It’s time for Parramatta Eels to cement their position as a top two team

Eels players disappointed after conceding a try. Photo: NRL.com

It may be grim to say that the Parramatta Eels’ season is in need of a serious SOS, but it is also a fact. What began with much promise in March, is suddenly deteriorating at the critical back end of the regular season leading into finals, following three consecutive losses. 

There’s no easy answer to the mystery of the team’s rapid decline. If there was, the pundits would be on to it. A successful Eels team is supremely healthy for the NRL. 

The much loved club holds the top spot for membership numbers in 2021 with over 32,000 devotees eagerly awaiting that elusive final prize. Even in seasons gone by, the Blue and Gold Army consistently remains in the top three NRL supporter base despite a 35 year hiatus from a premiership win. 

There’s no doubt that some of Parramatta’s woes are psychological but there are three major areas of concern that could prove crucial in breaking their recent finals hoodoo. 

Recruitment, leadership and composure. 

It’s evident that the Eels’ playing roster is a strong one. With the likes of Clint Gutherson, Junior Paulo, Mitchell Moses, Regan Campbell-Gillard and Reed Mahoney to name a few, the heart and talent are undisputed but it’s also clear they are missing a serious premiership winning player with a real X factor. 

The last time they had a player of superstar calibre was in 2009, coincidentally also the last time they made a grand final appearance. The Cowboys had one in 2015 in Jonathan Thurston, The Roosters in 2018 and 2019 with James Tedesco and The Storm in 2017 with the fab three Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.

Parramatta have become synonymous with forking out for bargain buys. Many would argue that whilst some have been good, good isn’t enough to win a premiership. 

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Over the next couple of seasons, the Eels need to seriously consider targeting a big name player who will be the difference between a top four team player and a premiership winning player.

Another possible cause for alarm in recent games is the leadership. Captain Gutherson’s lack of composure and frustration with his teammates is a concern. Some would argue that it’s nothing more than passion, but effective communication as a leader is crucial. 

The round 14 clash against Wests Tigers saw Gutherson and Moses have a heated on field disagreement about whether to take a quick tap or kick for the two points. The stoush raised some eyebrows, albeit temporarily, hosed down by the pair days later in a press conference. 

Round 20 then witnessed a spectacular spray from the man given the name ‘King Gutho’ by Eels’ fans, towards teammates for letting in a try late in the match. After the media had a field day, Gutherson apologised to the player involved but such outbursts aren’t productive in keeping the team composed in crucial moments of a game. 

Perhaps a problem lies in that much hype was given to Gutherson so early on, crowning him ‘The King.’ The work rate, effort and determination of the fullback can’t be questioned but it is always a risk giving one player so much elevation early on.

Should Dally M’s be given on those qualities alone, the Eels number one would be unmatched. Remaining level headed for the entirety of a match if a captain is to get the best from his team in pressure situations though, is critical. 

If Gutherson decides to move on when his contract expires, the Eels may find it difficult to name another clear captain in the side.  Not the greatest predicament for any team to find themselves in.

Moses would be a serious contender for second choice but some may argue, lacks big game experience. There could be others with future potential but most lack the age, experience or 80 minute game time to be clear suitors at the present moment. 

When the Eels drop their lead in a match or are chasing to catch up from a deficit, the errors can be significant and the panic in their game becomes evident. 

Careless offloads leading to blunders, kicking early in the tackle count and leaking the same defensive mistakes, are all conglomerates that have become regular patterns in the Eels’ losses. Possibly the major concern for Parramatta of the last decade is that they lack serious composure in the latter stages of a game. 

In recent seasons it wouldn’t be uncommon for the Eels to be leading up to the 70th minute until they conceded a try, heads would bow and the blue and gold would struggle to hold their lead. 

The start of the 2021 season began differently with those main aspects addressed and improved upon, perhaps contributing to the heartbreak for Eels’ fans with false hope. Until round 15, Parramatta seemed to be an 80 minute side for the first time in approximately a decade, albeit with a couple of losses along the way. 

Their victories were convincing. Attack was geling and the defence held the fort. 

Then Covid-19 struck and teams were forced into an isolation bubble. Coincidentally, the same time when things began to go pear shaped for the Eels last season. 

Both seasons pre Covid, NRL immortal Andrew Johns was working closely with the halves Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown at training. Whilst post Covid it’s understood he remains engaged with the club via Zoom sessions and the like, but it isn’t quite the same as having a training coach present on field, explaining what needs to be done in real time and showing how it’s done. 

Which leads to the question, does coach Brad Arthur need a serious mentor or assistant to aid with the technical aspects of the Eels’ game plan? It seems to have proved successful the last two seasons when Johns has been physically present supporting the team and coaching staff. 

Craig Bellamy, Trent Robinson and Ivan Cleary aren’t leaving their clubs any time soon. There is then a notable gap in coaching achievements after that echelon. Arthur is almost there but needs something extra. 

On passion alone, Arthur wins first prize. To win a premiership though, it takes more than just passion. 

Do the Eels employ Johns in a bigger capacity coaching role? With Wayne Bennett a free agent from next season, do they entice the premiership winning coach with possibly a co-leadership role to accompany Arthur? 

Could Peter Sterling play a role in the leadership team now he has announced his upcoming retirement from commentating?  

All are valid questions that need to be considered by those at the helm of the club to help deliver the long awaited premiership to the much deserving team, region and fans, hopefully in the not too distant future. It’s time. 

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