2017 was a brilliant season for the blue and golds from Sydney’s west. Unfortunately, they were bounced from the finals across two weekends, however qualifying for the top four is a brilliant stepping stone to hopefully ending the longest premiership drought in the NRL.
Not only were on-field results much improved but the club seems to FINALLY have its cards in order off the field also. The board is settled, off-field issues were almost non-existent and the club managed to hold onto the large majority of their side.
Clinton Gutherson has a breakout year and became everybody’s second favourite player. Bevan French continued his ascent to stardom. Manu Ma’u established himself as the game’s most feared man, while Nathan Brown had a breakout season that very few saw coming.
Recruitment Grading: C
In terms of the impact, it’s as simple as Semi is out and Hayne is in. Hayne will likely slot into a centre position pushing Brad Takairangi into the forwards. Jennings and French have two other back-line positions stitched up while Gutherson will slot back into the fullback when fully fit. To be honest, the Eels, having finished fourth last season, really didn’t need to work too hard on recruitment. They signed Moses last season and replaced Semi with Hayne, thus really completing a side capable of a premiership charge.
Star Player: Corey Norman
Parra has a multitude of stars; Moses, Gutherson, Jennings, Hayne, but for mine, Corey Norman is the main man. He had a brilliant 2017 season although had a few quiet games and will be looking to ensure 2018 doesn’t follow a similar pattern. A few years ago he was mentioned as a future Origin half for the Maroons, and with Thurston and Cronk moving on, there is a spot next to Michael Morgan available. Norman’s ability to create something out of nothing will beautifully compliment the more consistent Moses. Given the freakish try-scoring ability either side of the 26-year-old, he could be looking at a huge tally in try assists in 2018. This will be the season he finally realises his incredible potential.
Strength: Freakish abilities
Gutherson, Hayne, French, Norman. Those are four of the game’s most electric stars who can create something out of absolutely nothing. For all the grief Hayne will cop, this is still a two-time Dally M medal winner with game-breaking abilities like few others. Clint Gutherson’s injury probably ended the Eels’ premiership hopes after his ridiculously brilliant start to 2017. Mitchell Moses adds a degree of calmness to the team and will be brimming with confidence following an electric World Cup campaign. Despite playing almost 250 NRL games, Michael Jennings is still only 29 and has plenty of highlight reel moments ahead of him.
This may sound like a bit of a cop-out but can the Eels allow themselves to win a title? Ask Sharks fans how it feels to constantly be reminded of how long it has been without lifting the premiership trophy. That creates pressure within itself. I guarantee you that if the Eels go on a tear and win a few games in a row that the media will jump straight on this narrative. Brad Arthur and his coaching staff have to block this out. Arthur is an experienced and intelligent man so I don’t feel like this will hinder the club but it’s hard for people not to get caught up in the excitement of talk of ending a long drought.
This was tough. Across three drafts of the predicted table, I had Parramatta placed in three different positions. For the record, they were fourth, fifth and sixth.
The Eels look a step below the big three sides, the Roosters, Cowboys and Storm, but look almost a top eight certainty. I have them just edging the likes of the Panthers and Sharks into that valued fourth position.
From there, anything is possible. Finals footy has thrown up some massive upsets, including the Cowboys fairytale run just last season.
The Eels have all the talent required to go deep into the finals. Moses and Norman combine to create a brilliant halves partnership. Between them, there is nothing they can’t do. Norman has all the flair and Moses the skills.
Perhaps the fact that neither hooking option really stands out as a ‘must pick’ looks a slight weakness. The Eels forward pack is strong but probably lacks the skill set of their Cowboy, Rooster, Storm and Shark counterparts.
The Eels will be tough to beat in 2018 but I just can’t see them ending that title drought just yet. A lot will depend on how Jarryd Hayne settles in.