Parramatta, along with St George Illawarra, has been the form team in the NRL competition over the last month and must be regarded as the dark horse for the title.
The Eels may currently sit in 12th position due to a poor for and against record, but in reality they are only two points off 5th position and they should win their next three matches.
Parramatta takes on the Warriors this week and following that they do battle against local rivals Wests Tigers at the SFS and Penrith at Parramatta Stadium. The Eels last match will be against probable minor premiers St George Illawarra and it remains to be seen what side the Dragons might put on the field with the top spot all but sewn up.
Daniel Anderson copped a lot of flack earlier in the season with a lot of decisions he made including allowing Brett Finch to leave the Eels and experimented with Jarryd Hayne at five-eighth.
Anderson knew that the future at the Eels was Kris Keating and Daniel Mortimer, but the injury to Keating threw a spanner in the works. Anderson found a solid and reliable halfback in Jeff Robson and he has done a very admirable job.
Mortimer’s inclusion into the Eels side should have happened last year and in the end Mortimer had to slam the door down to get a spot in the top side. Mortimer hasn’t looked back since being in the Eels side and has been one of their star performers over the second half of the season.
The best thing Mortimer did was earn his stripes away from the Bulldogs as it meant he wasn’t going to get into the side on his surname. In fact the opposite has happened with the Mortimer surname probably being a hindrance at the Eels due to the rivalry that Parramatta and Canterbury enjoyed throughout the 1980’s.
Without doubt the star player at the Eels and in the NRL has been Hayne and his game has gone to a total new level since his selection in the City side earlier this year. Anderson wanted to get Hayne closer to the action and his hands on the football more often and tried him at five-eighth. The experiment didn’t work, but the good thing that Anderson did was quickly get Hayne back out wider into the centres.
Hayne’s best position is fullback with the position being occupied for many years by the reliable Luke Burt. Eventually Anderson bit the bullet and moved Burt out to the wing to accommodate Hayne as the Eels custodian. The move has been the masterstroke to trigger Parramatta’s season on the way forward in a big way. Burt hasn’t been shafted by any means and has been a strong performer on the wing including an impressive haul of 24 points last week against the Knights.
Parramatta’s forwards have improved out of sight throughout the season and Anderson has them playing a much more varied game.
Nathan Hindmarsh has been one player to greatly benefit in the second half of the season where his running and passing game has returned. Hindmarsh was once a brilliant attacking player, but in recent seasons was used as a battering ram and tackling machine.
Fui Fui Moi Moi has been playing his best football and has been giving Anderson valuable minutes and all of them quality.
The Eels might be sitting in 12th position, but their position in the top eight is assured and from there any side with Hayne in prime form is going to be contender for the title.
The Dragons and Bulldogs might be sitting in the top two and Manly will be intent to defend their title with pride, but the Eels could well appear from no where on the back of Hayne could be the best value bet.
Do you believe the Eels are the real deal or are they and Hayne in a one-off purple patch?
In DISCORD #18 this week respected Rugby League writer Steve Mascord talks about the Bulldogs geography advantage heading into the big end of season matches, the issue of Karmichael Hunt playing for the Cook Islands, the differences between the handling of the Greg Inglis and Brett Stewart dramas, if the Dragons win the title this year it will be their first full stop and not the first since 1979 and State of Origin eligibility. Matthew O’Neill is a Director and Columnist with www.rleague.com.