9 days in and we’ve reached the season preview of the Parramatta Eels – a side that as we all know, had a disappointing 2012 season that finished the wooden spoon, but in 2013, new hope, belief and confidence emerges, with new coach Ricky Stuart at the helm.
2012 is a season that many Eels fans will want to forget, given that they finished the year with the wooden spoon. It was a season that saw Stephen Kearney sacked for a string of poor results, with interim coach Brad Arthur also unable to rally the Eels for long enough to climb away from 16th, despite recording some late wins in the process.
As the 2013 season draws closer, however, with that comes a renewed sense of hope, belief and optimism for the Eels, for many reasons, ranging from the coach, the players and the off-field work that has been done to turn the club around across the board.
The Eels head into 2013 with a new coach at the helm and a veteran of coaching, in Ricky Stuart, who has coached at club level and representative level before.
Facing criticism during his time at other clubs (club and state), it is his mantra of working hard, training hard and playing hard, that has Eels fans confident that the 2013 season will be an improvement.
Stuart is not the only thing to change at the club, however, as the Eels underwent a dramatic and major shift off the field over the last 6 months, bringing in experience CEO Ken Edwards who has had an immediate impact and become an instant hit with fans for his correspondence, his social media interaction with fans and the way he has conducted and dealt with issues facing the club – but also behind the scenes, as the Eels revamped several key positions and brought in new people to move the club in a new direction.
With the positive elements all coming into place off the field, the big question will be whether or not that can transcend to a change on the field, as the Eels look to improve on their last place finish in 2012.
On the field, as the club look to get off to a good start in Rd 1 against the Warriors, a lot of the attack and overall play will once again rely on the brilliance of Jarryd Hayne, with consistent cameos from the other players around him.
Hayne, who was simply electrifying in 2009, when it looked like he could do nothing wrong, has yet to once again reach those heights since, but he has recorded rather decent statistics for the Eels since then, as he looks to take his game to the level it was in 09.
What helps him to do so, is that he’s fully fit and over his knee concerns from 2012 – a season that saw him miss a good number of games, ultimately affecting the side as a whole.
When on song and in form, Hayne is regarded as one of the game’s best fullbacks and is in the echelon of star fullbacks like Billy Slater and Greg Inglis.
The question will be – can Hayne have that big year that the Eels will need from him and will he be able to have an injury-free year in 2013?
Just as Hayne looks to have a big year and bounce back, another Eels player that will be looking to impress is halfback Chris Sandow.
Heavily criticised in 2012 for not getting involved as much as he should have, Sandow had some stellar moments in 2013 that saw him take the line on causing havoc for defences, or producing his off-the-cuff style of footy that saw him seemingly back to his best and genuinely happy.
In 2013, the key for Sandow will be consistency across the board, and sporting a leaner, meaner look overall having shed a few kilos, Sandow will be looking to press on from his solid trial form into the season, with the live-wire, dynamic halfback keen to show Eels fans and the NRL, that he can play a key role in the Eels potential march to the NRL finals.
On paper, despite all the criticism the Eels cop, they have quite a handy side, boasting a back-line mixed with youth and experience, two young halves that have their entire NRL careers ahead of them, and a forward pack that has representative experience and club experience – as the team as a whole look to improve on 2012.
With the new season approaching, 2012 would be a distant memory for the Eels players, with all of them keen to have Stuart on board and excited to work under him – many of them already praising the work and effort he has applied off the field to make them better, stronger players- a sign that bodes well for the Eels, as they look to get off to a good start.
As we all know, however, games are not won on paper – so, can the Eels challenge for the top spots in 2013 or do they face another challenging year overall?
The Eels have largely the same squad, but have made a few additions, signing Queensland Cup forward Ken Edwards who made a very good impression in the trial against the Wests Tigers, Manly duo Daniel Harrison and Darcy Lussick, another QLD Cup forward in Lorenzo Ma’afu who might have the aggressiveness that the Eels have lacked in the past and other young recruits like Api Pewhairangi and Brayden Williame.
Perhaps the key recruit for the Eels, is that of Darcy Lussick.
Lussick, who was formerly at the Manly Sea Eagles, plays with a brash, aggressive nature when on the field, something that Eels fans have been critical of across the board – saying their team lacks true enforcers.
With Lussick now at the club, a prop who hits the line hard and with speed, playing in a hard-nosed manner, a lot will rest on his shoulders to relieve some of the pressure off the likes of Tim Mannah and Fuifui Moimoi.
His time at Manly saw him start mainly from the bench, but limited game time at times, but that didn’t stop him from making an impact – impact that saw him as one of the Eels best players in the Panthers trial, and impact that the club will hope they see from him in Rd 1.
One player who will be keen for a big year also, is current Eels prop and former NSW player, Tim Mannah.
The Mannah family suffered some horrible news during this off-season, with Tim’s brother Jon unfortunately succumbing to cancer after a brave battle with the illness – an outcome that rocked Tim and the family quite hard.
Using his faith and the support of the club and his team-mates, Mannah has rallied back, however, and will be keen to impress and have a good season in memory of his brother and his best friend.
Mannah for me, is the sort of player that will always give his all and will always stay loyal to those that are loyal to him – doing everything he can to make sure the side wins, but also doing what he can to get the best out of players to help the side win.
Can Mannah get back to the form that saw him play State of Origin, or is that beyond his reach?
Two players to keep an eye out for in 2013 for the Eels are both youngsters, one with first-grade experience and the other a budding prospect wreaking havoc in the NYC.
The first, Jacob Loko. Coming off successive knee reconstructions after aggravating a knee injury during his recovery, Loko is a player that made an immediate impact when given the chance to play, even at one stage, outplaying then veteran centre Mark Gasnier, who immediately acknowledged this and went over to congratulate the young back on his performance after the game.
In 2013, Loko is back raring to go and fitter than ever, and with the very real possibility that he might start in the centres or even come off the bench as a forward, given a move to the back-row has long been touted for Loko, there is no doubt that when it comes to talent, Loko has it and he is a player to look out for.
The second Eels player to keep an eye out for, is a name that many may not have heard of, but you will very soon – Kelepi Tanginoa.
At just 18, Tanginoa was promoted to the Eels NYC side from SG Ball at 17 and made an immediate impact with a damaging running style on the fringes of the ruck, causing havoc for opposition defences.
What makes Tanginoa and his running style so effective, is his stockiness combined with his huge upper body strength. He’s one of those players that you think you have wrapped up, before he carries you on his back or drags you forward 10m, all whilst gaining momentum.
When you’re touted as the Eels best back-row prospect since Nathan Hindmarsh, you know that you’ve got some shoes to fill – but for me personally, having seen Tanginoa play in the past and with the opportunity to once again watch him this year, he’ll be a destructive force for the Eels sides in years to come, and is definitely a name to remember.
All in all, the Eels season has the potential to be one full of promise, so long as the players play for each other, so long as they all perform their roles adequately, and as long as their attitude in attack and defence is at the level it has to be, they have the ability to push teams all the way.
1. Jarryd Hayne (C)
2. Ken Sio
3. Willie Tonga
4. Jacob Loko
5. Ryan Morgan
6. Luke Kelly
7. Chris Sandow
8. Tim Mannah (C)
9. Matt Keating
10. Darcy Lussick
11. Ben Smith
12. Matt Ryan
13. Reni Maitua (C)
14. Fuifui Moimoi
15. Joseph Paulo
16. Mitchell Allgood
17. Ken Edwards