There would be one very simple goal for the Parramatta Eels in 2015. Make the finals. It would be an understatement to say that the last few years have been tough for the club, given that it has been some time since they have made the finals. Put it down to what you want but there is more than one underlying reason behind it all and in 2015, that is the potential year to buck the trend.
In the Eels favour, they have one of the best and most talented up-and-coming coaches in the NRL right now. Brad Arthur is that man and from the word go in 2014, despite some indifferent results, you immediately saw the change in the team and how well they respond to Arthur. The Eels coach is a disciplinarian of sorts like a Bellamy but at the same time, he is charismatic and looks after his players both on and off the field. He is the sort of coach that players look up to and enjoy playing under because of his no-nonsense approach. Arthur will call it like he sees it and if there is something he sees that he knows is not right, he will pick up on it and rectify it immediately. Essentially, he embodies the true meaning of a man-manager and that is what players want. Someone that can relate to them professionally and personally.
In terms of the playing roster, there is one situation that is still on the lips of many fans, especially rival ones to the Eels. That is, as you can guess, Jarryd Hayne. The Eels superstar and focal point went in search of an opportunity in the NFL to fulfill a lifelong dream – and good on him, we say – and it has many opposition fans presuming that the Eels are set to languish as cellar dwellers and potential wooden spooners once more.
Such a time is when a coach like Brad Arthur steps in. He has worked feverishly and tirelessly to put together a balanced roster that has a chance to succeed in the NRL. Through new recruits, current players and a young brigade at his disposal, Arthur is keen to make sure that the club become galvanised and that they play together as a strong, cohesive unit, capable of winning a multitude of games.
Hayne’s departure has caused a debate of a different kind this off-season. Just who will play the fullback role?Now, we know that it will be Will Hopoate to play in the position as confirmed by Brad Arthur himself but for arguments sake, let us assess the options at their disposal.
Hopoate is no stranger to the fullback jersey. During his first NRL stint at the Manly Sea Eagles, he played some fullback and excelled there. For Hopoate, whilst he has to re-learn the position given his time away from the game and given his stint in the centres last year, it is actually his preferred position. A natural athlete in the game of rugby league, Hopoate will have the support of fans and team-mates as he readjusts to life at fullback.
In addition to Hopoate, the Eels have two recruits that are capable of playing fullback in former Canberra speedster Reece Robinson and former Dragons utility Adam Quinlan. Robinson is a noted speedster and offers dynamism and nippiness from the back, whereas Quinlan is more of a natural ball-player and can chime into sweeping attacking movements. Both obviously will not play fullback from the get-go but should Hopoate play Origin, the chance for one of them to pounce on the fullback spot will be in full-swing.
Finally, perhaps the biggest talking point other than Hayne’s departure has been the arrival of Anthony Watmough. The Eels forward pack has been calling out for a genuine leader, a veteran and a leader of men. Watmough, for some years now, has been regarded as one of the game’s elite and one of the best modern back-rowers in the game. With a largely young core back-row, signing Watmough and having him play alongside the younger players will be invaluable to them as players and as people. Even at his age, he is still a crucial player in any team and his work-rate, energy and punch, will be imperative for the Eels if their forward pack is to successfully lay the foundations for each game, every week.
Best buy: It would be easy to select Watmough with this one but this section is going in a different direction. Brad Arthur perhaps had a plan in the back of his mind or even subconsciously, that Hopoate was the man to replace Hayne at fullback. So, with a plan B in mind, the club went out and bought Brad Takairangi. The Cook Islands representative came off a very handy year at the Titans in 2014, where he played mostly centre and offloaded well, created well and made the most of the opportunities. In light of Hopoate’s move to the back, the Eels lacked a strike centre and in Takairangi, they now have one. His work-rate is also very high and in full flight and ball in hand, he has a hard player to stop and bring down one-on-one. An experienced player, he will be the one that the Eels back look to for inspiration and experience.
Most Promising Talent He has been around the traps somewhat in his junior career to date, but he is highly regarded among the Eels faithful and within the organisation. Halaufau Lavaka finished last year as the top scorer in the Holden Cup, a quality feat by the young winger. Big, mobile and robust, Lavaka scores tries for fun and score them with nifty footwork, brute strength or in the air, making him a tough player to handle for opposition defences. Rewarded with some recent opportunities in both the Auckland Nines and trial games, whilst he is still learning the game and refining his overall style of play, he is a talented player and one that is on the cusp of first-grade.
Our predicted line-up:
1. Will Hopoate
2. Semi Radradra
3. Brad Takairangi
4. Beau Champion
5. Reece Robinson
6. Corey Norman
7. Chris Sandow
8. Tim Mannah (C)
9. Nathan Peats
10. Junior Paulo
11. Manu Ma’u
12. Tepai Moeroa
13. Anthony Watmough
14. David Gower
15. Darcy Lussick
16. Danny Wicks
17. Joseph Paulo