Kearney or can’t he? Pressure on coach to lift Eels

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    Parramatta's Jarryd Hayne (AAP Image/Action Photographics, Grant Trouville)

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    Labor’s woes since sweeping back to power in 2007 have had an uncanny resemblance to what’s recently been unfolding at one of rugby league’s oldest and most well-known clubs – Parramatta.

    In April 2009, after the best part of three decades at the helm, long serving “emperor” of Parramatta Denis Fitzgerald – and his board – were challenged by a media-savvy rival-ticket on the back of claims that the club needed to be taken in a different direction in order to recreate the glory years of the ’80s.

    The rival group, referred to as ‘3P’, said that the club had grown stale and needed fresh ideas and new faces. They used famous names like Brett Kenny and Ray Price to push their claim to power, while faceless men in suits were pulling the strings behind the scenes.

    After the best part of three decades with Fitzgerald at the helm, members agreed with the promises made throughout the campaign and decided it was indeed time for a change. So a new board headed by chairman Roy Spagnolo was sworn in.

    Sound familiar?

    At first, this new direction was well received; popularity was high, opinion polls were favourable, and the team was the talk of Sydney. They went on a seemingly impossible winning streak to reach their first grand final in eight years, only to fall at the final hurdle to Melbourne.

    Since then, the Eels have finished 12th in 2010 and 14th in 2011.

    So what went wrong?

    In 2010 the team struggled to live up to the standards set the year before and missed the finals. The result? Head coach Daniel Anderson was sent packing after just two years in the top job.

    Sound even more familiar?

    Since then, the similarities between Labor and Parramatta have sadly continued on: internal bickering, media leaks, a long line of resignations, poor public perception and a projected façade that everything is rosy within.

    “We’re getting on with the job we were elected to do” rings a bell.

    The pressure is now squarely on head coach Stephen Kearney.

    For all the hype surrounding his arrival last year, the 39-year-old Kiwi was unable to make an impression, with the Eels only staving off the dreaded wooden spoon by beating Gold Coast in round 26 last season.

    Despite some decent efforts the team could only win six matches en route to their lowest finish since 1995. Perhaps equally concerning than actual results was the manner in which Parramatta played.

    Kearney clearly tried to impart his grinding, structured style of play learnt under Melbourne’s Craig Bellamy, but the result was a dour and unattractive brand of football, which saw average home crowds plummet below 13,000.

    Now, in 2012, expectations are high with the prize signings of Chris Sandow and Willie Tonga to supply more offensive spark to the brilliant yet enigmatic Jarryd Hayne, who has shouldered the burden of being the team’s only threatening attacking option for several years now.

    Kearney’s history suggests he is a decent coach and he certainly has the team he wants this year, so there can be no excuses about inheriting players unsuited to his style.

    There is another election in 2013, and how Kearney’s men perform this season will go a long way to determining the fate of the incumbents.

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