My recent series of posts on the Eels 2023 season and what the roster will look like in 2024 painted quite a gloomy picture.
At this stage, the top 30 for next season looks short on both outside backs and spine players. Realistically, an injury to any of the first choice back five could prove extremely difficult to cover, and expecting Gutho to continue his workload and heroics into his thirties is unfair on him.
Whether the Eels are able to recruit quality NRL players to remove those concerns is a question that will be answered soon enough. The list of players off contract at the end of 2023 has some possibilities but doesn’t reveal any major difference makers.
Those targets that could transform the team are under contract and tied up for the next season or two. To secure them and make any truly significant additions to the roster, the Eels will need to be decisive, innovative and aggressive.
If it can be done, a major signing or two announced for the 2025 season would provide evidence that the club is taking steps to rectify the current roster.
Furthermore, if the Eels could land a recruit that moved the marketplace needle, it would signal that Parra is a genuine destination club for all levels of players and not just those on the fringe looking to resurrect or reboot their careers.
Should that mean that 2024 will be a holding pattern season?
There is a positive on the horizon and I believe the evidence has been there over recent weeks in the NSW Cup.
What commenced as a trickle of Jersey Flegg players getting NSW Cup time has now become an influx of 2023 SG Ball players into that grade.
A couple of months ago, the likes of Brock Parker, Nic Lenaz, Jontay-Junior Betham-Misa, Jock Brazel and Jacob Davis started making appearances in the Nathan Cayless coached team.
This week, early arrivals at CommBank Stadium will be able to witness Richard Penisini, Josh Lynn, Matt Arthur, Charlie Guymer and Sam Tuivaiti take the field in NSW Cup. This won’t be the first appearance at this level for Lynn and Guymer, but it is remarkable to see five players from SG Ball graduate to reserve grade in the same season.
There will be people asking about Blaize Talagi. Don’t read too much into him not being selected. Not only is he required in a Jersey Flegg team that’s fighting to qualify for finals footy, he’s also had a season punctuated by injury. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no rush required there.
I believe that this elevation of teenage talent could signal the direction for the NRL team in 2024.
That doesn’t mean that they will all suddenly be pushed into first grade. However, these young players in will spend time in NSW Cup and should they adjust well and excel in open age football, they would then become selection options in times of injury, suspension or poor form.
For those who’ll be at CommBank Stadium for NSW Cup, here’s a quick background on each of the S G Ball players that you’ll see in action.
This season was his first in SG Ball, meaning he could play again at that level (under 19) in 2024. He is taller than his brother Will, has pace and can offload in contact. Richard also has some experience on the wing. A genuine NRL prospect.
Recruited from Queensland, Josh has progressed impressively throughout this year, forming a title winning halves partnership with Ethan Sanders in SG Ball and earning his initial NSW Cup call up last month. The 19 year old also has some chops as a goal kicker.
At just 18 years of age, “Boods” Arthur is a match winning dummy half. After dominating all opponents through the SG Ball finals series, Arthur was unlucky to miss NSW under 19 Origin selection. Reads the play with maturity beyond his years and thrives when matches fire up.
A recruit into the Eels junior reps system from Temora, Charlie Guymer has transitioned from playing at centre to being in the pack. Selected in the back row, he was one of NSW best players in the 2023 under 19 Origin match. Runs strong, powerful lines and possesses good leadership skills.
Like Matt Arthur and Richard Penisini, Sam Tuivaiti remains eligible for SG Ball in 2024, but it would be most unlikely to see him remain in the junior rep competition. The imposing prop played off the bench for NSW in the Under 19 Origin match this year, and was one of the Eels best in their SG Ball grand final victory.
In highlighting all of these players ahead of their NSW Cup appearance this week, I must emphasise that all are teenagers, with Richard, Sam and Matt not turning 19 until next year.
This elevation of young players to the Eels NSW Cup team is reminiscent of late 2018 when the club pushed Dylan Brown, Haze Dunster, Ethan Parry, Steve Dresler and Joe Taipari into reserve grade.
Dylan became a first grade fixture in 2019, Ethan debuted that year, Haze took a bit longer but eventually won Eels Rookie of the year, whilst Steve unfortunately had to retire due to injury but has since enjoyed incredible success in establishing What Ability.
Interestingly, Joe Taipari moved on from the Eels to the Tigers and on Friday night will be lining up in the halves for the Roosters.
These young Eels players, and others in the pathways, do not alter the necessity for the Eels to bite the bullet with significant recruitment. However, they do provide a piece of the solution for the future.
I encourage Parra supporters to arrive early this week for the curtain raiser. It should be well worth watching.
By the way, Forty and I will be hosting Steve Ella in Jacks Bar and Grill in Parra Leagues from 4:30pm on Friday.
See you there.