The Parramatta Eels have been a club that has promised so much in the last decade and not since 2001 have they faced a similar problem; where their junior talent is being chased heavily by other NRL clubs looking for to bolster their Rugby League playing rosters.
From the installment of Brian Smith at the Parramatta Eels back in 1997; the club has not only put in place some of the most ground breaking training equipment, technology and techniques – but they have harnessed and nourished a talented junior base.
The western suburbs of Parramatta and it surrounds are heavily laced with keen Rugby League juniors and a talent pool bolstered with the likes of Polynesian and Islander families heavily interested in Rugby League.
Back in 2001 as the new regime under Brian Smith all but took out the NRL Grand Prize; the well oiled machine began to fall victim of it’s own success. The salary cap, retiring players, unrest and eager clubs started removing the likes of Clinton Schifcofske, Brett Hodgson, David Vailiki, Jamie Lyon, Eric Grothe Jnr, Jason Taylor and Michael Buettner.
Somehow the club managed to remain competitive while in the midst of a so called ‘rebuilding phase’ – a period that has remained similar until as late as 2007. Even in 2005, when the Eels boasted a team of ‘spare parts’ and rookie players – they managed to bump and grind their way to a minor premiership and nearly get themselves into the Grand Final.
Rookies in that year included the current half back Tim Smith and powerful new centre Ben Smith – young talent that the Parramatta Eels need harness before its too late. The Eels have now been within 1 game of reaching the Grand Final, 6 times in the past 10 years. A record that shows how strong they have been without having the final ingredient to go all the way.
As 2008 approaches, the Eels seem to be at the top of their peak again. With a new talented coach settled in and an array of talent in the optimum period of their careers – the Parramatta Eels need to push hard in 2008 or risk being broken apart, as has happened in the past. Minor cracks may already be appearing; as the talented junior PJ Marsh is set free to join the Brisbane Broncos in 2008 and there are reports of hungry clubs chasing the likes of Jarryd Hayne and Kris Inu when they come off contract at the end of 2008.
The senior brigade of Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless and Mark Riddell are truly in the twilight of their careers currently and need to find something special again in 2008. Riddell in particular will need to find something extra to cater for the loss of PJ Marsh; possibly playing extra minutes but still retaining the passionate ‘super-sub’ bursts he has become famous for. The same can be said for Nathan Hindmarsh; considered for many years one of the top second rowers in the NRL – the aging forward risks becoming a player in the mold of Craig Fitzgibbon who has become a work horse only player and rarely has an offensive impact on a game.
As the salary cap continues to keep clubs on a fairly level playing field; the Eels can only boast so much talent for so long – and their lives are fast running out. As 2008 approaches, they need to really make hay while the sun shines.