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Opinion

Crash and burn time: 'I can't imagine the trauma of being one of the Blue and Gold faithful'

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28th July, 2021
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Now is the winter of Sydney’s discontent, in no way made glorious summer by this endless COVID lock down.

In Parramatta, that discontent may well be about to turn to total despondency as the realisation that the Eels once more aren’t actual premiership contenders hits home.

Looking at the draw for the remaining six rounds, there is a very real chance that Brad Arthur’s charges could now crash out of the top four.

I can’t imagine the trauma of being a member of the Blue and Gold faithful, and I don’t want to.

It is now 34 years and ten months since the Eels last triumphed. To put that in a more horrifying terms, it is coming up on 13,000 days since the JJ Giltinan Shield was carried around the SCG by Mick Cronin and Ray Price.

That is the longest premiership drought in the NRL.

Of the major sporting codes, only the Melbourne Demons and St Kilda in the AFL have had a longer wait.

Now, as NRL season 2021 has unfolded, it has become clear that it will be at least one more year before Parramatta might once more taste glory.

It’ll be one more year at least until the misery of the 2012, 2013 and 2018 wooden spoons can be assuaged.

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The disappointment of getting knocked out in the preliminary final in 1999 and the desolation of getting rolled in the 2001 grand final will again not be eased.

There will be no lessening of the pain felt by the Eels over the robbery of the 2009 title by Tony Archer awarding a dreadful penalty to a side subsequently proven to have cynically broken the salary cap.

In reality the best this Eels team can hope for this year is a preliminary final exit.

Mitchell Moses offloads the ball.

Mitchell Moses offloads the ball. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

However, they may well again experience the wretchedness of 2017 and 2020 where their top-four finishes only resulted in straight sets exits from the finals.

And worse still, their run home sees them play the Roosters, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles, Storm and the Panthers. Their only bottom eight opponent is the North Queensland Cowboys.

There is a real possibility they could drop five of their remaining games and finish out of the top four.

After their shock loss to the Raiders last start, the match against the Cowboys cannot be taken for granted either.

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But how could that be? Before the start of the last round they were firmly in the NRL top four, having won 13 games and lost just four.

There is no disgrace in losing to the Panthers by a single point, right?

While they’ve also dropped a game against the Dragons, one to the Sea Eagles and one to the Bunnies, surely their form is good enough to see them as a genuine contender in 2021?

I mean, the Blue and Gold are one of just two sides – the Panthers being the other – to beat the Melbourne Storm this season. And they didn’t fluke the result, they did it with a display of gritty defence – not at all unlike that displayed by the victorious 1986 Parramatta Team when holding out the relentless waves of attack from the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs to win 4-2.

Clint Gutherson in that match showed us that he had transformed from a talented but mercurial fullback into a genuine star of the game, capable of leading his side to glory.

Sure, his leery try celebrations are ill advised and unpleasant, but his defensive calibre can now not be doubted.

In the pack he is assisted but some A-grade cattle in Junior Paulo, Ryan Matterson, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Reed Mahoney. The Eels also have the buy of the 2021 season in Isaiah Papali’i.

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Then on the wing there is the superb Maika Sivo and at five eighth the ever improving Dylan Brown.

Surely that’s quality enough?

Well, yes it is. But only if they can get their mojo back immediately.

They have now lost four of their last eight games. So self-belief is clearly not riding as high as it was at the conclusion of Round 10 when they had experienced just one loss.

As well, halfback Mitch Moses is out with a spine injury. Say what you will about the young man from Ryde, he is clearly the Eels’ best try assister and also is the Eels main kicker in general play.

Whereas at the Storm Cam Munster kicks about 40 per cent of the time to Jarome Hughes’ 55 per cent, at the Eels Moses does over 60 per cent of the kicking, with the young Reed Mahoney and Dylan Brown chipping in for the rest.

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Without Moses – or even with a Moses playing injured – the Eels strategic and attacking game must suffer significantly. And just how bad is that injury?

Clint Gutherson of the Eels warms up

(Photo by Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Then there is the travel factor.

In season 2020 the COVID-19 contingencies had the effect of seeing the Eels play 18 of their 22 matches no more than 70 kilometres from their home ground. Take away their game at Gosford, that distance was no more than 40 kilometres.

The Eels are just three games into their forced Queensland exile and they have already lost two games. That their remaining six games are also away from their Bankwest security blanket must be of some concern to their faithful fans.

If the Eels lose to the Roosters surely all of that 34 years and ten months of horrible history will start to weigh very heavily.

It is possible that this, season that started so brightly – just like the freedom drive of the Night Rider in the legendary film Mad Max – will end up suffering the same fate: crashing and burning horribly.

All the long, long-suffering Parramatta Eels faithful currently locked down in Western Sydney will be praying that it doesn’t.

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