The Cumberland Throw

Parramatta Eels Junior Representatives – 2023 Season Review

When Parramatta’s SG Ball team lifted the premiership trophy at Leichhardt Oval last weekend, it put the icing on the cake for the club’s successful 2023 Junior Representative program.

All three teams qualified for finals football, the first time that this had been achieved since 2017.

It’s encouraging to see strength following strength through the Junior Rep grades as it signals that a development program is effective. The next indicator will be the progression of graduates to Eels NRL and NRLW teams.

Eels Elite Pathways Programs also extends to the Under 14 and Under 15 male teams. However, this report report will only extend to the Under 16s Development Squad and the Lisa Fiaola Cup team as they participated in matches against other clubs and will provide players for the 2024 Harold Matthews and Tarsha Gale Cup sides respectively.


Development Teams


Under 16 Development Squad

Coaches: Mick Roberts and Sam Raymond

Assistant Coaches: Shadi Faraj and Kasimilo Figota


This was a massive group of 53 players, and the program is still continuing. The club will be looking for selected graduates from this squad to move into the 2024 Harold Matthews Cup team.

All up, the Under 16s will have 28 sessions together over 8 months. So far, there’s been a summer training period that encompassed four games, followed by three matches leading into an April training period.

The squad will reconvene for further training in July, and they’ll play matches against the Magpies and the Roosters.

Every player has been given game time and there are terrific prospects. However, given the age of the players and the fact that it is a massive development program, we will not put the focus on any individuals.


Lisa Fiaola Cup

Coach: Justin Newman

Assistant coach: Chris Orsini


This is a limited “competition” for 17 year old girls, with just four rounds played and no finals staged. It’s as close as the female pathways gets to a Harold Matthews Cup competition.

In 2023, Parramatta went undefeated in matches against the Sharks, Manly, Penrith and Canterbury.

I watched three of these matches, and the Eels were a class above all opponents. The only missing component in this age group is a goal kicker.

To give some perspective on the dominance of their performances, the four games yielded a “for and against” of 154 to 20. The side crossed for a whopping 32 tries whilst conceding only 4. That means they averaged 8 tries to one across their matches.

Further Honours

City under 17s: Ryvrr-Lee Alo (middle), Waiaria Ellis (5/8), Mariah Fasavalu-Faamausili (centre), Logan Lemusu (fullback), Tia Matthews (centre), Danielle Seckold (5/8), Odesza Toia (middle), Alaianne Toia (middle), and Fontayne Tufuga (second row)

City Coach: Charlotte Henry

Please note, Charlotte Henry and her husband Milo also look after young Eels players living away from home in the “Parra House”.

Junior Representative Competitions

The Junior Representative Competitions are administered by the NSWRL and are played over nine regular rounds, typically eight matches (but not always) and a bye. It’s followed by three rounds of finals football.

Finals are currently based on a Top 6 format, with the two highest placed clubs automatically advancing to the grand final qualifiers (semi-finals) in week 2. This means that the loser of every match in the finals series is eliminated.

The Harold Matthews Cup is for male pathways players aged 17 or younger, with the next step being the SG Ball Cup for those aged 19 or younger. Selected graduates from SG Ball might advance to Jersey Flegg Cup (under 21) or in rare instances NSW Cup and even NRL, in the same season.

In the female pathways, the elite under 19 competition is the Tarsha Gale Cup. This competition is a relatively recent addition to the elite juniors program. It commenced in 2017 as a nine-a-side, under 18s format, but has been played under full match conditions since 2020.

As an aside, I was not a fan of the nine player format in Tarsha Gale. It provided too much of an advantage to teams playing a fast, touch football style. In my opinion, the standard of female pathways football has leapt exponentially since the Tarsha Gale Cup has become 13 a side.

It should also be noted that following the cancellation of the 2020 season due to Covid, the age limit for all Cups was raised by one year.

You can view the photos of all 2023 players and teams in our jersey presentation gallery.


Harold Matthews Cup

Head coach – Chris Howard 

Assistant coach – Steve Gadhmar

Assistant coach – Charbel Khoury

Captain: Jezaiah Funa- Iuta

Team Photo

Parramatta is the most successful club in the history of the Harold Matthews Cup, winning 20 titles. To put this record in perspective, the nearest rival is Penrith with 7 titles.

The Eels finished third in 2023 with six wins from their eight matches, scoring 186 points and conceding 112.

This team played up tempo football, with a mobile and skilful pack and fast backs.

There was never a question about their capacity to score points. It seemed like they threatened opposition defences whenever they completed sets or secured repeat possessions.

From my observation, the team would play quite a bit of unstructured football with Zaidas Muagututi’a at dummy half, but would adopt a more structured approach with Lachie Coinakis in the role. As Lachie could also play at lock, there were times when both would be on the field.

The shift in structures probably made the attack difficult for opposition teams to adjust to, but for mine the greatest development of the team came in defence.

As the season reached the pointy end, coach Chris Howard had their defensive structure and resolve functioning at its best and it showcased their team bonds as well as their competitive attitude.

Unfortunately, a couple of players might be moving to other clubs, a consequence of offers that might be too good to refuse.

However, there is plenty of talent that coach Howard and his staff have done a fine job in nurturing, which should result in a continuation of strong performances when players progress to SG Ball next year.

It is probably unfair to single out players, but Ocean Vaivela is a 16 year old prop of great potential. He’s young enough to go around again in Matts.

Back-rower and captain Jezaiah Funa-Iuta enjoyed a strong season, and alongside Michael Tito and Tyson Sangalang are other forwards to keep an eye on next year.

Winger Dom Farrugia will be graduating to SG Ball and has the height, athleticism and pace to make an impact.

I could list off more players and their prospects but for now we’ll pass on our congratulations to the entire squad and the coaching staff on a fine season. Please note that the City Selections (below) only include 16 year old players.

Further Honours

City under 16s: Maison Ong (middle forward), Lorima Rokosuka (winger), Lachlan Vella (centre).


Tarsha Gale Cup

Head coach – Ryan Walker

Assistant coach – Charlotte Henry

Assistant coach – Ben James

Captains: Debbie Doueihi & Ashlee Pottinger

Team Photo


The Eels are yet to win a Tarsha Gale Cup, but have qualified for finals football over the past two seasons. A number of the 2023 squad were backing up from the 2022 campaign.

Parramatta finished the regular season in fifth place, winning four of their eight matches and drawing one.

The Cup draw was not particularly kind, with the Eels playing both of the undefeated table topping teams, the Bulldogs and Roosters, and not playing any of the bottom three teams.

I’d nominate their round 3, 10 all draw with the Steelers in Wollongong as their best performance of the season. It was a tough encounter against a quality opponent, and with less than a minute remaining the Eels were six points down and at their own end of the field.

Maintaining their composure, the team advanced the play from their quarter to the opposition red zone then scored in the corner off the last tackle bomb. Alysha Bell added the high pressure conversion from the sideline after the siren had sounded to level the scores.

That same opponent would prove too strong for the Eels in the first week of the finals.

The best quality of this team was their competitive attitude. Aside from their matches against the Dogs and Roosters, they fought till the last second of each half in every match to either post a try or hold out their opponent.

The coaching staff did a tremendous job of building new combinations this year, as well as making adjustments for injury. Losing returning forward Petalina Atoa for the season was a huge blow, and then there was a backline re-shuffle when fullback Debbie Doueihi switched to halfback and Alysha Bell to fullback when Tallara Bamblett missed a number of games.

Co-captains Doueihi and Ashlee Pottinger capped off strong seasons by joining Lindsay Tui and Bamblett in the city team. They will line up against Makaah Darcy who won Country selection.

There is a good representation from the club in these further honours, though goal-kicking winger Alysha Bell, prop Laila Dimech and centre Caitlin Peadon could probably consider themselves unlucky to miss out on the squad.

Further Honours

City: Lindsay Tui (centre), Debbie Doueihi (fullback), Tallara Bamblett (halfback), Ashlee Pottinger (dummy half)

City Assistant Coach: Ryan Walker

Country: Makaah Darcy


SG Ball Cup

Head coach – Steve O’Dea

Assistant coach – Jordan Rankin

Assistant coach – Paul Coinakis

Captain: Charlie Guymer

Team Photo


Going into this year’s grand final, the Eels were already the most successful club in the history of the SG Ball with 13 titles to their name.

Parra finished the regular season in 4th place, winning seven of their nine matches. It was a tight ladder, with the Eels finishing just one win behind the minor premiers, Canberra, whom they defeated in the semi-final.

In winning the club’s 14th premiership, the 2023 team also stamped themselves as one of the most promising groups of players to emerge from the Eels pathways in recent years.

Around 8 or 9 of this team participated in a limited NRL preseason, providing them with some exposure to the effort and commitment required to make a career in rugby league. It took their physical and mental preparation to new places.

In previewing the SG Ball grand final in a dedicated podcast, Forty and I provided an overview of every player who participated in the decider, along with some who didn’t take the field. In fact, a measure of this team could be found in those who weren’t selected. Please have a listen as the podcast format made it possible to give greater credit to individuals.

This was one of the best balanced teams that I’ve seen take the field for a number of years, and whilst I don’t want to put the pressure on the young players, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least half of this side play NRL at some point in the future.

The pack had a mix of big units, workaholics, and skilled forwards. They had the power to win the middle and the mobility to shut down half breaks. When it came to the backs, they did a terrific job at both ends of the field – the ugly metres of rucking the ball up, in addition to the finishing. The bench had genuine impact and versatility.

The spine of Apa Twidle, Josh Lynn, Ethan Sanders and Matt Arthur remained unchanged throughout the campaign, and consequently their combinations flourished.

Sanders and Arthur were well known to Eels supporters, with Sanders playing Flegg last season at just 18 years of age and Arthur being a standout in the Matts team.

Twidle and Lynn were recruited from Queensland, joining others such as Devonte Vaivela, Lance Fualema, Lebron Tuala and William Lewis as additions from the north. (Lance moved to Parra for the 2022 season).

In our special grand final podcast, Eels Elite Pathways Coaching Director Nathan Brown referenced the overall strength of this year’s SG Ball competition, which was a measure of how impressive it was for the Eels team to reach the grand final. It’s now even more meritorious for them to be crowned as premiers.

However, the other notable point from Nathan was the improved set completions in the latter half of the season. Alongside outstanding defence, this was the blueprint for the finals series. Sanders’ general play kicking came to the fore, ably supported by Lynn, with Arthur’s ability to nail 40/20s proving crucial.

Congratulations to coach Steve O’Dea who had the side peaking at finals time. Steve was full of praise for the attitude of the players, and that was evidenced by their defence.

I thought that a significant achievement was how O’Dea and his staff were able to build the tight bonds within the group, especially given there was no shortage of new arrivals.

After racking up over 50 tackles in the grand final, dummy half Matt Arthur had this to say about those bonds when speaking to the Daily Telegraph:

“We dug deep…we turned up for each other, despite the swings in possession. We’re all best mates and we love each other. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

This was a title earned by everyone.

Expect to see more of particular players in 2023 when they are elevated to the Jersey Flegg Squad.

The City selections listed below were easy picks, though I’m not sure how Arthur missed out. It’s scary to think that those players are eligible for Ball again in 2024!

Further Honours

City Under 18s: Richard Penisini (centre), Blaize Talagi (centre), Sam Tuivaiti (middle).

Trainer: Clinton Harb


The Challenge

Without question, retaining talented players from successful teams is an enormous challenge. Player agents are present at every match, and it’s rare to find any elite pathways footballer without representation.

Clubs are recruiting at younger ages, and even holding on to players from the Lisa Fiaola Cup will be more of a task than many supporters might expect. It’s a consequence of being a dedicated development club.

It’s a



An old cliche applies – you can’t keep them all.

By the same taken, the club needs to be focussed on keeping the best talent in their system for as long as possible. Proactive work by recruitment and retention staff will be critical. To quote Nathan Brown, “it’s better to be looking at them than looking for them.” 

There will be instances where it might be impossible to keep players. If ridiculous money or opportunity is waved in front of players or their families, it can be understandable why they might leave. For the incumbent club, matching the money from elsewhere can mean big coin going to  players who though they have great potential, are still essentially unproven. There’s also the message sent to that player’s peers and their parents when the club can’t replicate similar contracts to others.

That said, not all agents of young players will take the path of moving them to the highest bidder or the fastest track to first grade. There are those that place an emphasis on the long term interests of the player.

It can be advantageous for players to develop at a club with good systems and role models, and players have chosen this route in the recent past – see Harry Grant and Cooper Cronk at the Storm. Even our own J’Maine Hopgood bided his time in the lower grades at Penrith before moving to the Eels.

As the Eels continue to be finals contenders, factoring in the opportunity to train alongside elite players must be part of the strategy. Development contracts should be allocated to the brightest prospects. Train and trial opportunities should be offered to emerging pathways talent.


Final Note

The players and staff from all squads deserve plenty of praise for the 2023 season. Whether the player was a regular team selection or not, they were all a part of every training session, working hard to push for selection and supporting their mates. Everyone involved made a significant contribution to their team.

It’s been entertaining to watch the footy this year, and I can assure all readers that each of the teams wore the Blue and Gold jersey with pride. They competed hard in every match and celebrated victories with the same victory song as the NRL side.

The Cumberland Throw would like to thank everyone at the Eels, players and staff alike, for the access afforded and for their support of our coverage.

We extend our best wishes for the remainder of 2023 and for what lies ahead.


Eels forever!







If you liked this article, you might consider supporting The Cumberland Throw.

20 thoughts on “Parramatta Eels Junior Representatives – 2023 Season Review

  1. Johnno

    Great effort by all teams and coaching staff. Looks like we are headed towards some good juniors in the future, thanks for the reports mate

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Johnno. It has been a very good season, one of the most enjoyable to report on in recent years.

  2. Jack_sonny

    Great stuff lads. Do you think any of the boys from sgball and jersey flegg could push for a spot in 1st grade this season?

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Jack. I don’t think they will be accelerated to that level, but it wouldn’t surprise to see two or three jump up to NSW Cup later in the season. Should Brock Parker return successfully from injury in Flegg, he’ll get a call up. Brazel wouldn’t be far off but they’d be careful with him given his injury in 2022.
      As for SG Ball, Sanders might be the first to get to NSW Cup. Lance Fualema has the size to compete so it depends on how Flegg goes for him. I expect Arthur, Penisini, Talagi and Tuivaiti to make an impact in Flegg. I reckon there will be others who’ll get a run in Flegg at some stage this year too – the likes of Lynn, Twidle, Pryke and Guymer. It will be a big call by Flegg coach Craig Brennan about how he manages who he brings in and when.

  3. HamSammich

    Really good year for the juniors but as we know junior development isn’t about winning junior titles, it’s about turning these premiership winners into first graders. There’s still a long way to go for these young players and whilst we will lose some let’s hope those that continue with us have long, fruitful careers.

    1. sixties Post author

      Absolutely correct Ham. Titles are nice to achieve on the journey but that goal of pathways producing Eels NRL talent must reman the ultimate goal.

  4. Brett Allen

    So, it seems like that Jersey Flegg is now devalued as a competition with SG Ball pushed out to U’19’s. Or am I missing something ?

    1. sixties Post author

      No, the push out due to COVID also saw Flegg pushed out. It’s arguable that the better players might push past Flegg and go to NSW Cup, but I believe that the stepping stone of Flegg remains important and without it some of these Ball players would have to return to local club football or Sydney Shield until needed for NSW Cup, which would essentially remove the connection to the Eels.

  5. pete

    Great read Sixties!
    Thanks for the wrap up.
    Congratulations to coaches, players and support people involved.

  6. Milo

    Thanks Sixties and team and what a great review of the teams. It was such a good season and good to read abt the 16’s and how they went as this is the beginning for many players.
    Well done.

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Milo. We caught a few of the 16s Summer matches, then the second half of a match at Kellyville and a match at Brookvale. It was hard to judge the combinations because there were so many involved. However, I did see a number of great prospects that I expect to see in Matts next season.

    1. sixties Post author

      Cheers Tanky. Tried to get a balance on an overview without putting too much focus (or expectations?) on individual players.

    1. sixties Post author

      He was there during the finals. I spoke to him before the semi. Don’t know beyond that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: