Predicted Finish: 10th
Actual Finish: 4th
Best Performer: Clinton Gutherson
I’ll cop some heat here not going with Mitchell Moses or Semi Radradra, but for mine, Clinton Gutherson was the Eels best all season. Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to injury, but the Parra utility went from being Mr Fix It to a genuine superstar in 2017. 11 tries, 14 line breaks and five try assists are top line stats, made even more impressive by the fact he only played 18 games and was shifted positions multiple times. The five-eighth turned centre turned fullback lit up the competition in each and every position he was asked to play. He will probably start in the number one in 2018, but wherever he plays, Eels fans will hope he can continue his 2017 form.
Season Highlight: Round 25: 52-34 win over Brisbane
Eels fans probably enjoyed the round one win over bitter rivals Manly more than any other this season, but for mine, the thumping win away to Brisbane was the highlight for the blue and golds. Needing to win in front of a huge Brisbane crowd to ensure a top-four finish, the Eels did just that, and in style. The Broncos themselves were flying and needed to beat the Eels to claim a top two position, but they were played off the park in one of the most exciting games of the season. Semi Radradra scored four tries, including some absolute stunners, as the Eels ran up over a half-century of points away from home. From the very first play, a dropped ball by the Broncos that turned into an Eels try, Parramatta took charge, and despite conceding 34 points, were well worth the two competition points.
Best Signing: Jarryd Hayne
Say what you want re Hayne’s stint in the Gold Coast, but the incumbent NSW centre is still a megastar of the game. The move back to the Eels will surely bring out the best in Hayne for multiple reasons. Firstly he will be closer to his family which should provide him with a far more stable environment. Secondly, he was over-relied upon while at the Titans. The Eels have a far more balanced side and play the kind of game that will suit him. I can’t see him pipping Gutherson or French to the number one jersey, but a full season at centre should really allow Hayne to run riot. There is nothing he can’t do, and when focused, Hayne is among the games best. He has his detractors, but few can deny his abilities.
Set up for title tilt: During the salary cap drama, a premiership looked a decade away. Fast forward to the end of 2017 and suddenly it feels really close. The Eels have an all-star back line, a quality halves pairing and a fearsome forward pack. They also have a very clever coach who seems to be able to extract the best from his players in Brad Arthur. His major headaches seem to be centred around how he can fit all his stars into the one side. Not a bad ‘problem’ to have.
Brilliant buys: The Eels recruited exceptionally well over the past year or so. Nathan Brown was the stand out signing. He was a bit-part player at the Bunnies, and a troubled one at that, but has established himself as one of the game’s elite lock forwards. There’s a genuine chance the 24-year-old can push for rep honours in the not too distant future. Mitch Moses also proved to be a brilliant pick up following his mid-season shift from the Tigers. He was playing without confidence in Tiger Town but looks a completely different person in blue and gold. Siosia Vave and Kirisome Auva’a also played their part.
Same squad: Semi Radradra aside, the Eels managed to hold onto the huge majority of their squad moving forward. Hayne and Semi are really a straight swap and everything else stays the same. Obviously, they’ll need to shuffle to move Hayne to centre, but the settled nature of the squad is a huge plus. The Cowboys have enjoyed three years of great success on the back of a large unchanged playing roster. The Eels will hope for the same.
Season Grading: A
I’ll admit it, I didn’t see this Eels side doing a whole lot of damage in 2017. I didn’t think they had the forwards or the halves, but in Nathan Brown and Mitchell Moses, the Eels added two cogs in what they hope will ultimately be a machine then delivers a premiership.
Gutherson was the star, but Radradra scored 17 tries and made an incredible 21 line breaks. Some of the tries he scored have to be seen to be believed. Bevan French is one of the game’s most exciting youngsters and seemed to take his relegation to the wing in stride.
Nathan Brown was arguably the buy of the season. He helped completely transform the Eels pack. That said the likes of Ma’u and co are hardly a soft pack of forwards. Brown just plugged the gap in the middle that saw the Eels exposed in 2016.
The Eels came within a whisker of knocking off the Storm in round one of the finals. Had they managed to win that game, they would have been favourites to capture the title for mine. Unfortunately, they went out the next weekend to the late storming Cowboys.
Playing in the second week of finals is always a win in my books, but the style in which Parra did it just makes that achievement all the more memorable.