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Season preview: Can Parramatta escape the spoon?

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Roar Guru
24th January, 2019
31
1981 Reads

Parramatta were as dour and uninspiring as they come in 2018.

From top-four finalist in 2017 to wooden spoon just a season later, it is hard to see when Eels fans will finally get some sustained success.

They were the worst attacking team for the season, and failed to notch a win until Round 6, by which time their fate was effectively sealed. They would win just six times throughout the season, with highlights hard to come by.

Story of the off-season
Jarryd Hayne returned to Parrmatta last year with much fanfare but failed to spark the Eels early in the season. His strong end to the season however meant that their was plenty of push to re-sign him for 2019 and beyond.

Before that could eventuate, the fullback became the subject of sexual assault allegations. It leaves the Eels with one less option at fullback for 2019, and without the impact that Hayne could provide when in top form.

Recruits
Dylan Brown (2020), Andrew Davey (2019), Blake Ferguson (Sydney Roosters, 2021), Shaun Lane (Manly Sea Eagles, 2020), Junior Paulo (Canberra Raiders, 2022), Maika Sivo (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Stefano Utoikamanu (2019)

The Eels desperately needed some punch in the forwards last season and have added that with Junior Paulo returning from Canberra and Shaun Lane coming across from the Sea Eagles.

They also sorely missed the impact of Semi Radradra in 2018, and have tried to rectify that with premiership winner Blake Ferguson joining from the Roosters

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Losses
Kirisome Auva’a (retired), Kenny Edwards (Catalan Dragons), Cameron King (Featherstone Rovers), Suaia Matagi (Huddersfield Giants), Corey Norman (St George Illawarra Dragons), Beau Scott (retired), Tony Williams (released)

After an underwhelming season partnering Mitch Moses in the halves, Corey Norman moves to the Dragons, leaving the door open for rookie half Dylan Brown. Veteran forward Beau Scott retired last season, while the other departures are hardly noteworthy.

How does their roster rate?
In a word: underwhelming. The Eels are lacking in a number of key areas, in experience and success.

They will go into the season with an inexperienced halves pairing that has played virtually no representative or finals football.

Mitch Moses was impressive in his first season with the Eels, but never really took control last season as his combination with Corey Norman never really got off the ground. They will probably have to put some faith in rookie recruit Dylan Brown in the halves, but at 18 he will be tested out at the elite level.

Brad Arthur Eels

Brad Arthur tries to squint the pain away. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)

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The loss of Hayne means the fullback jersey will be the property of either Clint Gutherson, Bevan French or Will Smith. Gutherson was shifted around the park last season, but always looked to be trying his guts out, and is likely to get first crack. French burst onto the scene in 2016, scoring 19 tries in 13 appearances.

A mixture of injury and poor form has hampered him since, a full pre-season may see him return to his best. Smith is unlikely is get the nod but has done a job for the Eels in the past.

With Cameron King departing the club the hooking role will go to Reed Mahoney who enjoyed a strong end to last year, playing nine games for the Eels. Whatever combination the Eels look to in the spine, the lack of experience is glaring.

These four positions are responsible for the creativeness of a football team, as well as game management. The Eels desperately need both and it is hard to see them getting it from such a young bunch.

The outside backs for the Eels are a highlight. They have George Jennings coming off a strong season, Blake Ferguson has played at the highest level. Bevan French has been a real attacking threat at his best. Brad Takarangi and Michael Jennings probably have their best football behind them but at least offer some experience and leadership.

Parramatta have made steps to improve their pack after they were frequently dominated last season. Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown are some aggression up front. Shaun Lane comes off a season where he scored nine tries for the Sea Eagles as their top try-scorer.

You get the feeling they still lack some size up front. Tim Mannah and Daniel Alvaro are consistent but lack any real spark or impact. Peni Terepo, Tepai Moeroa and Manu Ma’u are all similar in their stature and style of play. It is a pack that isn’t really dynamic or threatening to oppositions in attack and may again struggle for metres.

Key Man
Mitch Moses. Moses came to the Eels after a fairly acrimonious mid-year split with the Tigers in 2017. He was an instant success, helping the Eels to a top four finish and also taking over as goal-kicker.

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With the departure of Corey Norman, Moses becomes the chief playmaker, with the responsibility squarely on his shoulders if the Eels are to do anything in 2018.

At 24 years of age and having already played over 100 NRL games, now is his time to shine. With an inexperienced side around him, this needs to be his team.

Mitchell Moses of the Eels

The Eels are struggling. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Where do they need to improve?
On seven occasions the Eels were limited to a single try or less in a match. They scored the least point of any team in the competition and with five of their losses coming down to a converted try or less, their inability to score points left them unable to compete in matches.

They won just the six matches in 2018, and only managed to trouble a top 8 opponent on one occasion. They could slip away alarmingly in defence too, being routed by 20 points or more on four occasions. The Eels also failed to win away from home in 2018. Finding some spark in attack is a must for the Eels if they are to do anything in 2019.

Highlight of the season
After two seasons at ANZ Stadium, the Eels will return to Parramatta on Easter Monday to open Bankwest Stadium. It is a stadium that Western Sydney deserves, and will definitely be a sellout as the Tigers try to spoil the Eels party. Eels fans have had a tough decade and the Stadium hopefully will represent a new era for the club that has been trying for so long to find some long-term success.

Verdict
The Eels are in for another tough season, and it may very well cost Brad Arthur his job. While Arthur has done remarkably well to navigate some really tough seasons for the club, he has also failed to notch a finals win or bring a team together that looks capable of winning a premiership.

It is now obvious that 2017 was a flash in the pan, and that this roster has some really glaring deficiencies, considering Brad Arthur’s long tenure at the club, and admission last year that he was happy with the roster at his disposal.

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The Eels go into 2019 with a spine that is likely to have less experience combined than Cameron Smith does himself.

Moses is the most experienced member of that spine and has spent much of his career promising so much but delivering so little.

Their outside backs are enigmatic, with many of them on their day genuine attacking threats, but with such recent inconsistency, it is hard to depend on any of them to provide the spark in attack they so desperately need.

Their headline recruit, Blake Ferguson is an indication of where the club is at. A winger is not going to save a club, or provide an attacking game to lift a team off the bottom of the ladder. They need an experience game manager to complement the rest of the young spine and have failed to chase that kind of player in recent times.

The Eels will improve on last season. A horror injury toll saw them use a league high 31 players and they are unlikely to face that sort of hardship once again.

The big occasion of a new stadium in their heartland will prove a highlight, and with teams maybe taking them lightly, they will improve on their tally of six wins. But Parramatta needs a serious rebuild, the likes of which the Panthers and Knights have had in recent time, and another wooden spoon may be the catalyst.

Predicted Finish: 16th

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