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Opinion

Premiership win or not, Eels fans owe Brad Arthur a debt of gratitude

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Expert
3rd August, 2021
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On Thursday night, against an understrength Sydney Roosters team, the Parramatta Eels slumped to their third loss in four games.

By the end of the game, I was furious.

Throughout the year (and in preceding years too), Parra have been criticised for being a decent team, without the skill to really make a dent in the finals.

On Thursday night, after a couple of wobbly weeks, the Eels had the chance to show that they were at least still in contention to make an impact in the finals. Instead they put in one of their worst performances in years, being kept to zero on the scoreboard.

It’s maddening because after a promising start to the season, with each loss a top-four finish looks further away, particularly when you consider the Eels’ final games see them play the Panthers, Storm, Rabbitohs and Sea Eagles.

Jahrome Hughes runs.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

While that’s the toughest run home out of any team, if Parramatta are serious about finals footy, these are the teams they need to beat.

But what made me even angrier than Thursday night’s insipid performance is the criticism I continue to see of Brad Arthur.

There are footy fans who think he is a pretender. That he can’t coach.

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But that shows tremendous disrespect to a man who has transformed the Eels from perennial cellar-dwellers to top four contenders year after year.

At the start of the year, with a heavy heart, I said that if Arthur could not get Parramatta past Week 2 of the finals, then it was time for the club to start looking for a new coach.

I stand by this but, despite the results of the last couple of weeks, remain adamant that no decision needs to be made until the end of the year.

Arthur’s teams have bowed out in Week 2 of the finals in three out of the last four years. But particularly in the last two years, despite technically finishing in the same position, there was marked improvement.

In 2019, the Eels lost to Melbourne 32-0 in Week 2 and never looked like they were in the game.

In 2020, the blue and gold were out in Week 2 again, but the difference was that they were well and truly in the game against the Rabbitohs.

It was a difficult lead-up too, with the three of the team’s regular backline players missing, including finding out on the morning of the game that Michael Jennings would be unavailable due to a positive drug test.

Michael Jennings of the Eels.

Michael Jennings in his Eels days (Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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This year, the goal had to be to improve again and that could only be by progressing past Week 2 of the finals. If Arthur cannot deliver this, it is time to start looking for someone who can.

But Parramatta would do this with a heavy heart because Arthur is a good coach.

He took the reins as a caretaker coach at a club in crisis and he has led the organisation through some heavy storms. He kept the squad together during the 2016 salary-cap crisis, and has seen multiple changes in personnel, including several chairs and CEOs.

But throughout that entire period of disruption there has been clear improvement.

He leads a team that consistently appears in the finals, with the likes of Nathan Brown, Clint Gutherson, Junior Paulo and Mitch Moses playing State of Origin.

The forward pack used to be constantly accused of having a soft underbelly. This is no longer the case.

Recruitment has also improved, with players like Isaiah Papali’i coming to the club and making significant improvements in their game.

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While all these things are good, the fans want a premiership and it remains to be seen whether Arthur can deliver one.

But regardless of whether he can, when he eventually leaves the club, I and many other fans will no doubt owe him a debt of gratitude.

So often people involved in sport or an organisation say their goal is to leave a place better than when they found it.

Arthur can certainly say he has done that at Parramatta.

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