23/04/2024

The Eels exceeded expectations, making it to the big dance. (Graphic Design: Will Cuckson)

The Parramatta Eels in their second season in the NRLW would miss out on claiming the premiership on the big day when they were expected to miss out on the finals again. 

The Eels had a unique stretch of footy to close the 2022 season, which helped them transform the outlook of their season from a team taking their team to build from the ground up to being a team that can get to the big stage for years to come.

Finishing position: 4th (1 win, 4 losses)

What worked?

Parramatta at their best was moving the ball side to side and using the spine to create opportunities to set up their edge players breaking through the line and taking the ball to the try-line and implementing a support player off-the-ball.

When the Eels figured out their halves pairing of Ash Quinlan and Taylah Preston, the Eels were able to control the game in their opponent’s half with their kicking game, getting some of their side-to-side kicks to land perfectly for one of their players to score or get repeat sets of six.

This combination was able to kick the ball, putting it in uncomfortable spots, allowing the Eels to build a strong front defensive line and get their opponents to attempt to build yardage out of their half.

What didn’t work?

The struggle to find their halves pairing at the start of the season puts the team under a lot of pressure to maximise any system they want to build their identity around and put each other in better spots for success.

The AFLW star turned rugby league player Brooke Walker and U’19 standout Losana Lutu were quickly scrapped after they only scored 16 points on the Roosters all in the first half.

Dean Widders, the head coach of the Eels didn’t allow the pairing to grow and explore and considering the Eels had high expectations ahead of the start of the season, it made sense that he was looking for a quick fix. 

The Eels conceded a lot of penalties for holding down too long and being inside the 10, allowing teams to build field position quickly and maximise their sets. 

Edge defence is pivotal in successful premiership teams and the Eels were playing aggressively off their line, which allowed the Knights in the grand final to score a part of their 32 points.

Who impressed

Gayle Broughton impressed the most for the Parramatta Eels this season. 

Replacing Botille Vette-Welsh at the fullback spot, there is pressure playing in one of the most important positions in the game and Broughton had an impressive rookie season. 

The way Broughton maximises space and is able to put a short ball to her centre Tiana Penitani makes her a great attacking fullback in the current game.

The ability to play one-on-one with defenders and play instinctively as she sees the game opens up flexible options for the Eels from anywhere on the field.

Season Highlight

The Eels’ last three weeks of the 2022 campaign were historic and so unique to what has been a short-season league since it was established.

Going into the last game of the season, the Eels were 0-4 looking to finish the season on a high note and managed to beat the Brisbane Broncos 28-12 to advance to the finals.

The Eels winning that game would have to go to Suncorp Stadium to play the undefeated Sydney Roosters.

The Eels started the game strongly and went back and forth set-for-set with the Roosters before they went on a run to beat the Roosters 26-12 to advance to the grand final.

Highest point 

The final regular season game against the Broncos and semi-final against the Roosters was the highest point for the Eels.

Their defence was outstanding, only allowing both teams to concede 12 points each, showing that they can scramble and play in unison against good offensive teams.

The Eels conceded the 2nd most points this season, mostly due to their cheap discipline allowing teams to have time in their half to break their line apart.

In these two weeks, the Eels were able to work together and put performances together where they could operate on both sides of the ball.

Lowest point 

Their first two losses to start the season was the lowest point for the Eels.

Against the Roosters, they conceded 38 points in the season opener, with their edge defence and their transition defence is very poor against the defending premiers.

Going into the half-time break, the Eels were only down by six points and looked promising against the best team in the competition before the Roosters would score 20 points in the second half to the Eels 4 points.

The Eels’ defence made poor decisions on their try-line and saw multiple players at times be aggressive and rush the Roosters players when they should have shuffled across their line instead to cover the wide ball movement the Roosters would create often when the Roosters were about to score.

With their last home game of the season against the Dragons after their loss to the Roosters, the Eels made cheap errors after complete sets by their opponents in which the game would be out of reach.

The grand against the Newcastle Knights consisted of the Eels holding their own for the majority of the game before cheap penalties conceded and errors allowed the Knights to build comfortable field position and punish the Eels on their back foot.

#1 off-season priority 

The Eels need to work on their discipline, not conceding easily avoidable penalties and making a part of their identity with the ball spending time in their opponents’ half of the field.

A consistent halves pairing would also be a huge upgrade in their experience of a season, especially considering the league is expanding with four more teams in the 2023 season.

The edge defence needs to also improve, knowing when to be aggressive and rush up and when to slide and hold down the line without letting their opponents run through it.

The health of Tiana Penitani also needs a focus in the off-season, making sure the load on her body as the season progresses is manageable and stable, especially for when the Eels make the finals. 

Being one of the best centres in the game, she adds tremendous value with her ball-carrying ability and creating opportunities in a multitude of ways in the Eels offence was missed in both the semi-final against the Roosters and the grand final against the Newcastle Knights.

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