After their comprehensive win over the Wests Tigers in last night’s trial game, the Parramatta Eels are confident that their decision to sign five veterans, despite much scrutiny from even their own fans, has been a masterstroke.
The five men have played for their fair share of clubs between them, ranging from the Brisbane Broncos to the Gold Coast Titans to the North Queensland Cowboys to the Penrith Panthers and to the Wests Tigers, and while they are nearing the end of their careers, they may just play a crucial role at the Eels this season.
The signing of Chris Hicks, Casey McGuire, Carl Webb, Chris Walker and Paul Whatuira raised eyebrows, as many believed that the club should have retained both Jonathon Wright, and Feleti Mateo.
For the Eels however, it is now about the hunger, desire and passion, and with their careers drawing to a close, these five veterans are eager to make to sure that they make the most of their last shot.
”People talk about age,” said Walker, who played in France last season.
”When I signed with the Titans there were people who said Scott Prince, Preston Campbell, Luke Bailey, Mat Rogers were old â€¦ it was the same thing â€¦ but we got it right, though.
”You need older guys for the younger blokes to learn from and you need younger guys for the older blokes to feed off their enthusiasm.
”And that’s exactly what’s happened at Parramatta over the last 16 weeks. I’m happy with what I have done so far, but it is all about progression. I have to keep going.”
Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne was warned people against jumping the gun, as later on in the season, they might just be forced to eat their words.
”I think so,” Hayne said in relation to proving people wrong.
”A couple have come back from England so they’re keen to make their mark.’
Ray Price, one of the greatest ever players to don an Eels jersey has been critical of the Eels and their decisions in the past, but he has applauded the club for their decision to give the veterans a shot.
”I expect big things out of everyone in the side this season because last year they just did not participate,” Price said.
”People are saying ‘why did you sign Chris Walker?’ Well, the guy can play. He’ll be good for Parramatta, and so will Carl Webb. They all will.
”You can mark my words – Carl will have a huge year this year. He wants to play Origin again, and I reckon he will. He lost 10 kilos in the first month he joined here, and he’s dropped more since then, too.
For Eels captain Nathan Hindmarsh and second-rower Ben Smith, they can already see the exuberance, and enthusiasm from the new recruits, and the team both on the field, and in the gym.
”They definitely have a lot of football left in them,” said Smith of his new teammates. ”They’re training the place down, setting the bar high for the younger boys to follow.
” ‘Texas’ Walker’s relief efforts for the Queensland floods was great; it shows everyone there’s more to football â€¦ things like helping the flood victims gives the players more of an understanding about the bigger-picture things.”
Nathan Cayless, who retired from the NRL last season after a great career for the Eels, said that what people fail to realise, is that experience is the key to winning games and ultimately a premiership.
”They provide a lot of experience and depth; these guys have played Origin and in grand finals and other big games, so that should help the younger players,” said Cayless, now an industrial real estate agent.
”But keeping them injury free and getting them to play at their best will be the priority.”
For one new recruit, former Panther and West Tiger Paul Whatuira, he made a promise to himself that when he signs with a new club, he will be sure to give it his all in every game that he plays.
”Yeah, it’s a fair assessment to say this is our last shot,” he said after returning from the English Super League. ”
“The NRL is the pinnacle – you play quality teams every week and it is the toughest competition. I want to make a contribution.”
Captain Hindmarsh is pleased that the old boys have had such a positive effect on the club, and he is eager for the season to get underway to see the benefits that will come from the hard work the players have put in during training.
”We have a squad that can perform,” Hindmarsh said.
”There’s a real freshness about the place. It’s going to be great.”