Passionate rugby league and Eels fan Andrew submits his first article, as he casts his eye over the Parramatta players – and the coach even – that are under the most pressure to succeed. With no Jarryd Hayne, can these players step up or will the team has a whole falter and have a poor season?
Freddie Mercury and Queen were under it (although Vanilla Ice stole theirs). Keith Miller reckoned you werenâ€™t under pressure until you had an enemy fighter jet on your â€˜tail.â€™ Legendary female tennis player Billie-Jean King maintains that â€˜pressure is a privilege.â€™ And Des Hasler continually wants his teams to fly under the radar so his opposition are the ones feeling the pressure. Whichever way you look at it, rugby league is a sport that can lead to a lot of pressure for individuals and teams.
With that in mind, I want to take a look at the five men under the most pressure at the Parramatta Eels in no particular order.
Only an extremely hard marker wouldn’t rate Brad Arthurâ€™s first season in charge of the Eels as a successful one. After successive wooden spoons, the Eels (under Arthur) showed what respect in your coach and a savvy game plan can bring. While Iâ€™m still not convinced Brad Arthur has the full arsenal required to be a coach of the caliber of Bennett, Sheens or Gibson, he has certainly taken his Parramatta side in the right direction. Despite some rookie mistakes (not surprisingly for such an inexperienced coaching lineup) and an inability to finish off the season with a play-off berth that was well within grasp over the last couple of rounds, Brad Arthur has shown he has the courage, game-plan, savvy recruiting and enough respect from the players to take Parramatta one step further this season.
And thatâ€™s why heâ€™s under pressure. Without his superstar player, Jarryd Hayne, Brad Arthur is still expected to take his team to the post-season. EVERY Parramatta coach EVERY year is expected to do that. Heâ€™s got the squad he wants. The majority of his players have another years experience under their belts, and Bradâ€™s not a rookie any more. My personal opinion is that heâ€™ll thrive under the pressure and weâ€™ll see Brad improve as a coach from his impressive debut season, and I would not be surprised to see Parramatta make a late run to the play-offs even without their matchwinner Jarryd Hayne. They may not be able to win the competition this year, but they could do some major damage to other sides that fancy their chances.
Nobody wants to be out of job. And Chris Sandow will be acutely aware that his contract expires at the end of 2015. While I donâ€™t believe he is paid anywhere near the figures that seem to be regularly bandied around in the press any time Sandow shows indifferent form, the man himself would admit that he has underachieved during most of his time at Parramatta. After taking some time to settle in to a new team, he has struggled with well-publicised personal issues, even spending a period of time playing with the Wenty Magpies. If Chris Sandow is going to have a big â€˜careerâ€™ year, 2015 will be it!
For the last few years, this has been Jarryd Hayneâ€™s team. When Parramatta needed something remarkable to happen, they threw the ball to Hayne and more often than not, Hayne reciprocated by showing the kind of form that made him a dual Dally M Medal Winner. But such times are no more. This is now Sandowâ€™s team. Sandow is the man who must provide the spark for the Parramatta attack. For all his skill and leadership, Corey Norman just doesnâ€™t have the x-factor that the polarizing Sandow can produce. A brilliant individualist when he is â€˜hotâ€™, Sandow could just provide the spark that will now be lacking without Jarryd Hayneâ€™s influence. And playing for a contract has helped many players over the years bring out their best form! Will Sandow bring out his best form and take his game (and the players around him) to another level, or will Parramatta be searching for its 4 millionth halfback since the days of the legendary Peter Sterling?
I must admit I was surprised at Hoppaâ€™s first year back from his 2 year Mormon mission. He obviously struggled with the physicality required to play in the centres after losing body weight while away from the game, but I was very impressed with his attitude and his great hands. Both Parramatta wingers last year benefited from great leadup work from their centres (Hopoate and Tonga) and this was a key to their resurgence. And he was rewarded with a call-up to the NSW squad.
But this year Hopoate has another year of first grade under his belt and is expected to become the custodian after the departure of Hayne. While Hopoate is no Jarryd Hayne, I believe Hoppa does bring some great qualities to the fullback role which could make him just as effective as his predecessor. Hoppa is a strong character, well-grounded and confident in his own abilities, while still remaining humble. While last year was a huge test as to whether he could once again handle the rigours of first grade rugby league, 2015 will bring with it other pressures.
Replacing Hayne is enough to make any player wilt under enormous pressure. Add to that the pressures away from football of his impending wedding and his brotherâ€™s well-documented trouble with the law. But Hopoate is mature beyond his years and seems ready to stamp his authority on a Parramatta side that could use his developing leadership and his calm demeanour. Iâ€™m personally looking forward to Will having a huge year and would not be surprised to see him in a sky-blue jersey come Origin time, with his versatility, work-rate and toughness never to be questioned.
Pauli Pauli seems set to assume the mantle of crowd favourite at Parramatta with the departure of FuiFui MoiMoi. Pauli Pauli is a mountain of a young man (playing first grade while still eligible for under 20â€™s). In fact, he is so big, he uses gumtrees for tooth picks! But Pauli was reported to be suffering burnout towards the back end of last season, which is such a shame, because I believe a fresh Pauli Pauli could have made a huge difference to the late season run Parramatta were looking for to make the play-offs.
Like so many young players who come into first grade, Pauli Pauli has showed a lot of promise, but while promise might get you a start, it wonâ€™t guarantee you a future. Heâ€™s big, raw and mobile for a big man and looks like he has great hands, particularly the little off-load at the line he showed us a few times last year. But this is his second year in first grade and dare I mention the dreaded second-year syndrome. Opposing players wonâ€™t hang off him this year waiting to see what he will do. He will be targeted. Can Pauli Pauli further develop his game as he matures physically? I donâ€™t know the answers to these questions but if he does, I hope he is eligible for NSW!!!
With a sigh and a pout, Watmough left Manly to link up with Brad Arthur at Parramatta. And I must admit, I was left wondering why? Manu Maâ€™u, Kenny Edwards, Pauli Pauli, Tepai Moeroa, Joseph Paulo and David Gower, are all capable of performing well in the Parramatta back-row. Granted, Watmough brings valuable experience that the aforementioned players do not have, having won Grand Finals with Manly and represented NSW and Australia.
And I also believe Brad Arthur has taken a huge gamble by signing Watmough on a four year deal. There are many questions that only time and Anthony Watmoughâ€™s performances can answer. At 31, is he durable enough or have the last few years shown he has become injury prone? Will he skip leg day? Will he cause me to sit on the edge of my seat when playing representative football, as he has been known to make a few mistakes and concede a few silly penalties. Will Watmough provide the leadership and toughness to a Parramatta pack that have wilted under pressure a few times last year? Will he be a uniting or divisive influence?
There are many reports that Watmough has commanded a huge salary from the Eels (heavily subsidized by Manly in the first year) and this only heaps more pressure on Watmough to perform. How will he go away from Manly, the only club he has ever known as he turns out for their rivals Parramatta? Only time will tell whether Watmough and Arthurâ€™s partnership at the Eels will bear fruit. As I write this, I read a text message from a friend who is adamant that Watmough is helping Parramatta secure the services of Kieran Foran for 2016 and beyond, in which case the decision to sign Watmough is looking a very inspired choice, regardless of on-field performance!