After another season of upheaval around scheduling, the NRL can at least provide some certainty by including Parramatta’s August nosedive in next year’s draw.
With the pandemic seemingly entrenched for the long term – leaving the game in flux for a suitable fixtures model – the Eels’ annual slump could provide further benefits to the rest of the competition other than an easy finals win and grateful perspective.
Fixturing their fade-out would not only allow broadcasters to prioritise better-rating telecasts, such as the test pattern, but also provide long-suffering Eels fans the chance to book flights, accommodation and melancholy in advance.
This is even despite the move seeming largely academic now the annual event has become as customary as the Christmas/New Year holidays, a period on the calendar where people gather together to offer thanks and Kyle Flanagan.
Despite COVID again threatening, Parramatta have still taken control of their own destiny in 2021 by proactively commencing ‘the business end of the season’ with another concerning drop in form.
The club remains in the box seat to end on their usual terms, with a run home so horrific you would swear it was self-inflicted to maintain the stability of their hardwired pain.
Their slump has punctually arrived after cementing themselves in the top eight, firmly amid a bottleneck of teams aspiring for the right to be destroyed by the Storm in the grand final.
Dissolving post-Origin is a consistency emblematic of the Brad Arthur regime, with his reign habitual for adept cap management, inconsequential reliability, and forlorn top-four finishes.
These failed Septembers have become commonplace thanks to a dreadful 36 per cent success rate against top-four sides, an efficacy rate that places them in company with John Morris’s Cronulla and early trials of AstraZeneca.
This has raised questions around Arthur’s position, with some disgruntled fans calling for a fastidious root-and-branch review of the club’s structure, or a blank cheque at Wayne Bennett.
This has been exacerbated by the retirement from commentary by Peter Sterling, a move that reignited hope of a return to take up the role fans have long craved (halfback).
However, many are backing the beleaguered coach as the man to lead the Eels out of the wilderness, claiming a return to utter hopelessness is much less appealing than top-four finishes of utter hopelessness.
They claim he has also been unfairly beset by injury, with Reed Mahoney succumbing to a shoulder issue and Mitch Moses only recently returning from a back fracture sustained from the weight of the Parramatta No.7 jersey.
But most of all, supporters have appreciated the dignified manner of Arthur’s disasters, highlighting their nature as refreshingly largely rugby league-based, and applauding his record of zero taxpayer-funded public enquiries.
Nevertheless, with Parramatta’s end-of-season decay now as routine as death, taxes and vaccine myths, the NRL can utilise its certainty to its advantage, most probably by scheduling it to ensure an impregnable clash with the World Cup.
This could be easily accommodated by the NRL’s current fixed scheduling matrix, a model that was introduced to appease Phil Rothfield by giving him the opportunity to undermine his own idea in later years – which, as routinely as an Eels demise, he has.
Guidance could also be sought from the current fixed schedule enjoyed by the Wests Tigers, a club which has committed to never making finals annually, and sacking its coach triennially.