The Eels had one of the biggest fall from graces in 2018. Can they turn it around this year?
Dylan Brown (2020), Andrew Davey (2019), Blake Ferguson (Sydney Roosters, 2021), Shaun Lane (Manly Sea Eagles, 2020), Junior Paulo (Canberra Raiders, 2022), Maika Sivo (Penrith Panthers, 2020), Stefano Utoikamanu (2019)
Kirisome Auva’a (retired), Kenny Edwards (Catalan Dragons), Cameron King (Featherstone Rovers), Suaia Matagi (Huddersfield Giants), Corey Norman (St George Illawarra Dragons), Beau Scott (retired), Tony Williams (released)
Eels fans, look away now.
The 2018 Eels were perhaps THE worst side I’ve seen in the modern era. Given the fact that Newcastle ‘won’ three straight wooden spoons, that is saying something.
There is no way that this Eels, chock full of talent as it is, should have finished last. I had them finishing comfortably in the top 8. Most did.
Moses and Norman were well below par. Gutherson did not bounce back. Jarryd Hayne played well upon his return from injury but did not come close to justifying his return.
The Eels forward pack were beaten from pillar to post almost weekly. That pack should not be losing battles almost weekly.
I have no idea how Brad Arthur survived the season, but given their recent instability I can certainly see why the Eels went the way they did.
Very few positives came out of the 2018 Eels season.
Best Recruit: Blake Ferguson
The Eels needed a superstar outside back to kick start their sets and score tries. In Blake Ferguson they have netted exactly what they needed.
Ferguson had a monster 2018 season. He was the leading metre eater mainly due to his kick returns and dummy half runs to kick start sets for the Roosters.
The Eels have invested heavily in the talented yet wayward winger but they had to take the risk. On field Ferguson has few peers in what he excels at.
There may be a move to shift Fergo into the centres to maximise his output but surely they can’t move him given his dominant form from the wing.
Huge get for a side which struggled massively working the ball out of their own end.
Young Gun/One To Watch: Dylan Brown
18 year-old Dylan Brown has had a big off-season without so much as kicking a footy in anger.
He was the supposed target of a massive, multi-year deal from across the Tasman by the Warriors. According to reports young Brown was the man the Warriors wanted to replace Shaun Johnson long-term.
The Eels not only turned down the advance but look set to debut the talented half in round one as partner to Mitch Moses.
Considering he only played five games in 2018 in the Intrust Super Premiership, there must be some super talent on show for such an early debut.
Star Player: Mitch Moses
Mitch Moses failed to live up to expectations in 2018 following a super finish to his 2017 season. Simply put, the Eels need Moses firing to play finals footy.
Moses was electric in his early days in the blue and gold and had a massive World Cup tournament for Lebanon. That did not prove to be the kick start we all expected.
Below-par 2018 side, Moses is a freakish talent. He was in the Origin discussion 12 months ago for good reason.
The 2019 Eels is Mitch Moses’ team. Without Corey Norman or Jarryd Hayne, this is now the young halves side.
With Ferguson, Gutherson and Jennings at his disposal, there is really no reason why Moses can’t have a huge bounce back season. The Eels need it.
Recruitment Grade: B-
The Eels have recruited very well. Let me be straight up in saying they haven’t gone out and signed any players that can take them to the top four in one season, but they’ve done very well considering their position.
Blake Ferguson was exactly what they needed. No side was less effective coming out off their own line in 2018, something the Eels were forced to do very often.
Shaun Lane is an underrated pick up. He was among Manly’s best last year and is an absolute monster. He will have a huge season in blue and gold. Good pick up.
Junior Paulo is another big signing, literally.
The Eels pack were bashed last season more often than not. They didn’t have any forward momentum to allow their struggling halves to find space.
Lane and Paulo will help that. Based on pure size they improve the pack in a big way, again literally.
Three big ins in positions the Eels were dire in 2018. Big step forward.
Despite the improvements they’ve made in the off-season, I don’t see a huge amount of improvement in the 2019 Eels squad.
Dylan Brown, for all his talent, is a rookie debuting in a pressure cooker situation. He’s yet to play five games against full grown men yet is thrown in and expected to lead the team to finals footy.
Mitch Moses is still being linked with a move away from the club despite being their only senior playmaker. That’s not good.
The forward pack is certainly stronger than last year, but is paper thin in depth.
The outside backs look less than stellar. Takairangi is a second rower while Michael Jennings is reportedly set for a stint in reserve grade.
Bevan French has almost disappeared off the face of the earth while Clint Gutherson struggled to re-find his form after a horrible injury.
I’m not sure how this side pushes for finals footy. My hope is that Brad Arthur completely overhauls his game-plan and plays to their strengths.
Hopefully they throw the ball around and allow Gutherson to run as much as he wants. Moses too.
They’ll be better in 2019 than last year, they have to be. That said, I just can’t see anything other than a rebuild season for the blue and gold.