The Cumberland Throw

Parramatta 2023 – A Diagnosis (Autopsy) Of The Season, Part Two: The Perfect Storm

In 2023, the Eels needed injuries and suspensions to be kept to a minimum. There’s nothing unique about that, but any club lacking depth in particular positions will be crossing their fingers and their toes.

Unfortunately, fate has been a vicious bastard. What has eventuated has been the perfect storm for the incomplete roster detailed in Part One of this series.

Parramatta’s grand total of matches missed by top 30 players comes in at a conservative 116 games. I’ve arrived at this number by cross-referencing team lists across three grades. The absence of regular official injury reports means that the figure might not be completely accurate, but it’s very close to the mark.

Let’s start with suspensions as, apart from the subjective nature of the punishments, this aspect is mostly within the players’ control.

As detailed in a previous post, the Eels hold the “distinction” of leading the NRL for most weeks lost to suspensions. To date, six Eels players have missed a total of 22 weeks of first grade football. The nearest teams are now the Dolphins with 16 weeks and the Cowboys with 15 weeks.

Matterson missed three early rounds

This has been an incredibly disappointing outcome for a side that prides itself on good discipline. Even removing Dylan Brown’s seven weeks for an off field offence and Ryan Matterson’s three match carry over from 2022 leaves the total at 12 rounds of suspension, which is still one of the worst records in the NRL. It’s an avoidable outcome and an unnecessary burden on the roster.

At the start of the year, there was an outcry over Matto’s decision to take the suspension, and rightly so. However, that absence pales in comparison to what has followed and as an aside, his consistency of performance has been a bright light for the season.

Origin selection accounted by key absences at a time when the Eels could least afford it. Four Eels players missed a total of six matches. I’ve written at length about how the Eels were the only club to have to stand down players for all three rounds, and it contributed to an absolute flogging at the hands of the Warriors prior to Origin 3.

Moses missed two games due to Origin selection

As it is for all clubs, injury accounts for the vast majority of absences, and for the Eels this totals at least a further 88 weeks of player unavailability.

Please note, these numbers apply to a roster that has fluctuated between 26 and 28 players for much of the season. I have again been conservative by not including the drop in player availability when a departure has not been immediately negated by recruitment. For example, Mitch Rein is not included at all in these numbers despite playing his last game in round 7.

The devil once more can be found in the detail. Let’s break down how each part of the roster has been impacted.

Spine players account for 25 weeks of unavailability, whilst forwards provide the largest total at 51 weeks. Without question, the extended absences of Dylan Brown, Shaun Lane and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have been significant.

Not good from Reg

It might be bad luck but injuries are a consequence of a tough physical contact sport. So too some suspensions, though we can all see those absences which were avoidable.

But it’s in the pool of outside backs where player absences have bitten hard. As a reminder,  the Eels top 30 roster of specialist outside backs is limited to these seven players: Waqa Blake, Haze Dunster, Samuel Loizou, Will Penisini, Sean Russell, Bailey Simonsson, and Maika Sivo

Whether it be due to injury or suspension, here’s the breakdown of their current individual absences for this season:

Blake – 10 matches

Dunster – 7 matches

Loizou – 10 matches

Penisini – 0 matches

Russell – 5 matches

Simonsson – 4 matches

Sivo – 4 matches

That’s a total of 40 matches, or an average of almost six matches per player. Let me reinforce this fact, the goal should be to select four players of NRL value in the first grade team every week.

There was no wiggle room in that list. None!

Not only has it made naming a team challenging due to injury or suspension, there were zero options for dealing with poor form.


If you have a grand total of seven outside backs to select from, with players on the injury list most weeks, what alternatives are available if you want to drop a player due to form especially if it’s before round 10?

In fact, even after round 10, dropping a top 30 player due to form and replacing him with a second tier or development contract player would not reflect well on the roster.

As an example, throughout this season, many supporters called for Maika Sivo to be asked to work on his yardage efforts back in NSW Cup. Who could have been elevated instead of him?

The flow on effect to the NSW Cup has been evident. Forwards such as Jirah Momoisea and Dan Keir have been frequently been selected in the backline positions and even in the halves. Ron Massey Cup players have featured on the wing.

The Eels sit in third last place on the table and their performances are commensurate with that position. Even the elevation of Jersey Flegg players has not prevented forwards or Ron Massey Cup players from filling backline spots.

Without question, the Eels have been hammered by injury and suspension. It’s been a horror year in that regard and these are factors mostly outside of their control.

However, the Eels rolled the dice with an abbreviated and imbalanced roster.

Lady Luck was never going to give them a leg up.

Eels forever!


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48 thoughts on “Parramatta 2023 – A Diagnosis (Autopsy) Of The Season, Part Two: The Perfect Storm

  1. Brett Allen

    And now we hear about this Harley Smith-Shields news. So who vetoed his recruitment, Sarantinos or O’Neill, and more importantly, why ?

    1. sixties Post author

      I actually don’t disagree with the why in this instance Brett. But Brett, an important point is that it provides further details for you on the processes and how late in the season they tried to get it across the line. It was literally the eleventh hour. The club has been short on outside backs for the season.

      1. Namrebo

        Sorry Sixties, I haven’t seen the “why” anywhere, just that it happened. Are you able to shed a bit more light on the why?

          1. Namrebo

            Ok. Ta.

            Been reading this site for a while now and today I’ve commented twice (for my first ever thoughts/questions).

            It’s a great, and thought provoking site, thanks.

            As an Eels supporter since 1976 I look forward to being able to hopefully contribute if I make any more comments.


      2. Brett Allen

        I get that 60’s, and I’ve never questioned the efforts that have been made, but that in itself is a concern. There is clearly a disconnect between BA & the club on the construction of our roster, in particular the depth positions beyond the top 20. If the story is true, BA would rather sign a guy who’s career has been underwhelming at best for four games and then presumably the next two of three years, rather than take this opportunity to promote someone like Richard Penisini or Blaze Talagi. We’ve been hearing all sorts of good things about these young guys, now is as good an opportunity to throw them in. Surely this was the perfect time to try them.

          1. sixties Post author

            Brett, Dylan Brown was one out of the box.. Played NYC early. Was elevated to NSW Cup early. Trained with the NRL, smashed the full preseason. Will Penisini had also completed a full NRL preseason and was smashing NSW Cup when elevated. Every player’s development is different. There are definite NRL players coming through. I expect some of the forwards might be early to debut (maybe later next season). Ethan Sanders would have been the first back to get to NRL. That might now fall to someone like Blaize.

          2. Brett Allen

            I understand that 60’s, but we are talking about four end of season games where even the most ardent fans, myself included, have pretty much given up on the season. To me it’s the perfect opportunity to give them a taste. Let’s remember when Will Penisini made his debut.

          3. Brett Allen

            Yes, but it was elimination game as well. And whilst you can say the same about this weekend, how would it be any different to bringing in a guy who literally had to drive from another city to pull in the jersey. I don’t see the benefits of bringing in a guy on loan this late in the season when we are clearly a peripheral top 8 contender at best. The real issue is of course, “How the hell did it get to this point this season ?” How did the collective footy minds at the club not see this as entirely possible, if not borderline likely. We know of course no one at the club is going to put their hand up and say, “My bad, this is on me”.

          4. John Eel

            Brett that I believe is correct.

            However if the Mole is correct, rarely is, this is all fish and chips wrapping.

            According to the Mole Arthur Miller Stevens will be the starting winger, not Lumelume.

          5. HamSammich

            Yep. Cody Walker debuted in his mid-20’s. Semi Radradra debuted at 21. Everyone progresses differently, you can’t set a standard age of when a player will and should debut.

          6. Brett Allen

            I agree, and I’m not saying every player should debut at the same age. I’m not even saying that these two young guys should be in the position where they should be picked, but that horse has well and truly bolted. We are in that position and I’m saying that blooding them now is preferable to a four game rental, especially given that we simply aren’t a premiership contender now. If we were, then a rental like HSS might make sense, but we’re not. The reality is that this weekend is really the start of 2024 preseason.

        1. sixties Post author

          Smith-Shields was not for next year. Not taking any spots from a young player. Furthermore, some of the young players are being blooded in NSW Cup now. You know that I watch pathways and lower grades. None of the Jersey Flegg/SG Ball players could be elevated to NRL yet. They need full off seasons and some time against open age players. In the meantime, the club needs to add quality, NRL ready backs.

          1. Ron

            I think it was smart to veto any trade for smith shields. Apparently Canberra have come out and clarified it was always a loan. We don’t need that.

          2. avenger

            If that’s the case then it is understandable why the committee blocked the move. It also appears that Sanders hasn’t even signed with the Raiders yet.

      3. Muz

        I’ll go one step further, Lumelume was brought into the squad and was outside the 30 in December and played round 1..let that sink in for a moment.

  2. Longfin Eel

    There has been a distinct lack of professionalism within the club this season. From player suspensions, poor recruitment and a general lack of quality depth players in the roster, it’s not surprising we find ourselves in the bottom half of the ladder.

    This season is gone, and I can’t see how we can beat at least one of Brisbane and Penrith just to scrape into 7th or 8th spot. Next season we need to get these things right and become the professionally run club we set out to do a couple of years ago. What has been dished up this season is just not good enough.

  3. Anonymous

    Unfortunately this is a-reactive club not a pro active one ,we’ve seen-it time and time again , now some of the truth regarding the total bungling of the roster by R & R is being exposed , this is not a football team supported by a football club its corporate enterprise that just happens to have a football team !

    1. Ron

      Agreed. As I’ve said many times, there seems to be little agility and foresight with the current recruitment and retention team/management . And That issue of being reactive not proactive also extends to our nrl tactics etc. as we haven’t adopted the backs taking early hit ups tactic made famous by Penrith and that other teams have adopted to leap up the ladder (warriors, broncos, knights). We persist with a forward dominated game plan whilst conceding the ruck due to our unwillingness to wrestle. It’s frustrating and down right illogical at times but in spite of all these issues we are still fighting. I think BA is a great coach for us but needs recruitment people and sharp assistants to push the team and tactics along. Trent Barrett is a good get in that regard but we need more.

  4. Anonymous

    Unfortunately this is a-reactive club not a pro active one ,we’ve seen-it time and time again , now some of the truth regarding the total bungling of the roster by R & R is being exposed , this is not a football team supported by a football club its corporate enterprise that just happens to have a football team !

  5. avenger

    When I see struggling clubs like the Bulldogs being able to recruit solid first graders (Taaffe and Salmon) and not fringe journeyman like what we have tried and failed to do for season 2023 I lose all confidence in our recruitment process.

    1. sixties Post author

      The articles have been mostly correct in terms of the details & you have probably seen my take in the first reply to Brett Allen. What the articles have outlined is the processes at play and the fact that we have left a shot at a player to the eleventh hour.

  6. 55 years an eel

    All of this was obvious halfway through last year.
    Something is seriously wrong with recruitment.
    Now it’s time for professionalism.
    A big win against the Dragons to try and keep the F&A up and wins against the Roosters and either Penrith or Brisbane and we scrape in as high as sixth. The Roosters are shot but we always struggle against them.
    The Broncos have lots of points on offer through Staggs and Cobbo if Simonnsen passes the ball for a change. Conversely those two will make mince of a weak defensive structure.
    Beating the Panthers is always on the cards.
    I’m staying optimistic.

    1. sixties Post author

      I’ll be optimistic too 55. After all, the glass half full stance is my preferred take. But it’s going to be tougher than it should be.

  7. B.A Sports

    I’m wary of getting ahead of myself in terms of comment as you may be addressing other elements on where the year has gone wrong shortly.
    The suspension issue is a fact. But the depth issue is effecting almost everyone. Look at the players the Sharks, Cows and Roosters lost.. even Souths. 17 teams was always going to hurt depth.
    To that point, when you talk about the 7 backs to chose from and highlight the games missed, the 3 who missed the most games (Blake, Dunster and Loizou) are not effecting any results. If Blake is unavailable and you have to play Lumelume (who didn’t make your 7 options curiously) it isn’t changing the chance of winning.
    Yes we’ve had injuries, everyone has. Some, while you don’t wish for injury, work in our favour. Hodgson being unavailable has helped us. Grieg getting more minutes will be a huge help.
    At the end of the day Hodgson’s start to the year and Browns suspension are the two things we have been unable to overcome and that have directly cost us competition points thst in an even comp full of average teams, could have propelled the Eels to around 5th spot as we speak.

    1. sixties Post author

      Firstly, I didn’t include Lumelume as he’s not top 30. I addressed this as a numbers issue because it meant dealing with nothing but facts. The subjectivity isn’t entirely absent but the numbers do speak for themselves. Any absence from the four regular backline selections (Russell, Sivo, Penisini, Simonsson) had a major impact because the others had their own significant injury concerns and because of that their form wasn’t up to NRL level this year. As I said, no wiggle room for poor form (Sivo) or injury. I won’t deny the absences in other positions that had a major impact Brown, RCG, Lane but there were options in the top 30 to cover them (admittedly letting Jake Arthur leave diminished the depth in the halves and that’s another issue that also brings in Sanders and a can of worms that not for this post). The backline options meant that every absence in those positions was challenging to cover.

  8. BDon

    Tks sixties. It seems these days we get a Netflix doco 5 or 10 years after the event that explains everything, when at the time we knew Jack s..t because of privacy, confidentiality,poor media reporting, shock jock rubbish etc etc. Netflix is probably looking at our 2023 season as we speak. I’ll see you at the gala premiere,
    Tapau, Staines,Waqa,NBrown,Opacic,Harley Davidson etc, and then there’s the ones we don’t even know about, who knows, did someone spot Jason Saab in a Parramatta cafe? , the truth can be told, eventually. I hope they contrast our R&R processes with the Bulldogs, the method where you don’t actually run a spreadsheet, sign everyone then just flick people when the salary cap auditor drops by for a chat.

  9. Peter peter pumpkin eater

    Every team has suspensions and injuries. Look at the Panthers with Cleary and a host of players backing up from SOO, They’ve done it for 3 seasons.
    We’ve also had one of the easiest draws in previous years, minimal origin disruption compared to other teams
    This is just a hoax to dismiss the club for likely missing the 8.

    1. John Eel

      How many players did they have backing up from SOO? Did they get a bye when said players were stood down for SOO?

      Did you say we have had one of the easiest draws in recent seasons. I think that our recent draws have been horrendous, this one included.

      You point out that we have had minimal interruption due to the fact that we’ve had minimal players in SOO. I think your point talks to the great job that BA has done getting our team to the GF last season despite all of our problems.

      Peter are you related to Peta Peters? I saw him at the shops the other day and he looks like he has eaten a lot of pumpkins 🎃.

        1. Poppa

          I started reading this and was not sure where to come in.

          It’s hard to blame Recruitment and Retention if they have not got any flexibility in pricing. In some blog’s and elsewhere this receives a lot of discussion but really, we don’t know. I know someone reportably said we had a discipline of not paying more than X for say a winger, centre or second rower….I don’t know if that is a mentality issue that comes from a starting point and is lost in a world of practicality. It may explain some player losses we have had?

          I think O’Neill has a very tight leash on him and his job security is probably not high. The way he gets critiqued would be an example of being undermined and him going with the flow.

          Simple fix is to get our review team in for an update and objective understanding of the problems so that the board can form an independent opinion.

          Good management is a living corporate plan that should always be active, I think we have become complacent in this sense as I would bet, we have not updated action plans and responsibilities, based on everything being ok and the impression of don’t rock the boat!

          We now know that is not the case. It’s not the end of the world and the results of a review may provide direction on the constant issues of blaming someone.
          It can also open discussion for things like a TPA programme which seemingly scares the shit out of the front office.

          Modern management and young boards are so orientated to outside opinions and compliance they become impotent in their decision making, this trait is endemic across all sectors of the economy in board management and is singular reason why so many organisation’s become paralysed, banking being a prime example. Government is another one i.e who can we blame because we don’t want to make a hard decision?
          The types we have on the board would not be driven by our competition’s, style of management which is largely benevolent dictatorship from one or a few key people. Can you imagine Politis and Ponsini hesitating in making a decision. I think this is where we are being left behind, what I am talking about here is reactive, whereas we need to become proactive. At this very moment we do not seem to be active in any capacity!

          Finally, I think it is wonderful that as a club we seem to be watertight in keeping our mouths shut but I do believe we need a public spokesperson as it seems that by saying nothing you leave a lot of unnecessary conjecture on the table…….Gurr was an example of regularly being in the media (effectively) where the current CEO is pretty faceless.
          That is not a criticism as much as an observation, we may have someone else out there on the board who may have skills in such an area. You don’t have to be the boss to be a spokesperson.

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