Eels in another Sticky situation
Here we are in the NRL’s traditional post-Origin, pre-finals mayhem period, when contenders slump, rabbles rise and battlers implode. It is a time when the game moves forward with more twists and turns than anything that clever cinephile Christopher Nolan could concoct.
Whether clubs are sacking Luke Lewis, recruiting Willie Mason or in talks with Brian Smith (about either sacking or hiring him, depending on the year), in July and August each year, madness lurks around every corner of the NRL. However, amidst the unpredictable chaos, one constant always remains.
Much like Bruce Wayne’s predictable boo hooing about the murder of his parents in any new Batman epic, the hilarious woes of the Parramatta Eels are a constant and familiar element to every period of NRL madness.
2012 is no different. As the rumour mill runs hot with rumours of Ricky Stuart signing up as Eels coach for a reported $700,000 plus per year deal, writing an article suggesting that Parramatta are a rabble of a club who seem unlikely to ever see genuine, sustained success is probably unnecessary.
Anyone who has even the vaguest of interest in rugby league can see that a club that sacked its grand final-qualifying coach a year early, to appoint an untried coach they have now also sacked a year early (moves that will, combined, have cost the club close to $1 million in payouts), is being run in peculiar, self-defeating fashion.
Only in the twisted, self-destructive logic of an Eels board member does following up these moves with making a coach of proven incompetence one of the highest-paid clipboard-wielders in the game seem logical. If any other club made a move like this, it would be astounding.
While Ricky Stuart has a lot of friends in the media who seem to love talking him up, we are talking about a guy who was sacked from his previous two club coaching appointments, as well as his Kangaroos post, and has apparently re-emerged as a coaching force only on the strength of two consecutive losing State of Origin series. However this is Parramatta, so this announcement has been expected for months.
It is a move that will no doubt be trumpeted as ‘exciting’ and an indication that they are set to ‘turn things around’, but it is actually a pretty hilarious continuation of the longest-running rabble in rugby league (excusing Penrith because they have somehow won two premierships, Souths because they actually seem to have gotten it together and Cronulla because they are doing well… considering).
Expect the first leaks to the media about boardroom and/or player discontent to filter through the pages of our much-loved Sydney media within days of Stuart assuming command. His friends in the press boxes can only look after him for so long.
While Stuart’s appointment is bad enough, I can’t help but suspect that more pain for Parramatta fans (and more amusement for the rest of us) is still on the cards. Because as entertaining as Parramatta’s bizarre coaching appointments and publicly-fought internal spats consistently are, it is their player retention and recruitment that most consistently sets me off.
Whether it is recruiting Carl Webb, Chris Hicks and Chris Walker after releasing Feleti Mateo, Krisnan Inu and Tony Williams, signing Ben Roberts to solve their five-eighth woes, (before Roberts) re-signing Daniel Mortimer to a massive contract because Jarryd Hayne was playing well or, most famously, giving Chris Sandow 10 per cent of their salary cap, Parramatta’s player recruitment never fails to disappoint.
So while Stephen Kearney seems more relieved than upset with his failed Parramatta career and Daniel Anderson continues to thank his lucky stars he’s out of the place, vowing never to return to coaching, the saga of the Parramatta Eels continues.
Though I suspect he probably is a poor coach, Kearney deserves respect for the way he has handled this situation. Honest and humble throughout the saga, Kearney has handled the media scrutiny and undoubted behind-the-scenes nonsense with tremendous grace. Indeed, his respectable, believable, human face has somewhat soured the humour of the situation.
Amidst all the farcical turmoil that is the Parramatta Eels, Kearney stands out from the rabble as a man deserving of respect and sympathy. As a result I, for one, am glad he’s going. I want the laughter back. I can’t wait for Ricky Stuart to step into the hot seat.
When the losses start coming and the boardroom back-stabbing kicks off again, it’ll be fantastic to watch how noted lunatic Ricky Stuart handles the situation. Just thinking about it now, I’m already beginning to smile.