19/04/2024

After an ultimately dissapointing 2021 season, Parramatta will be finally secure a drought breaking premiership in 2022 (photo credit: Parramatta Eels Twitter)

After another year without a preliminary final, 2022 is shaping to be a big year for Parramatta in the quest for a drought ending premiership.

After narrowly falling to eventual premiers Penrith in the semi-finals, Parramatta are looking to go a few steps further and break their 36 year premiership drought in 2022.

With numerous high-profile stars on their way out in 2023, it is shaping up to be a big season for the blue and gold.

Last year

Unfortunately for Parramatta fans, 2021 felt like déjà vu as the team were yet again bundled out in the second round of the finals. The season started well with the side winning nine of their first 10 matches, before injuries and a run of poor form saw them lose six of their last nine to finish in sixth.

When looking at season 2021 the Eels round 12 clash stands out as a pivotal one in their season, losing 38-20 against South Sydney. This defeat came with the extra disappointment of losing star hooker Reed Mahoney to injury, one that he would struggle with for the rest of the year.

It never felt like Parramatta truly recovered from that match, add to this the back injury that kept Mitchell Moses out for over a month and it was a difficult task for the Eels to bring any form into finals football.

Despite these challenging circumstances Parramatta still had some spectacular moments to end the season, their 22-10 win over Melbourne to end their rivals 20 match win streak stands out as one.

Their win against Newcastle in the first round of finals was also one to remember, with the side taking home their first victory in September since 2019.

Unfortunately for the Eels they narrowly lost 8-6 in extremely controversial fashion to Penrith, as their quest for a first premiership since 1986 goes on.

Despite the disappointing final result Parramatta did unearth some hidden gems, specifically New Zealand forward Isaiah Papali’i, who they bought off the Warriors for just $150,000.

The relatively unknown player at the beginning of the season became a competition stand out, ending the season as Dally M second rower of the year.

Mitchell Moses was also able to finally break into the NSW side for Origin 3, coming in for an injured Nathan Cleary. The match did however not exactly turn out as planned as the Blues lost and the halfback sustained a serious back injury.

Squad Changes:

Ins:

Ofahiki Ogden (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Mitch Rein (Gold Coast Titans), Bailey Simonsson (Canberra Raiders), Josh Tuipulotu

Outs:

Blake Ferguson (released), Keegan Hipgrave (retired), Samuel Hughes (released), Joey Lussick (St Helens RLFC), Michael Oldfield (released), Will Smith (Gold Coast Titans)

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Track watch

Whilst Parramatta don’t have many injuries coming into the new year, their depth on the wing will be tested early with injuries to last years starters Haze Dunster and Maika Sivo.

There is currently an indefinite timeline surrounding the Fijian’s return to play, with Dunster ruled out for the entire season. This means that new recruit Bailey Simonsson and 19-year-old Sean Russell will at least start the season.

Apart from that pair, there seems to not be any other injury concerns for the Blue and Gold, with both Nathan Brown and Reed Mahoney expected to be fully fit to play the first round after the latter got through their trial against Penrith unscathed.

The only other player who is going to miss the start of the season is Marata Niukore, who is free to play from round two onwards after being suspended late last season.

Having played two pre-season games the Eels have looked strong in both, specifically their 36-0 win over defending Premiers and Western Sydney rivals Penrith.

One player who has trained really well in the off season and looks to be in for a big one if required is Jakob Arthur, who has reportedly lead from the front in relation to conditioning.

Captain Clint Gutherson has, as always, started the pre season strong, whilst veteran centre Waqa Blake has looked in career best touch after an uninterrupted off-season.

Star halfback Mitchell Moses also looked exceptional against Penrith, and with the weight of expectations on his shoulder for a premiership this year, he would pleased with a brilliant first hit out.

What to expect

Parramatta are coming out in 2022 with one thing on their mind, breaking the longest active NRL premiership drought.

After a disappointing sixth place finish and another season without even a preliminary final to show for their early season form, the Eels will be looking to bounce back big time and take the competition by storm.

Whilst there hasn’t been much turnover in the squad, the addition of Bailey Simonsson being the most well-known recruit, the Eels’ stars are mostly healthy and with an extra year of experience under their belt are ready to prove their worth.

The truth is that not adding many new faces to their squad could turn out to be a masterstroke by Brad Arthur, only replacing Blake Ferguson and having confidence in the rest of the squad that they can get the job done.

Expect a side that is coming out knowing that this must be their year to lift the premiership trophy, there isn’t room for a tail off come the end of this season.

Simply, they must maintain some of the form that we see them display early in the year right the way through until the first weekend of October.

Anticipate a big season from Parramatta’s spine, who understand that much of their success and failure will fall squarely on their shoulders.

If key players remain uninjured, something which derailed Parramatta’s 2021, expect big things from the Blue and Gold as they compete for top spot in season 2022.

It’s a big year for:

Mitchell Moses

It has been clear for many years now that Mitchell Moses is a very good NRL halfback, with his last few seasons proving the fact that he deserves to be mentioned with the very best sevens in the game.

The playmakers start to last season was extraordinary, justifying his contract extension of $950k per season until 2024 with a player option.

This form earned him his Origin debut; however, it was an injury in this game which again sent his season into a spiral.

A back injury left him on the sideline for over a month, as the Eels struggled to get results without him. Despite him coming back before finals his side still lost in the second round, falling short of a premiership once again.

2022 is a new year for Moses, and an exceptionally big one at that. The question for numerous seasons on many NRL fan’s lips is whether the halfback can steer around a premiership winning side.

With many players including Papali’i and Mahoney leaving at the end of the season, this year is the Eels last shot to win a title with this crop of players.

If they are any chance of doing that Moses needs to prove that he is one of the best halfbacks in the game, working alongside the likes of Gutherson, Dylan Brown and Mahoney to compete against the very best.

It is time for Moses to silence the doubters and lead this Eels team to the promise land.

Biggest unanswered question:

Can Parramatta compete when it matters most in 2022?

2021 was the third consecutive season that Parramatta have made the finals series with this current group of players, and unfortunately for them it was the third time that they were out of the finals come Sunday evening of week two.

Whether it be via winning their first match and losing their second in 2019 and 2021, or simply going out in straight sets in 2020, the Eels haven’t made it to a Preliminary final since their remarkable run to the Grand Final in 2009.

It’s starting to become a problem for this side, they look amazing in the first few months of the competition before they falter when it gets down to the business end of the competition.

In the past there has always been a next year, however there is a feeling that this may be Parramatta’s last crack at a title for a while.

With so many players leaving in 2023 this current Eels squad need to prove that they can get it done when it matters.

They have a brilliantly assembled squad and a top class head coach, Parramatta just need to put it together for a full season in 2022.

Coach Index:

Medium

In August last year, Brad Arthur was under arguably the most pressure of any NRL coach.

His side had lost five of their seven games on the run into the finals, knocking them out of the top four and forcing the side to play elimination football from week one.

The Eels’ performances against Melbourne in Round 24 and Penrith in their semi-final loss did however prove just how capable he is, and just how good a Parramatta outfit can be under his leadership.

The teams performances over the last month saw Arthur rewarded with a two year contract extension, essentially putting an end to all rumours about a possible exit.

Despite this, there is an extremely high amount of expectation of his team this season, especially with the players they are losing come the end of 2022.

Arthur will desperately be looking to break the teams 36 year premiership drought this season, however even if he doesn’t the head coach is extremely unlikely to be sacked.

Predicted round one lineup

Parramatta is one of the sides this year where the 18 man squad should nearly pick itself, with injuries and suspensions making it pretty clear who will be playing in round 1.

Haze Dunster is confirmed to be out for the season whilst Maika Sivo is out for the first month or so after tearing his ACL late last year. This means that Sean Russell and newcomer Bailey Simonsson will receive first crack on the wing.

Marata Niukore’s one match suspension to start the season also means that the bench is fairly straight forward, however when he returns in round 2 selection starts to get interesting.

Considering Niukore’s form throughout last season this will likely mean that one of Shaun Lane or Bryce Cartwright will miss out on the match day 17, with the latter being the more likely option.

Apart from that the only other selection that could be still getting decided is whether Arthur’s wants Ray Stone or Mitch Rein to begin the season as 14, with Stone likely to get it due to his versatility.  

Ladder prediction

3rd – 6th

Heading into this season it is fair to say that whilst Parramatta are not necessarily favourites to win the minor premiership, anything other than a top four finish would likely be seen as a bit of a failure.

With the current squad that they have elimination football from week one should be avoided, with the likes of Gutherson, Moses and Mahoney all among the best in the competition in their respective positions.

After a brilliant year last season, the teams forward pack is also still one of the very best in the competition and will be looking to dominate come round one.

Whilst many teams have recruited very well over the off season, it is hard to see any team not inside last year’s top six finishing in the top four in 2022, with fifth the absolute lowest that Parramatta should finish this year.

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