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The Parramatta Eels will not win the Premiership in 2018.
Well… at least according to the statistics.
History tells us that in 109 years of rugby league in Australia, no team has won a first-grade grand final after conceding 50 points in a match during the season, and after the Eels’ 54-0 loss to the Manly Sea Eagles yesterday, I’m not sure that Parramatta have the ability to be the first team to do so.
Yesterday, I drove for over an hour to sit in 40-plus degree heat and watch my team lose by over 50 points. It doesn’t get much tougher as a fan than that.
But after two rounds of footy which have seen the Eels lose to the Panthers 24-14 and then to the Sea Eagles 54-0, I have more questions than answers.
I cannot put my finger on what is going wrong for Parramatta at the moment, but there are some deeply concerning signs.
Let’s start with ill discipline. Yesterday the Eels conceded 12 penalties. Most of these came very late in the tackle count, which made it exceptionally easy for Manly to make their way down the field, particularly with a forward pack that was absolutely dominant.
The Eels did not help themselves at all, seeing very little football in the first ten minutes after conceding a penalty from Manly’s first touch of the game. The Sea Eagles played clever footy which saw them get repeat sets, including a 40/20, and also get the footy back after scoring points.
In the heat, the Eels’ high defensive load took its toll. When the score was 18-0, the Eels had already made 69 tackles to Manly’s 14.
We can also talk about just really dumb football which saw the Eels bundled into touch on at least three occasions. Almost every time the Eels got the footy in the first half, they looked determined to make a stupid mistake or play silly football which gave possession straight back to the Sea Eagles, who were absolutely relentless in attack.
It was also one of those afternoons when everything that could go wrong for Parramatta did. Cameron King went off after 60 minutes after suffering a sickening head knock and Mitchell Moses was sent to the sin bin for the second week in a row for backchat.
I asked social media for answers.
Some suggested the Eels looked unfit.
Others suggested that Jarryd Hayne and Moses had infected the Eels dressing shed with some sort of ‘poison’.
Then there were the usual accusations of no heart and no effort.
None of these reasons quite cut it for me.
Something that Peter Sterling said in the off-season has stuck with me: Parramatta should not have spent precious cap space on Jarryd Hayne, but should have instead bought forwards.
The more I watch the Eels, the more I agree.
Please don’t take this view as an attack on Jarryd Hayne.
I am more than comfortable with the decision to bring him back, but another back was not what Parramatta needed. We already have too many, including Kirisome Auv’a, Josh Hoffman, Will Smith, Bevan French and Clint Gutherson.
Even if we did need another back, we needed forwards more. I was reminded of this again when I saw the Eels forward pack getting absolutely dominated.
Incredibly, Jorge Taufua’s try in the 79th minute was the first from any of Manly’s backline, with five members of their pack crossing for four pointers, including a double for Curtis Sironen.
Parramatta simply could not match or keep up with the go-forward of the Sea Eagles.
I also fundamentally underestimated what a big loss Semi Radradra would be. I thought the squad could cover it, but this was naivete on my part.
In 2017, Radradra scored 20 tries and would take on average 13 hit ups per game, making 146 running metres. He was effectively another forward. The Eels are really missing his go-forward and ability to produce something out of nothing this year.
Something needs to change and it needs to change quickly.
As a fan, I choose not to point fingers or play the blame game, but I will not tolerate another performance like that next week. It’s simply not good enough for a team that finished fourth last year and was tipped by many to go all the way this year.
There are still 23 rounds of football and I would be a much fickler fan if I wrote the Eels season off completely after two games.
After yesterday though, I am convinced that the footy gods are the cruellest gods of all.
It’s not been easy going as an Eels fan over the last 20 years.
Who would have thought that just one premiership was too much to ask?
If early signs are any indication, it won’t be the Eels year this year, but just like any good fan I’ll comfort myself in the knowledge that there’s always next year.