Two premiership points, it’s the goal of every round so let’s classify the match against the Cowboys as mission completed.
Outside of achieving that goal, the game itself was almost a microcosm of the Eels 2023 season thus far. A mix of some good play, some missed opportunities, an edge of the seat finish, injuries and questionable refereeing decisions, or perhaps that should read “non-decisions”.
For many seasons now, the Eels ability to win has been dictated by the forward pack. If they won that battle in the middle of the park, more often than not victory was secured.
But maybe that is changing?
I’m not suggesting that the forward battle is no longer crucial, far from it. But last Friday, Parra’s forwards played to a very simple game plan, one which basically kept the team in the contest.
It was the backs who then determined the match. They had a greater say in rucking the ball out, which was then supported by Mitch achieving good field position off his long kicks and Dylan getting the right balance between run, kick and pass.
This match also highlighted something which doesn’t receive enough credit – the improvement in players, or players lifting to levels that supporters or critics never expected.
I classify clubs into two categories:
a) Clubs which improve players
b) Clubs at which players regress
Obviously, players have to be willing to be coached and they must put in the effort.
However, there can be no doubt that these Eels players are in an environment that challenges them to get better, expects them to work on deficiencies and has the coaches and staff with the expertise to foster that improvement.
When Mitch Moses arrived at the Eels, BA had to put Manu Ma’u alongside him as a minder in defence. Now try to remember the last time you worried about Mitch’s defence?
When Wiremu Greig began his time in Reserve Grade at Parra in 2021 he was tired after five minutes, slow at marker and a liability in defence. I would never have thought that he could get into his current physical shape where he can play 50 minutes as a starting prop in first grade, and do so very effectively.
Now consider the form of Bryce Cartwright? Who would ever have thought that he would become consistent with defence and be able to get the balance right in attack?
The list of players who have improved at the Eels, to the point where their market price and cap pressure makes it impossible to keep them, is very long. Case in point, the list of departing players at the end of 2022. The numbers are too great for it to be classified as luck or just hard work by the players.
It must be driven by the creation of an environment lead by highly skilled coaches and support staff who dedicate themselves to helping players achieve their potential.
And as the first grade team enjoys a well earned rest this week, those coaches and staff will be working on the rehabilitation and return of key players, looking at what needs to be refined or improved, and planning and preparing for upcoming rounds.
It’s why players become better, much better, when they make PARRAdise their home.