The Parramatta Eels are a curious bunch. For whatever reason, their combination of characters makes it difficult for rival fans to find the hardest of soft spots for the ‘Blue and Gold Army’.
Many Eels supporters have been expecting and preparing for their slide toward failure long before it actually started happening again in 2021.
When Parra began dropping games, nobody was really surprised.
They are a great front-runner, in April and May, awesome for television ratings and merchandise sales, but for whatever reason they just can’t get it together when the whips are cracking.
Mitch Moses polarises opinions – his on-field demeanour towards teammates has been highlighted before, while his ineffectiveness to challenge opposition defensive lines in winning or losing sides frustrates good and bad experts alike.
When captain Clint Gutherson started abusing his colleagues a few weeks ago, all of it picked up by on-field audio, the wheels were well and truly off.
Last weekend, the Eels fronted up to the almighty Melbourne Storm – a runaway train shooting for the game’s record for most consecutive victories.
Parramatta were fantastic. Completely outplayed Craig Bellamy’s team.
Yeah, they had beaten North Queensland the week before, but the Storm wasn’t another beast – it was a 10,000-strong army of cyborgs.
Yet here the Eels were. Outplaying Melbourne.
22-10 it finished.
Parramatta were back.
In the lead-up to Tuesday’s team announcements, many predicted the likes of Melbourne, South Sydney and Penrith to rest some players. Some argued Manly should keep Tom Trbojevic in cotton wool ahead of the finals too.
The game’s heavyweight clubs made some strategic decisions for Round 25.
The Storm understand Ryan Papenhuyzen needs more football, while Cameron Munster does not. Hence, Papenhuyzen is playing and the great five-eighth isn’t.
Ivan Cleary believes the Panthers’ top 17 needs more footy together, so they are all playing.
Trbojevic is pulling on his boots despite locking up the Dally M Medal and the Sea Eagles safely into the playoffs.
The Rabbitohs are resting Adam Reynolds, Jai Arrow, Cameron Murray, Alex Johnston, Cody Walker, Damien Cook, Dane Gagai, Liam Knight, and Tom Burgess.
Then there’s Parramatta.
Intriguingly, after one legitimately good performance, they are resting most of their team. It may be a masterstroke from Brad Arthur but it could also explain a few things about the Eels and none can be construed as positive.
Junior Paulo, Nathan Brown, Dylan Brown, Isaiah Papali’i, Marata Niukore, Waqa Blake, Gutherson and Moses haven’t been named in the top 17 against a full-strength Panthers.
One argument is that they are so low on confidence that they couldn’t possibly risk losing a star to injury before the semis and would prefer to just ‘be there’ and hope everything clicks again for the finals.
Another is that they really think they are the premiership contenders they’ve always thought they were and Round 25 against their arch-rivals and a possible 40-point flogging doesn’t count.
The other side of the coin is that if they did actually win this weekend and Manly lost, they’d finish in the top four. But that doesn’t appear to be a worry for Parra despite most, in their right minds, thinking you need to win the premiership from the top four.
Parramatta’s statement last week against the imperious Storm doesn’t mean as much if they get pumped this weekend by the Panthers.
And it’ll mean even less if they finish fifth or sixth and get bundled out of the finals in Week 1.