The Cumberland Throw

Bumpers Up – February 14, 2023: Trials And Observations

The first round of NRL trials are now in the rear view mirror and the rugby league world marches onwards towards the new season.

Reactions to the results and performances have been bigger than past years. It’s probably the consequence of the increased coverage of the “preseason competition” and the various expectations for what lies ahead.

As far as reactions to Parra’s trial are concerned, I haven’t been too impressed with what I’ve read on mainstream and social media. Maybe that’s pushed my current mood given the gripes I’ve included in this post. On a day normally associated with bouquets, I’m not handing too many out.

Read on if you’re prepared for Valentines Day column that contains a few vents. From fellow fans and critics, to footy venues, a junior trainer and the current CBA negotiations, there are a few things irritating me right now.

These are my opinions and mine only. I expect both opposition and agreement with my takes.

It’s why this column exists. Bumpers Up!


There’s been some interesting takes on the Eels trial loss on Saturday night. Despite the well-documented history of trial form being a poor indicator of premiership form, there was no shortage of pundits and punters prepared to rubbish the team and players.

Whether you like it or not, it’s typical for Parra to not show their hand in these matches. Even when they win, you will rarely see much beyond basic hit ups and shifts that might not be earned.

An indicator of the footy Parra played in the trial can be found in the offloads. In 2022, the Eels were the leading team for offloads by some margin, accruing a whopping 397 for the season, or 13.7 per game.

In Saturday’s trial, that number came in at a grand total of 7 offloads, two of which were provided by the wingers!

Lumelume provided an offload

Second phase footy is a huge part of the Eels DNA, and this preseason competition is offering a bonus point for offloads. If you do the maths, that’s a pointer to Parra’s approach to the trial.

Don’t get me wrong. There were things that I didn’t like. As a supporter I’m selfish and want our team to win every game they contest. I want to see them fire some shots.

I also thought that individually, there were some disappointing performances.

But for those now death-riding the team or certain players based on a few minutes in a trial conducted in near 40 degree temperatures, get a grip.

The Positives

So, if I’m complaining about the overreaction to a trial loss, can I offer anything to be positive about?

How about we consider any player whose stocks rose after the trial?

This preseason has been a battle between Jirah Momoisea and Matt Doorey for the vacant right edge position. Doorey appeared to be a lock-in for a starting role for most of summer, but a late challenge from Momoisea saw him get that right edge run on spot in the first trial.

Based on individual form in the trial, Doorey probably edged back in front. He ran better lines and looked more comfortable in the role. BA might give an indication of his thinking when the next trial team is named.

When he came into the game, Toni Mataele did enough to justify my call that he could be the next to debut in first grade. His 142 running metres, including 75 metres post contact, made him one of the standouts. He refused to be tackled in every carry.

Mataele is on a Development Contract, so without an upgrade he’d have to wait till after Round 10 for an NRL call up. Maybe he’ll get that upgrade? I’ve suggested that people keep an eye on his combination with Jake Arthur in NSW Cup this year, and we were given a glimpse of that right edge threat during the trial.

Zac Cini is in a similar situation, as he is also on a Development Contract. Throughout the trial, Cini featured as the most likely to trouble the defence, often beating the first tackle and eventually crossing for two tries.

Also outside the top 30 is Jayden Yates. My award winner for the preseason’s best conditioned player, he demonstrated his supreme fitness by playing 60 minutes in arguably the most demanding position in scorching heat. And that was on top of getting game time in the curtain raiser!

I’ve called for Jayden’s regular selection in NSW Cup as a stepping stone for his career, and he validated that call by being one of the best performers from the trial.

Jayden Yates was one of Parra’s best

Not much needs to be said about Sean Russell. He produced a class performance which could easily confirm his inclusion for Round One.

Makahesi Makatoa might also have his name pencilled in for an Interchange spot in the season opener. He was very solid in the trial and has been a regular off the bench over the last 18 months, so the coach knows what to expect from him.

Finally, despite sitting outside the top squad, both wingers did enough to get a tick for that game. Matt Komolafe is most definitely a work in progress, and those familiar with his lower grade performances know that he can find the try line.

Isaac Lumelume was a late addition to the preseason, and has had limited time to become familiar with his team mates and the plays. He has NRL experience and his pace could well be an asset that is utilised at some stage this season.

Trial Venue

I’ve gone on record on TCT about my opinion of Penrith Park as a venue. Furthermore, I’ve expressed my opinion in person to Eels staff. Many Eels supporters, including myself have been subjected to horrendous behaviour from Panthers fans.

We’re not talking banter or a bit of ribbing, it’s the type of conduct which at best makes the footy experience unpleasant, and at worst leaves people feeling unsafe.

I’ve travelled to Penrith since the 1970s, but the last seven or eight years have become horrid. After last year’s finals clash at the ground, I vowed to never return despite it being one of the more convenient locations to visit.

BlueBet Stadium (Penrith Park)

Which brings me to Saturday’s trial. The Eels have made a preseason visit out west a regular fixture, but it’s time for that to end.

If we are to play at a metropolitan venue during the preseason, surely that can be at CommBank Stadium. Perhaps it’s a case of economics in not opening up a big stadium for a trial, or maybe the availability of the venue. After all, the Eels did take on the Dragons at CommBank in 2022.

However, that home trial was the only time in the four years of stadium availability that Parra has played there. I don’t think that’s good enough, especially when we still play at other venues in the metro area.

I have no problem with Parra travelling to the bush for all trials. Taking games to regional areas should be a preseason priority. I also acknowledge that the development of Kellyville Park will establish the Eels HQ as a trial venue option. Still, that might not be possible until 2025 or 2026.

Whatever the case, I’m over Penrith as a venue. Besides the poor behaviour of their supporters, the conditions there are some of hottest at this time of year. There are 16 other clubs that we can play and a first class stadium sitting empty.

I reckon there’ll be no shortage of fellow supporters holding a similar opinion.

Road Trips

Speaking of venues, the Eels Junior Representative program has no shortage of travel this year.  Perhaps it’s another way of preparing young players for the demands of the NRL.

In their abbreviated seasons, the four away matches sees them travel to Kanwal (Central Coast), Wollongong, Canberra and Manly. It doesn’t make it easy for their families to be there in support. I guess it’s an insight into the experience of players and families from regional clubs.

The Eels in action at Kanwal

This year, the Junior Eels Reps have already played the Roosters at Kanwal and they’ll be lining up against the Steelers at Wollongong on Saturday. And prior to the season, they played a trial match at Goulburn. There’s not a single away game against a neighbouring club.

Our SG Ball team has won both of their opening matches, whilst the Matts and Gale teams recorded comeback victories at Kellyville after dropping their opening round.

After last weekend’s blast furnace conditions, it might be a blessing to be down south and closer to the coast this Saturday.


A Reluctant Criticism

I have nothing but respect for the staff of Junior Rep teams, just as I do for those that take roles at local clubs. These people volunteer to help guide young players to achieve their dreams, whether it’s to play alongside their mates or to forge a career. Despite being so invaluable they are rarely known beyond their competition or club.

So I’m loathe to make a public criticism.

However, one of the Tigers trainers really overstepped the mark last Saturday. He almost took up residency on the field, something that could have been expected given the scorching conditions. Keeping players hydrated and monitoring their well-being would have been paramount.

But, when his team was in possession he was out there calling the attacking plays. Though I wouldn’t expect that level of guidance in elite pathways, it’s something we occasionally see in the NRL. And perhaps if it ended with that, I wouldn’t be writing anything about it.

Unfortunately, this trainer got a bit carried away, protesting slow play the balls whilst on the field, waving his arms behind the ruck in attempting to draw penalties. He was also calling out for offside and other decisions. It’s something that the match officials shouldn’t have been dealing with. It’s also something that his own team shouldn’t have been subjected to.

The bloke concerned is unquestionably a valued member of his club and would be doing a terrific job for his players. Let’s put it down as a consequence of the conditions, but let’s also document it as a reminder that there is a line, and that even those who volunteer so much of their time should not cross it.

CBA Negotiations

We’ve reached the very tip of the pointy end of CBA negotiations. It’s sharp and it’s threatening to find victims. So who’s in the firing line?

Firstly, there are the players. Without rugby league players there is no product. That cannot be argued. What is also without doubt is that there are many who are chewed up and spat out by rugby league. It’s why organisations such as Family of League (formerly Men Of League), the Blue and Gold Alliance and other “old boys” associations exist. Many former players have not done well out of the game, especially around their health.

And don’t get me started on the importance of the women’s game. Girls playing at junior level are a growth area for the code and the enthusiasm of those associated with their pathways, be it players, staff or families, is infectious. You’d seriously want to bottle their passion for footy and the emotion of pulling on a jersey.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the logic of people arguing that the NRLW isn’t generating the revenue to justify higher salaries. Professional rugby league for women is in its infancy.

However, it is the governing body that is desirous of the rapid expansion of the competition, bringing in extra franchises and demanding greater sacrifices from the players in longer seasons to create the product. All this whilst their expansion methodology doesn’t allow for multi-year contracts and therefore almost zero guarantees for the players. If the NRL wants rapid expansion before it is fully sustainable they have to pay the cost. It seems like they want to have their cake and be able to eat it too.

So let’s get to the governing body. A qualified, skilled and strong governing body is also essential to the professional game. They administer, protect and promote the product. They have all of the responsibilities associated with that, which can often mean saying no. That has to also be understood.

RLPA Chief Executive Clint Newton

Likewise, sponsors and media contracts are core to the professional game. This is where the serious money enters. Gone are the days of semi-professional players being paid by Leagues Clubs and gate receipts. If there is no game, they shouldn’t be expected to cough up the coin.

Finally, there are the fans. If people aren’t watching the game there will be minimal interest from the media and sponsors. Merchandise sales and gate receipts would plummet. Talk to the A League about how they are impacted by the loss of faith from the fans, the media, and sponsors.

So who are the most important stakeholders?

If I suggested that it was the fans, something like industrial action by the players would be a horrible way to test it out. Because make no mistake, such action would alienate the very people whose passion for the game sustains the game.

Therein lies the problem. Any industrial action will cause some loss of faith. We are already seeing the loss of faith between the players and the administrators. The code cannot afford for other stakeholders, especially the fans, to lose faith, because they’ll be looking to blame someone. And the majority of supporters aren’t interested in the nuances of negotiations. They’ll just care whether they’ve got a game to watch.

I just hope that those sitting down at the table don’t forget that.


Vote Now In The Parramatta Leagues Club Elections

Parra Leagues Club came into existence to support rugby league in the Parramatta district, including the Eels participation in the premier rugby league competition in Australia, which was the Sydney Premiership and is now the NRL. Just as importantly, the club financially supports the local junior competition, making football more affordable for every player at every junior club in the district.

Back in 2016, the club struck dark days. We don’t need to rehash history, but Parra Leagues was put in the hands of an administrator, not due to any solvency questions but rather conduct relating to governance.

The step forward had to be found in a new constitution. One that totally changed the process of electing Club Directors. What should have been the change that all wanted, was opposed by individuals who rallied just enough people to turn up in person to vote against it. Members who attended know exactly who those individuals are.

Under the old constitution, there was no electronic voting. If you weren’t there in person, your opinion didn’t matter. And when you needed a 75% yes vote to get change, it didn’t take many naysayers at a meeting to block the new constitution.

After years of battling these opponents, constitutional change and electronic voting were finally achieved. It led to the appointment of a highly qualified board, one that guided the club through the COVID pandemic and now continues to advance the facilities for members whilst supporting many community groups. In this period, the Eels have been resident in the NRL finals series.

We don’t hide our support of the incumbent Directors. We have come to know the current Board via our support of the Eels, the pathways, and our role of hosting after match functions in Jacks Bar and Grill.

In this now third year of triennial elections, the most important thing for our club is to have as many members voting as possible. In that way, the election result is representative of the wishes of the majority of members and not just a collection of votes organised by a candidate or someone else behind the scenes.

So please vote. There are some highly qualified people standing for this current election, including the incumbent directors, which is a goal the club would have sought via that constitutional change.

The continued good governance of the club rests with you. Electronic voting only takes a couple of minutes, but it closes at 5pm on February 23. Don’t let that date slip by. Vote today.

Eels forever!




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25 thoughts on “Bumpers Up – February 14, 2023: Trials And Observations

  1. Zero58

    Mr Sixties, the NRL is clearly at fault with scheduling these games in stifling heat. We are one day going to witness a fatality due to heat stroke. Why we cannot play these games later in the evening is disturbing.
    As for the game, the only one who really takes note of trial games is the coach. We have lost quite a few key players and so team harmony is disrupted and so trial games will help to overcome this but, only up to a point. .
    Tell your readers – training days will always differ to game days. Some people who live vicariously through the team should have a better empathy for the players. A bad game helps to iron out the faults. We all remember 2018!
    Historically, Parra have never really done well in the preseason and I am going back to the sixties. Your training reports with Hodgson gave us insight into his ability and although he might not have gone as well as expected, it’s his first hit out with the team and lower grade at that. Please fans cut some slack.
    As for the Penrith fans I have never been there but, for me going back some years South Sydney fans were the worst.

    1. sixties Post author

      Thankfully the starting time for the Club Challenge at Penrith has been shifted back by almost an hour. Given the times of sunset, and the time difference in Queensland, I’m sure the tv schedules could cope with a later start.

  2. BDon

    Tks sixties.I don’t know enough about the NRL’s finances to really understand what is reasonable or not. Without that, I can only guess what is sensible and possible. I don’t see every public release of information but none that I read has attempted to establish if the player demands are affordable or not, measured against current or future income flows. I know Covid stripped the cupboard bare and disclosed that a contingency fund had been depleted even before Covid. So we’re talking a hand to mouth existence, but let’s have the detail.

    1. Brett Allen

      No, the NRL has a substantial cushion, which is appropriate, but to suggest its hand to mouth is simply not accurate. All the players want is transparency on the games finances, I think that’s entirely reasonable, especially when the game operates on a revenue share model.
      The Independent Commission is a failed experiment copied from the AFL. It’s time for the clubs to take ownership of what is theirs, ie the Premiership. The 17 clubs jointly & collectively own the NRL, not the ARL. The ARL is a governing body, not a commercially minded organisation. Governance of the sport and running a professional league are two completely businesses. The most commonly heard complaint from the clubs is that League Central have no idea what it is like at the coalesce of running a club. The NRL should follow the lead of the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB & EPL and have a Board of Governors made up of one representative from each club, eg Club Chairmen, with the Chair rotating every 12 months to a different club. The BoG would then appoint a Commissioner/CEO who would have absolute authority to run the league under the BoG’s oversight. It’s a proven model for success.

      1. sixties Post author

        Great comment Brett and an excellent model.There have been recent instances where if the clubs made similar calls/decisions as the NRL, they’d have questions raised about their license.

      2. Zero58

        Brett, the trouble with your suggestion is that each club has its own agenda. And really some of the stronger personalities would dominate and work it to their own advantage.
        Independent management is the way to go but with those who have a football background and professional management skills otherwise it’s a rat house.

        1. Brett Allen

          That’s the common argument, each club has its own agenda and dominant personalities would dominate, I’m assuming you’re referring to Uncle Nick, but doesn’t that happen now anyway ? At least under this model the board is made up of people who know what it takes to run a footy club. Under the current model the current commissioners can be manipulated by individual clubs because they aren’t accountable to anyone, but under a BoG model, they are co-accountable to each other and ultimately to the Commissioner/CEO.

      3. BDon

        OK Brett no probs…but what are the numbers? Are they publicly available? Didn’t the players take pay cuts for the game to stay afloat financially? So the NRL has re-established reserves already? I recall reading that the current broadcasting deal is sub-optimal. Perhaps the strategy of indicating things are tight is part of the negotiating ploy.

        1. Brett Allen

          You’d have to look up the NRL’s annual reports, they are available on the website. Now here is where it gets murky, again precisely why the players want transparency. League Central does an incredible job of boasting about profits & surplus’ whilst simultaneously crying poor come CBA time. It’s a neat trick really. But in 2021 I believe they claimed a profit of $43.1m in addition to giving the clubs an additional $25m, which was in lieu of the $24.7m loss in 2020 due to Covid. Now I’m not suggesting the league is swimming in cash, but it ain’t broke. All three revenue streams, ie broadcasting, commercial & match day all enjoyed double figure increases last year on pre COVID expected 2020 results. 2022 results haven’t been released yet, but you can bet the league made another bumper profit

          1. BDon

            Tks Brett. Found the financials, you have to find them, they don’t jump out. My head was probably still with the Covid woes, but yes 2021 was a bounce back year, such that you could accept that the player requests are affordable. In that light, the negotiations take on the semblance of a ‘drawing the line’ process. In general, for a game that’s been around for near 120 years, it’s net worth ($140m) is OK, not brilliant, and would be interesting to net it all out with the worth of the clubs. Whilst ‘hand to mouth’ may have been a bit harsh, I still think we would see a picture that says this business eats what it produces, not a great deal in the silo.Still more like a non-profit, but 85% of the $140m net worth had been accrued in the past 10 years, so maybe V’Landys & co are on a mission to build strength. A sport or a business? It seems to get lost in both.

  3. Martin Pluss

    What a comprehensive report, wide ranging, insightful and with attention to detail.

    I will be watching the offloads more closely in the future.

    Most grateful- thankyou.

  4. Spark

    Firstly thank you for all the great work you do – the last time I ventured to Penrith Park was in the late 80s and it was an absolute zoo then, glad I don’t have any plans to go back !
    The result of trials mean absolutely nothing and I’d actually be a fan of getting rid of them entirely.
    They mean nothing and players get injured.
    My only observations are those that remain constant and that is we have a huge depth problem in the halves. If we have an injury to either Moses or Dyl we are in massive trouble. The trials have only confirmed that opinion.
    Jayden Yates is an absolute star and should be upgraded ASAP. The perfect utility and I don’t know what Cini has done to the club to have not got an upgrade.

    1. sixties Post author

      Cini has actually had an upgrade this year as he was on a second tier deal in 2022 and is now on a Development Cntract

  5. Big J

    Just a warning if we play horrible and loose 40-0 don’t take anything from that at all. Until we start playing real games then judge.

  6. Brett Allen

    CommBank wouldn’t be available till the regular season starts due to WSW. The other major venues that the NRL shares with the A League, ie Allianz, AAMI Park, Suncorp, McDonald Jones Stadium, are all unavailable for the preseason

      1. Brett Allen

        I think it’s a new one, apparently A League clubs complained about pitch conditions at the end of the season, and for preseason I don’t blame them.

  7. HamSammich

    Penrith is the only stadium that I refuse to attend. The behaviour of many fans is putrid and even the “good ones” have taken to social media recently targeting one account for whatever reason.

    I remember similar doom and gloom last year when we lost to the dragons in round 1 of the trials. We were premiership winners the week after winning 36-0. As long as you don’t get injuries, trials have 0 bearing on the regular season.

    1. sixties Post author

      Ham, I think we all want to watch Parra win every game they contest, but as you say, the most important aspect is avoiding injuries.

  8. Dave

    Friends, in the vain of your post, I have a gripe that I wish to hear your thoughts on.

    I grew up in Parramatta bleeding blue & gold (and suffering my fair share of heartache for it). I watched from the crowd as we gave away a grand final berth to the Bulldogs in ’98; again when we lost (unfairly imo) to Storm in ’99. I sat heartbroken in the stands in 2001. I slowly drifted away for a while, but still found myself sitting alone in a pub in 2009, and you all know how that went.

    Edit via Sixties
    Dave I left the the start of your post here so that you can see that I’ve read it. For the benefit of others reading this, it was a researched post about the damage to families and communities caused by gambling and in particular poker machines. I make this public edit as a mark of respect to the time you obviously took about something that you are passionate about.

    The reason that I have edited the bulk of your post is because it touches on a topic which is a current political hot bed, and TCT prefers to focus on the footy. If we wrote commentary on a range of political or social issues away from footy, our site would become something it is not. In this edit I have been transparent about the topic and the research that you have done to support your stance. People have the opportunity to vote at the upcoming state election as it is a central policy for one of the parties.

    I understand that you might argue that I opened the door for commentary, given my reminder about the PLC directors elections. Parra Leagues own the licence to the Eels football club, I want people to vote. And as I stated, there are quality candidates.

    Though followers of TCT are already well aware of it, I was also transparent that we have an association with the club via our work with the juniors and our hosting of post match functions in Jacks Bar and Grill. We attend various charity and community events so we have strong ties with Parra Leagues from both a footy and community perspective.

    Therefore, had your post stood without editing, because it also referenced club revenue and expenses, it would have deserved a reply from myself and/or someone from the club. Again, that would have breathed further life into a non footy reply, something that we prefer to avoid.

    Once more I thank you for reading TCT and look forward to reading your footy opinions throughout the year.

    To others reading this, I prefer that we leave it without further commentary.

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