Former Parramatta captain Tim Mannah is adamant the Eels can challenge for next year’s premiership despite the uncertainty surrounding some of their stars.
With skipper Clint Gutherson crucially re-signing until the end of 2025 on Saturday, Mannah hopes hooker Reed Mahoney and prop Junior Paulo will follow suit.
Forward Ryan Matterson and talented youngsters including Haze Dunster, Oregon Kaufusi, Jakob Arthur and Hayze Perham are also off-contract.
And while second-rowers Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore have announced they’ll respectively join the Wests Tigers and Warriors in 2023, Mannah believes the planets could align before they depart.
“The last couple of years and heading into 2022, it’s probably the best squad that Parra’s had for many years,” Mannah told The Roar on Monday as he helped the Supertee charity pack costumes for sick kids.
“So the chance is there [to contend for a title] and there’s a lot there for Eels fans to be really excited about. I think next year’s going to be a really big year for the Parramatta fans.”
Brokering a new long-term deal with fullback Gutherson was important for the Eels at the end of a week where it was revealed Dally M Second-Rower of the Year Papali’i had knocked back an extension.
Locking down Mahoney, who recently dined with Bulldogs officials, and NSW Origin prop Paulo is now the club’s main focus.
Mannah is cautiously optimistic the pair will stay.
“Every player will have their own journey,” he said.
“Gutho, where he’s at in his career is obviously different to where Junior’s at and that’s different to where Reed’s at.
“You can’t just lump them all together and expect that just because one’s got done they’re all going to go bang, bang [and re-sign].
“But you’d like to think that’s a great start, keeping the captain on board. I think the positive is Junior wants to stay, Reed wants to stay and the club wants to keep them both.
“It’s always a great start when you’ve got players that want to be there and a club that wants to keep them. When you have that kind of starting block, the rest hopefully usually falls into place.”
Mannah said it was vital that Parramatta retained Gutherson.
“He’s someone that so much of the culture driven at the club comes through, so I think it was a no brainer to make sure they sorted him out,” he said.
“I’m glad they could get it done now and he can put it behind him and begin preparing for the season.”
A one-club man, Mannah played 233 NRL games in the blue and gold, finishing up in 2019.
The four-time NSW prop was happy to lend a hand at Parramatta Leagues Club on Monday, joining in the assembly of Supertee gift packs for 1000 of Sydney’s sickest children.
Founded by tradie Jason Sotiris in 2018, Supertee provides specialised medical superhero costumes to lift the spirits of sick children – empowering them to find “strength through imagination”.
The Supertee gift packs, which will also include comics, stickers and messages, will be received by patients in the Mount Druitt paediatric ward, Blacktown emergency ward, Nepean Hospital paediatric ward and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead.
For Mannah, a long-time Ronald McDonald House ambassador whose brother Jon – a Sharks and Eels NRL player – died from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013, it’s a cause close to his heart.
“You always walk out of [visiting kids in hospital] so encouraged and so inspired by the families,” Mannah said.
“So many of them are going through really tough circumstances and their attitude and their outlook on life is such an inspiration for anyone that meets them.
“My family and I, we went through a situation with my brother when he got sick … When you’re going through a tough time, family find a way to get through that tough time.
“They get a bit more strength than you’d think they’d have.
“To see something like [Supertee], where they can actually make a real impact on kids and their families, is a huge plus.
“I know for sure that this is going to make so many kids so much happier.”
Sotiris conceptualised Supertee after his daughter Angela was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2013. Angela is now in remission but Sotiris is still determined to assist others.
“We set ourselves a little bit of a goal,” Sotiris said.
“We want to help 5000 kids by Christmas. When we look at all the hospitals that we supply around Australia and the number of beds, we want to get a free Supertee to every kid spending Christmas in hospital.
“If people can donate to our Christmas appeal, which is at supertee.org.au – it’s $250,000, we’ve never set a target that high.
“But coming out of COVID and seeing what all the families have gone through, especially parents with sick kids, we want to try to muster as much support as we can.
“We operate on the basis that we want to provide a free Supertee to any child given bad news – and we do that because of the kindness and generosity of other people.
“If there’s a family reading this article that needs one, please get in touch. We’re not only about asking, we’d also like to give as well.”
A $45 donation ensures a sick child receives a Supertee gift pack.