Layered with turmoil on and off the field in 2016, the Eels will be looking to put that behind them and will be hoping for a change in fortunes in 2017. With star players out and about getting into trouble, the mass salary cap saga that implicated several administration employees and so much more, it was a year to forget for the Parramatta Eels, a club with a rich history and a proud brand.
Whilst things may seem on the up and up in 2017, there are still some questions that remain over the make-up of their side as well as whether they can put the past behind them and focus on the goal that all clubs chase – premiership success.
As a club, the Eels have had their ups and downs in recent years and whilst they have possessed talent sides, many players have failed to live up to the expectations placed upon them and as a result, the Eels have missed out on finals footy for quite a number of seasons now.
As the 2017 season nears closer, fans are quietly optimistic that a top eight spot is within their reach. With Brad Arthur at the helm, a fair yet imposing presence as a coach, who wants the best out of his players and helps them achieve their on-field and off-field goals, the Eels are in a good position and fans have full faith in Arthur to deliver consistency, potential success and hopefully a finals berth.
A major talking point by many Eels fans and even rival fans is the make-up of their halves. Some believe that the Eels should have made a play for an elite halfback to play alongside Corey Norman but the Eels and coach Arthur had other ideas. Impressed with the performances of Clint Gutherson at five-eighth towards the back end of 2016, Arthur has made a decision to continue with him in the role with the aim to form a sound combination alongside Norman. Shifted around somewhat as a player in his Eels career, Gutherson found his home first at centre and then at five-eighth, and Eels fans will be hopeful that he can continue to perform in that role.
To follow on from that point is Corey Norman himself. Forced to take on the dominant half role after Kieran Foran was injured and had his off-field issues resulting in his departure, up until he himself was suspended for an off-field incident, he seemed to perform relatively well and control the game.
Though 2017 will be made tougher for him given that there is added pressure to perform. As the dominant half for the Eels in their setup, he will have to dictate terms, call the shots and become the focal point of the club’s attack on virtually every play, much like Thurston or Cronk are for their respective clubs. Dealing with such a burden is not something all players respond to but if Norman can harness that pressure and turn it into confidence and consistency, it could be just what the doctor ordered for the Eels.
Brad Arthur has put the faith in the duo to perform, the question is – can the duo of Gutherson and Norman justify their coaches faith in the halves.
Perhaps the player that is under the most pressure at the Eels in season 2017 is Bevan French. A technically gifted player, French as the finesse, the speed and the agile nature, that complements his individual style of play so well. As he prepares for a permanent move to fullback, though, how will the added expectation of playing there week in and week out and having the fans counting on you to perform affect his overall performance? Whilst he performed strongly in the final two games of the 2016 season at fullback, there was little pressure there. Fast forward to Rd 1, 2017, and there will be high hopes of him that he can perform and do so consistently.
With a new season in tow, the expectation on the Eels team as a whole is high. With a side that represents that in which coach Arthur wants and one that fans believe can go places, their form on the field is crucial if they are to challenge the top sides. In their own right, they have the personnel to perform well and coupled with their new signings and the existing players, they will be expected to be consistent and get the best out of each other.
Overcoming the numerous factors that stand in their way will be no easy feat but with Brad Arthur at the helm to draw the very best out of his players, you can bank on the Eels being competitive in games and pushing teams all the way.
Best buy: If his form at the Nines was anything to go by, the Eels and their fans will look forward to having Suaia Matagi at their disposal. Finishing up in the Auckland Nines team of the tournament, Matagi is a power runner in the forwards and constantly gets over the advantage line. Hard to stop on the frontline, he powers ahead and makes strong metres with each carry. Just the sort of forward that the Eels need, Matagi can be the perfect foil for metre-eating forwards such as Mannah and Moeroa.
Matagi’s style will punch inroads in the defence and create quicker play the balls and more opportunities for the attacking players to do their jobs. Eels fans expect a lot of Matagi and his form, at this stage, is exactly what they are expecting of him.
Best Young Talent: Compared to Tim Mannah by many, the Eels have a young prop that could make an impression if given opportunity in 2017 – Alex Twal. Whilst the club have strengthened their forward pack, the youngster is highly rated by coach Brad Arthur. Tall and lanky, he has the heart of a lion and a motor to boot, throwing himself at the defence in search of as many metres as possible. Whilst he might be a touch down the pecking order given the signings the Eels have made in the forwards, he will be closely watched by Arthur and his coaching staff as an option to consider if things get tough or if there is nothing to play for in the season. For now, he bides his time with the Eels feeder club, Wentworthville. Though Eels fans will be watching him closely to see if he can perform well there as a prelude to what might see him earn a first-grade spot.
2017 gains: Kirisome Auva’a, Nathan Brown, Jamal Fogarty, Josh Hoffman, George Jennings, Suaia Matagi, Marata Niukore, Frank Pritchard, Will Smith & Siosaia Vave.
Our predicted Eels line-up at full-strength:
- Bevan French
- Semi Radradra
- Michael Jennings
- Brad Takairangi
- Josh Hoffman
- Clint Gutherson
- Corey Norman (C)
- Suaia Matagi
- Issac De Gois
- Tim Mannah
- Beau Scott
- Manu Ma’u
- Tepai Moeroa
14. Nathan Brown
15. Kenny Edwards
16. Siosaia Vave
17. Frank Pritchard