The Roar
The Roar



An open letter to Eels fans: Dare to dream on this tale of two Grand Final journeys

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
27th September, 2022

Dare to dream, Parramatta fans. Dare to dream.

That’s my advice ahead of a historic day on Sunday when the Parramatta Eels will contest the NRL men’s and women’s grand finals.

I’m still very much at a loss for what this means for me as a Parramatta fan, but I will do my best.

Back in 2016 when it was discovered that the Eels had been involved in systemic and ongoing breaches of the salary cap, the club was in chaos. There was a 12-point penalty imposed by the NRL, five board members were deregistered and the club was hit with a $1 million dollar fine.

It was a dark time in the history of the club.

In my mind I can still see a photo that was taken of the playing group the morning the sanctions were to be announced, arms around each other at the club’s then facility, Richie Benaud Oval.

Despite having one of the biggest fan bases in the NRL, the Eels were a basket case.

Much has changed since then, and it’s important to acknowledge that the journey to these grand finals has been just that; a journey.


It’s also important to acknowledge the people who have stood with the club during those challenging times and the administrators who were key in turning the club around. That acknowledgement extends to the current board and executive team but also to former CEO Bernie Gurr and board member Max Donnelly.

There’s another person that has been a constant during that journey, and that is Eels coach Brad Arthur.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 16: Clinton Gutherson of the Eels celebrates with team mates after scoring a try, which was then disallowed by the video bunker during the NRL Semi Final match between the Parramatta Eels and the Canberra Raiders at CommBank Stadium on September 16, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Arthur has copped some unfair criticism this year. There have been suggestions that he has lost his dressing room, that he can’t galvanise the team for important games and, most despicable of all, that he’s engaged in nepotism, which I find deeply offensive, as it goes to the very heart of Arthur’s character and suggests he would put the interests of his son ahead of his team.

This season is as much a reward for Arthur as it is for his team, who have silenced the critics to make the club’s first grand final since 2009.

Just on that team, almost every player has improved under Arthur’s tenure, and it’s been a pleasure to watch them this year. Shaun Lane is having a career-best season, Isaiah Papali’i joined the club on a small deal and was offered a much bigger deal by the Tigers due to his improvement. Clint Gutherson signed up as a laughing stock and now he is the energy barometer for the entire team.

Had the Eels not gone through the pain of 2016, the club would be in a very different position. No doubt there would still be scuttling at the board level and challenges from a financial perspective, so it would likely mean no new shiny stadium and little chance of seeing the development and new centre of excellence at Kellyville come to life.


But more importantly, the strong position the club is in now also gave it the chance to bid for an NRLW licence. With the financial position the club was in back in 2016, putting a bid in for an NRLW team would have almost been negligent.

But in 2021, when the NRLW team arrived, it felt like our club was finally whole.

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Despite winning only one game in the regular season, no doubt the NRLW players took inspiration from what the men achieved on Friday night to beat the undefeated and reigning premiers, the Sydney Roosters. Perhaps with the NRLW team playing before the men on Sunday, they can repay the favour and inspire them right back.

Players to keep an eye on in this team include Gayle Broughton, a former New Zealand sevens player who is electric every time she touches the ball. Simaima Taufa may be quiet on the field but leads by example, making tackle after tackle after tackle. Then there’s our halves combo of Ash Quinlan and Tayla Preston, who didn’t know each other before the season started and are now leading the team around with confidence.

There’s also Kennedy Cherrington, who is an absolute vibe. If you don’t believe me, check out the photo of her when she scored the matchwinning try to secure the Eels finals spot.

Grand Finals do not come around often, so this week is one to be enjoyed. The last time Parramatta won a grand final, I was nothing but a star in the sky.


The last time Parramatta played in a grand final, I was in third-year university, cheering on the likes of Todd Lowrie, Matt Keating and Luke Burt. I am now 10 years into my professional career and ready to cheer on Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Dylan Brown and Maika Sivo.

If you are lucky enough to have secured tickets to the game on Sunday, I strongly encourage you to be there for both games.

While the crowd might even out by the time the NRL decider starts, Eels fans will certainly outnumber Knights fans for the NRLW grand final. Let’s make our voices heard.

Regardless of the results on Sunday, my plan is the same: attend the grand final; head back to CommBank Stadium, win lose or draw; and then be there for the player appearances the next morning, win lose or draw.

It’s been a joyous season in 2022. If I’m lucky, come Sunday night I’ll be able to declare ‘ding dong the witch is dead’.