. I’m expecting him to start in Flegg

  4. Trouser Eel

    Some nice choices of award names. I’d be interested in a fuller account for how the names were selected.
    For mine, Daniel Wagon would be best attached to a “sure hands” award – a good catcher, not necessarily a good passer.

    1. Glenn

      If you want a ‘sure hands’ award it would have to be named after Brett Kenny who I can’t remember ever dropping the ball.

        1. Mick

          So true about the “mayor” Sixties. When playing England, they had bookies framing a market for Thornett, will he or won’t he drop the ball. He never let a ball kicked to him bounce, even see him do a full length dive to catch a ball, fullbacks these days have wingers to help them and still let the ball bounce.

        2. Zero58

          Ken Thornett had the safest hands ever.
          Once playing at Leichhardt oval with sun in his eyes he caught the ball on the full with one hand – the other shielding his eyes from the sun
          He was the best.

          1. sixties Post author

            My father tells similar stories about the Mayor – I was too young to remember him in his prime.

    2. sixties Post author

      Super glue award for Wags!
      My story for the names is simple – a collection of some of my faves from across the decades!

  5. Ben

    Great articles as always thanks mate, love them. Sixties – where do you see Matto playing this year? Do you think he takes I-paps right edge and plays 80? Or same as last year, impact player in the middle off the bench?

    1. sixties Post author

      I see Hopgood holding on to the middle lock role and Matto coming on from the npbench in the Junior/Reg rotations, though he has that versatility to cover the edge too.

  6. Milo

    Love it sixties and I also think a dedicated blog should be done describing why the names of past and one present were used. Like seeing some former names, and Sulkowizc for one and Phil Mann are great names of the past.
    Not sure if we will see Yates yet but he is good one I feel, and Murchie for me will be a quiet achiever and well worth the purchase.

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Milo, as I said above they were a collection of just a few of my favourites from across the decades.
      I hope Yates gets more of an opportunity in NSW Cup this year. His work ethic is second to none. His father Chris Yates was an Eel who went on to play for Wests and his mother is, I believe, Jason Bell’s sister.

  7. BDon

    Tks sixties, love your work! Why haven’t Doorey, Murchie, Momoisea been noticeable at previous clubs? Why has Greig been slow to advance? These are the blokes who will give us depth.I just get the feeling we may have a harder edge to our forwards this year, leadership may be much better and these guys will compete alongside some high quality senior players. Fantastic opportunity to run hard, tackle hard, be noticed and respected.

    1. Anonymous

      Jirah had some injuries and was in a poor system at the knights. From what I read Murchie was held in high regard at the Warriors but wanted to live in Australia. I think he will go well. Doorie as well hampered by injuries and a mess of a club.

    2. IALB

      On Greig, could it be that they’re trying to turn him into something he’s not? As in an aerobic replacement? Maybe he could be a high impact player for lesser minutes?

  8. Murph

    Thanks for your write ups, great to have an understanding of how the team’s shaping up for this year. With the opportunity on our right edge, one guy I’ve been surprised to see no mention of is Elie El-Zakhem. He was good in Cup games I saw last year, and was strong for Lebanon in the World Cup. But I’ve just seen he’s ended up at the roosters? Any insights on what transpired to see him leave the club?

      1. Anonymous

        Are the stories about the roosters golfing days well known anon? I heard one player tell me he was bet 1k that he wouldn’t get a hole in one… on a par 5

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