Parramatta have begun the Ricky Stuart era in scintillating fashion, thrashing the New Zealand Warriors 40-10 at Parramatta Stadium tonight.
The match-up between two of the wooden spoon favourites was never going to be as thrilling as some of the other games of the round, but Parramatta dominated in all aspects in an embarrassingly one-sided contest to show that the hard work they put into their pre-season training under Stuart paid off.
And the Eels will be relying on two players to mastermind their revival this season. With no Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt, this task could prove to be difficult.
But the Eels have proven that they can move on without those two club stalwarts, and so they did.
Chris Sandow finally lived up to his price tag, and the Hayne Plane, which had been grounded for most of last year, was up and flying again.
The charismatic fullback scored a hat-trick in his first game as co-captain whilst Sandow scored a try and six goals from seven attempts.
It is this performance from the former Souths halfback which will have him brimming with confidence as the season starts to grow.
Sandow opened the scoring in the 17th minute, much to the delight of the 13,000 pro-Eels crowd who turned up to their first match of the season.
Ten minutes later, Jarryd Hayne scored to put the side 12-0 up, and a further try to Matt Ryan saw the side enter the sheds at half-time 18-0 ahead.
The first moments of the second half were mainly dull, but the Warriors were finally able to get on the board in the 51st minute through Jacob Lillyman.
Five minutes later and suddenly Parramatta’s lead had been pegged back to 18-10, following a try from new recruit Dane Nielsen. But that would be as close as the Warriors would get, as it would be all Parramatta after that.
Four tries (two to Ken Sio and another two to Jarryd Hayne) in the last quarter of the match capped off a brilliant victory for the Eels. The final score was 40-10, though it could have been more had Chris Sandow not missed a sideline conversion on the very last attempt.
It was an impressive start for a team that have struggled in the last three years since making the Grand Final in 2009.
Since Brian Smith departed the club in 2006 after a decade at the helm, the Eels have appointed five coaches (one caretaker), and neither has lasted more than two seasons.
Hopefully, Ricky Stuart can be in for the long term.
And on the basis of this performance, he could finally provide some stability to the coaching and playing department, as Parramatta seek a return to the upper half of the competition.
However, fans should not get carried away by Parramatta’s win tonight.
They face the Bulldogs next Thursday night, and they can expect to be met by a hostile pro-Bulldogs crowd who will be wanting their team to go one better this season.
Also, it’s too early to determine whether they can rediscover their best form this season.
They won’t play like they did tonight for the rest of the season, as teams try to exploit weaknesses in this new look side. Fans should not get excited just yet.
As for the Warriors, it’s set to be another long season with the club going through its’ fourth coach in just two seasons.
The Brian McClennan era was short-lived and he was gone before last season was out. Now with a new coach in Matthew Elliott, things won’t improve in the long term, and they will be lucky just to avoid the wooden spoon this season.
There’s clearly a lot of work to be done if they are to become a powerhouse club again.
They face another new-look side next week, in the form of the Sydney Roosters. It’ll be their first home match of the season, and if they don’t win, fans will already start getting impatient.
I was correct with my prediction of Parramatta winning this evening, giving me 2/3 overall for this round.