In Round 19 last year, the Eels were sitting near last on the ladder but went on an undefeated run prior to the last Round of the competition to snare 8th spot in the finals.
But with the purchase of big names Justin Poore and Timana Tahu, the expectations have been huge. Bookies placing Eels as tournament favourites and fans expecting plenty of positive results come kick off.
So far in 2010, it hasn’t been an ideal ride for Parramatta. While trial form is never an ideal guide, the club has lost all of their trial matches – to the Dragons, Penrith and the Roosters. Some of these games, the Eels were fielding their best squad and to top it off they came away with some frustrating injuries out of the preseason.
The big concern will be how the new recruits settle in Parramatta life and how they gel with the existing squad. For Timana Tahu it’s a return home, he knows and enjoyed previous time at the Eels and after a frustrating time in NSW Rugby Union he should be fine.
Tahu however will create a selection dilemna in the centres. The former NSW and Australian player will no doubt start when fit and is a potential game breaker on his day, able to score from anywhere. But who drops out of first grade? Probably Kris Inu. Given Joel Reddy’s strong allround game, he will stay in the starting lineup. Meaning Grothe and Burt should get the wing spots.
Another minor concern might be with with new buy Justin Poore. Homesick perhaps? Poore has hinted at his frustration at traveling to and training in the West. With Poore used to training in seaside air at WIN Stadium or Kogarah. Poore has also spoken of his reluctance to face some of his old teammates, a long term Saints boy – Poore isn’t keen to go toe to toe with his old mates.
Former Rooster Shane Shackleton has also received more attention since joining the Parramatta club. A young up and coming forward at the Roosters, since signing with the Eels the strong running backrower has received a profile boost and will face big expectations from club and competition.
Don’t forget the players that have moved on from 2009 also, which could create a small dent in the strong cohesion of last year. The likes of Kevin Kingston, Todd Lowrie and Joe Galuvao.
Probably the biggest difference in 2010 will be the response of opposing NRL teams. The Eels became easy-beats in 2009, with most opponents arriving expecting to beat the side. Now after their solid run and short odds for this year, they will be targets just like the Melbourne Storm have been for most of this decade.
Radio personality and former League/Union coach Alan Jones was invited by CEO Paul Osborne to give the Eels players a talk this week. The experienced and respected Jones had the players hanging off every word as he spoke about the challenges they face this season.
He spoke of:
* Harder work, pushing even harder in training
* The fact the Eels will not be taken lightly by opposing sides now
* Weight of public expectations
These might sound simple, but when they are delivered by the respected Jones – apparently the Eels players received the advice extremely well.
A positive start to the season for confidence is crucial, so taking advantage of their home ground advantage this Friday night against the Dragons will be the first focus.