Optimism. The Eels fans have always had it over the years, even if they’ve had some average rosters that failed to live up to the lofty heights set upon them. In 2016, though, there is renewed optimism. Their recruitment has seen them sign genuine superstars in Kieran Foran and Michael Jennings, in what has been their best signing spree since the mid 00’s around the 2005 period. With a new team expected to take time to gel, how quickly can they all have an impact? Is this finally the all-round team that the Eels have needed to challenge for the title? With a mix of youth and experience, what is expected of the Eels in 2016?
It was 30 years ago this year that the Eels last tasted premiership success. And since then, they have come close but fallen at the last hurdle on three occasions. 2001, 2005 and 2009 might be years that the Eels want to forget but they will never have a better chance to win a premiership than this year. With a genuine half in Kieran Foran, regarded as an elite player, his leadership and dynamism will add a spark to the Eels side that has been lacking in the halves for some years now. His combinations with Corey Norman in particular will be interesting to watch, as will their chemistry on the field. Both are talented players and with Norman coming off a solid 2015 season and an even better Auckland Nines tournament, it will be interesting to see how the duties are split between the two on the field. If both are given freedom to roam around on the left and right, it may provide for some entertaining viewing.
The Eels roster itself offers up an interesting dynamic and mix. There are ageing veterans still capable of performing at the highest level in Anthony Watmough and Beau Scott and aspiring youngsters like Clinton Gutherson and Daniel Alvaro, keen to make an impression in 2016 to cement their claims for regular first-grade action.
Arguably the best side the Eels have had since their 2005 season, there will be no room for excuses if they cannot make the top eight and potentially the top four. The youth and experience of the side will work in their favour, as those veteran players can guide the younger players and help them grow and develop over this season and future seasons, to eventually take over the mantle.
The final hurdle has always eluded the Eels in recent years but with their best roster in 11 years and a coach that is determined and revered by his players, they have the opportunity to establish a sound level of consistency over the next few years.
Although a hard task-master in many respects, Brad Arthur’s harsh yet honest approach, is one that many of the Eels players relish and enjoy. Not one to beat around the bush, he approaches the game with passion and high expectations of his players.
He expects the very best out of his players no matter the situation and will not take complacency, poor form or lazy play lightly.
Ultimately, their side on paper, as previously said, is one of their best in some years, so a top eight spot should be the objective if not even higher.
Their side will be revolutionised with their new additions as Eels fans remain optimistic that they can challenge for the title this year.
Best buy: This one really is a no-brainer. It has to be Kieran Foran. One of the most gifted players currently playing in the NRL, he is the half that the Eels have been crying out for, for some years. The Eels halves are always compared to their last great half Peter Sterling but Foran is not one to pay attention to that. He is his own man, eager to get stuck in for his new club in Rd 1 and make a huge difference. A smart, crafty player, he will organise the Eels in attack on the field and dictate their terms of play. As a captain and leader, his presence will be known, as he guides his new team-mates around the park with a strong character and a strong presence.
Most Promising Talent: This one is also a no-brainer, as fans were treated to a spectacle of pure speed by Bevan French at the NRL Auckland Nines. One of the quickest – if not the quickest – at the Eels and in the NRL, French made his presence known with some blistering pace that left defenders for dead. Still relatively small in NRL terms, he has heart, ticker and drive, and always strives to play as best as possible. His ability to play five-eighth in addition to fullback, adds a new dimension to his game of creativity. His ball-playing skills and awareness area as good as you will see in a young player, and that is an area he has worked on and developed over the last couple of years. Whilst he may not play first-grade in 2016, the Eels are grooming him for a potential 2017 spot under the tutelage of Michael Gordon.
Our predicted line-up:
1. Michael Gordon
2. Semi Radradra
3. Brad Takairangi
4. Michael Jennings
5. Clinton Gutherson
6. Corey Norman
7. Kieran Foran (C)
8. Tim Mannah
9. Nathan Peats
10. Junior Paulo
11. Manu Ma’u
12. Beau Scott
13. Anthony Watmough.
14. Daniel Alvaro
15. Tepai Moeroa
16. Danny Wicks
17. Kenny Edwards
2016 Gains: Mitch Cornish (Canberra Raiders, 2016), Kieran Foran (Manly Sea Eagles, 2019), Michael Gordon (Cronulla Sharks, 2016), Clinton Gutherson (Manly Sea Eagles, 2017), James Hasson (Manly Sea Eagles, 2016), Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters, 2019), Cameron King (North Queensland Cowboys, 2016), Kieren Moss (Penrith Panthers, 2016), Rory O’Brien (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2016), Scott Schulte (North Queensland Cowboys, 2016), Beau Scott (Newcastle Knights, 2018), Kelepi Tanginoa (North Queensland Cowboys, 2016), Matthew Woods (Wests Tigers, 2016)