Kings Cross shootings and other off-field dramas aside, the Parramatta Eels head into the 2008 NRL season with quite possibly their best chance of winning the competition since 2001 when their impressive squad went within 6 points of winning the Grand Final against a rampaging Newcastle Knights.
With new coach Michael Hagan well settled in and having aÂ tremendous blend of experience and talented youth at his disposal,Â many predict the Eels to challenge the Storm as they did in 2007 and push for a Grand Final appearance after long last.
The Eels still have one of the few backlines possessing the strike power to trouble the likes of the MelbourneÂ Storm and Manly Sea-Eagles, and with old heads Cayless and Hindmarsh leading a pack full of experience, the signs are there that Parramatta will be on the money inÂ late September. With attacking weapons Hayne, Inu, Grothe, Burt, Mateo and Tim Smith in the side, nothing less than a top 4 finish will be expected. The other X-Factor for the Eels comes in the form of: Joe Galuvao. The former Panther and Bunnie could prove a dynamic asset if the Eels and their coaching team can get the former charger into his vintage form.
Widely regarded as having one of the strongest junior competitions in the league, Parramattaâ€™s premiership hopes will again rest with a bunch of local young guns. While the likes of Krisnan Inu, Jarryd Hayne and Feleti Mateo burst onto the NRL scene in â€™07, coach Hagan is again set to unleash a new batch of talented rookies in season â€™08. Weller Hauraki, Junior Paulo and Matt Keating are just some of the young stars that Hagan will provide more game time with this season, and combined with the long term signatures of Ben and Tim Smith, the Eels are set to remain a force for seasons to come. The other advantage for the Eels is their ability to gain a penalty when required, in 2007 Parramatta got more penalties than any other team by a long shot and seem to be able to fight for a quick play the ball more than other sides in the NRL.
Having lost eight experienced players over the off-season, the Eels may well struggle if hit with injuries. The major concern for the Eels is theirÂ forward depth, mostly at prop – where they don’t possess a long line of backups should injury or suspension hit them. Their success this season will also largely depend on the availability of their precocious half Tim Smith â€“ if he can again find his best form after an off season marred with controversy, then the Eels could indeed go all the way. Also of concern is the defence of Tim Smith and his partner Brett Finch. Both combined fairly well in 2007, but when targetted by opposition attackers in the line – they regularly require assistance to pull the big men down.
2008 Likely NRL Starting Side:
1- Luke Burt
2- Krisnan Inu
3- Ben Smith
4- Jarryd Hayne
5- Eric Grothe
6- Brett Finch
7- Tim Smith
8- Fuifui Moimoi
9- Mark Riddell
10- Nathan Cayless
11- Nathan Hindmarsh
12- Chad Robinson
13- Feleti Mateo
14- Josh Cordoba
15- Joe Galuvao
16- Weller Hauraki
17â€“ Todd Lowrie
NRL Pre-Season Trial Matches:
22/02/08 v Penrith Panthers @ Lavington Oval, Albury
01/03/08 v Sydney Roosters @ Bluetongue Stadium, Gosford
2008 Acquisitions and Departures:
Joe Galuvao (Souths), Ben Raftery (Cronulla), Ben McLennan (Grafton)
PJ Marsh (Brisbane), Timana Tahu (Super 14 Rugby), Blake Green (Cronulla), Aaron Cannings (Gold Coast), Justin Tsoulos and Nathan Tannous (Canterbury), Richard Faâ€™aoso (Newcastle), Ian Hindmarsh (retired)