13/04/2024

The Parramatta Eels believe they will return to the finals in 2024. (Image: Supplied by Joshua Davis)

Off-field drama, rumours of long-term changes and injuries, Parramatta finished 10th after the 2022 season where they made the Grand Final.

Last year

The 2023 season felt like a what-if season, the feeling of déjà vu returning not being in the finals and not meeting expectations of returning to the finals. 

With the losses of Reed Mahoney, Isaiah Papalii, Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi, the Eels had a lot of holes to fill and very quickly with the Eels goals to go back to the grand final.

Starting 1-3 in the first four rounds of the season, the Eels were slowly making strides before a stretch of games between rounds 12 and 17 saw Parramatta in the eight winning five games in a row before injuries, Origin selections for Clint Gutherson, Mitch Moses and Junior Paulo, as well as the mid-season suspension of Dylan Brown due to off-field behaviour saw the Eels dip in standings. 

The injury to Mitch Moses was the final blow to Eels’ finals hopes, finishing 10th with a 12-12 record.

Three injuries to Shaun Lane throughout the season also exposed Parramatta’s lack of depth, as well as the absence from Reagan Campbell-Gillard during the stretch of time where the three Origin games take place, saw Parramatta’s physicality and power in the middle decline tremendously. 

The Eels had one of the most unique starts to the season, versing Manly, Panthers and the Roosters who had byes in the previous week ahead of their matchup.

In golden point fashion, the Eels defeated the Panthers 17-16 in round 4 for their first win of the season, as the reports around Mitch Moses extending with the club were circulating.  

Their most significant win of the season was against the Rabbitohs in round 12, the start of their five-game winning streak, scoring 36 points to 16 on the road, with needed performances from Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown.  

In their first ten games, the Eels lost four of those games by 6 points or less. In the same ten-game stretch, two games went to golden point (winning one and losing the other). These winnable games that they lost hurt the Eels’ chances of being in the finals, with Canberra Raiders who were 8th only having one more win than the Rabbitohs as well, who finished one spot above the Eels.

The Eels significantly improved, having the 6th best offence in the NRL, averaging 24.4 points per game and the 7th-best point differential. However, it was their defence that let them down, having the 7th worst defence, conceding 23.9 points per game.

There were 15 games where the Eels conceded 20 points or more, winning only four of those games. In the wins, the Eels scored 31 points per game in those four games. In the eleven games where they lost, they conceded an average of 34 points per game. They gave up 30 points or more on six occasions, with three games where they conceded 40 points or more. 

With the injuries Parramatta suffered, it saw the rise of front rower Wiremu Greig who had his best season yet in the blue and gold, and lock forward J’maine Hopgood, who had joined from Penrith and proved why he deserved to be a starting 13 at the NRL level. 

Squad Changes

Ins: Morgan Harper & Kelma Tuilagi (Manly Sea Eagles), Joey Lussick (St Helens RFC, Super League)

Outs: Jake Arthur (mid-season move to Manly Sea Eagles), Waqa Blake (St Helens RFC, Super League), Nathan Brown (mid-season move to Sydney Roosters, Manly Sea Eagles for 2024), Andrew Davey & Josh Hodgson (medical retirement), Samuel Loizou (West Tigers train & trial), Jack Murchie (Huddersfield Giants, Super League), Mitch Rein (retired)

Track Watch

Richard Penisini and Arthur Miller-Stephen are the only injured Parramatta players currently, both with ACL injuries. 

Careful watch for their back five, as there’s some contention for the left centre spot with the arrival of Morgan Harper, although January has seen tremendous consistency in training from Bailey Simonsson.

Maiko Sivo has trained really well this season, being recorded as the fastest and strongest in the off-season training tests.

Mitch Moses and Clint Gutherson returned to training after recovering from their end-of-season injuries and have been training really well.

Dylan Brown has also been training exceptionally, having the best off-season he has experienced according to halves partner Moses.

Shaun Lane returning from injury has also looked impressive, getting involved in drills doing one-handed offloads, which we saw when he became one of the most improved players in the competition in 2022.

Not much has been reported or seen about the battle between Brendan Hands and Joey Lussick for the dummy half spot, with Brad Arthur declaring he wants an 80-minute dummy half player instead of a two-dummy half rotation.

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What to Expect

Parramatta only have one thing on their mind…a premiership.

Finishing 10th and not playing finals is disappointing for any club, especially the Eels, who expected more after making their first grand final since 2009 two seasons ago.

With necessary turnover and a lot of continuity, the Eels expect to be in a similar position to their 2022 season.

History has shown a healthy Parramatta side can play with the best of the best when there are no major changes to the squad and lots of drama.

It’s a big year for:

Dylan Brown

After trouble off the field affected his availability on the field, Dylan Brown is intending to redeem himself after a rocky season. 

The Kiwi representative has become one of the best five-eighths in the competition and has a lot of talent and potential to be unlocked.

With a contract that could see him stay until the end of 2031, Dylan Browns’ future is legitimate as a star player at the club and has this season to take up much of his focus.  

Only playing 17 games last season, Dylan Brown can hopefully return to playing 20+ games for the club this season, as he has done in 2021 and 2022. 

Biggest unanswered question?

Can Parramatta make it back to the grand final with the same core of the squad?

With the longest premiership drought currently in the NRL, the Eels have a lot of expectations to compete at a high level and win the premiership for the first time in the NRL era. 

Finally being able to experience the grand final, the Eels players understand the importance of being able to reach it and what it takes to get there.

With a lot of continuity in the squad, it could lead to great success, however, if injuries were to occur, it could lead to another year of depth that the club doesn’t have.

Every year, not making it to the grand final causes a lot of pressure internally for the Eels to make moves, which was why they were after Josh Addo-Carr this off-season and Jayden Campbell last season.

They have still assembled one of the best squads in the competition and have the players in key positions that have created a lot of positive influence and the playing group is all buying into the system and culture in Parramatta.

Coach Index

Alarming

Not winning a premiership in these next two years of his contract could lead to Brad Arthur not being wanted after 2025.

The lack of coaches in the coaching market who are premiership winners and finals experienced could lead to them keeping Brad Arthur, as he has created a lot of success for Parramatta despite the recent absence from the finals and lack of premiership-winning opportunities.

There were reports Wayne Bennett has been linked to the club, as the all-time coach has been looking for jobs in 2025 and beyond, originally up for the New Zealand Kiwis job, however, New Zealand Rugby League is looking at Stacey Jones to replace Michael Maguire.

Predicted Round 1 Lineup

  1. Clint Gutherson
  2. Maiko Sivo
  3. Bailey Simonsson
  4. Will Penisini 
  5. Sean Russell
  6. Dylan Brown
  7. Mitch Moses
  8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  9. Brendan Hands
  10. Junior Paulo
  11. Shaun Lane
  12. Ryan Matterson 
  13. J’maine Hopgood
  14. Makahesi Makatoa
  15. Joe Ofahengaue
  16. Wiremu Greig 
  17. Bryce Cartwright

Ladder Prediction

For Parramatta, the top 4 would be an ideal spot. 

The expectation for the club should be anywhere between 4th and 8th.

With a decent start to the schedule and a better balance for the byes in their schedule, the Eels could surprise teams and remind the competition how good they can be.

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