MACKAY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Ray Stone of the Eels looks dejected after the NRL Semifinal match between Penrith Panthers and Parramatta Eels at BB Print Stadium on September 18, 2021 in Mackay, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

The Parramatta Eels started with a bang, fell away, made the finals and then fell in a brave performance. Here is their 2021 season review.

Pre-season predicted finish: 2nd
Actual finish: 6th
Record: 15 wins (+109)

2021 Season snapshot

The Eels entered the season ranging anywhere from top four hopefuls to fodder depending on who you spoke to. For mine, they were a real hot title chance.

Truthfully they never really reached those heights despite some incredible results, but I'd also argue they were an unlucky play away from a preliminary final.

Over the years they've built a club capable of winning the premiership. That said, in 2021 as with years prior, the Eels big stars failed to fire too often.

The Eels are the most difficult team in the game to sum up. One moment they look like genuine title contenders, the next you wonder how they even played finals footy.

Ultimately they fell just two points short of the eventual premiers in one of the best finals games we've seen in recent years.

Star player: Isaiah Papali'i

Papali'i was amongst the game's best players in 2021. He was awarded a spot in the Dally M team of the year as the game's form second rower.

Across 27 appearances (including finals) he scored seven tries, ran for bang on 150 metres per game, broke an eye watering 109 tackles and tackled at over 94 per cent.

Papali'i was signed as a fringe player from the Warriors yet quickly developed into the Eels best second-rower. Considering Shaun Lane and Ryan Matterson also played second-row says it all.

He was shifted to prop and then the interchange bench as the season drew to a close and Parra's output suffered. He was elite across 2021 and is due for a big contract upgrade.

ISAIAH PAPALI'I
Lock
Eels
2021 SEASON AVG
1.2
Offloads
0.3
Tries
0.1
Try Assists

Breakout star: Reed Mahoney

Let's be real here, Papali'i was the breakout star for the Eels but given his earlier accolade I want to praise the incredible efforts of Reed Mahoney.

2021 was the season when Mahoney graduated from handy first grader to Origin quality. He should have played Origin 1 given the form he was in.

Mahoney has long been known for his incredible defence. This season he made 763 tackles at 96.1 per cent, but he developed in attack in 2021.

Three tries, 13 try assists, 13 line break assists this season for the headgear wearing future rep player. In comparison, in 2020 he laid on three try assists.

Rugby League Outlaws present their Season Finale and talk all the big issues

Positives

Prelim worthy season: Calling a spade a spade, if the Eels got that last play right they line up against the Storm in that preliminary final. They matched it with the Panthers for all 80 minutes.

The Eels were the only team to beat the Storm twice in the regular season. To think that two of the Storm's three losses came to one club is crazy.

The Eels stats were very solid; they finished the fourth-best defensive side and the seventh-best attacking side across the regular season.

Apart from a three-week stretch where they were blown out by the Roosters, Bunnies and Sea Eagles, they were competitive all season long. They deserved to play in that prelim.

Brilliant start: The Eels set the tone early in flying out of the gates. They won their first round games and nine out of their first 10.

They were far from easy games either as the Eels beat the likes of the Roosters, the Raiders and premiers and eventual minor premiers the Storm.

The lone loss was a well below par performance against the Dragons. That will be the difficult answer to a trivia question for Eels members one night.

Parramatta needed to hit the ground running as the likes of the Storm, Panthers and Bunnies were always likely to be the more consistent sides.

Given their incredible nine from ten start, they couldn't have asked for much more.

Negatives

Dylan Brown Output: Dylan Brown is a wonderful player with a huge future. His 2020 was magnificent and his halves combination with Mitch Moses looks a genuine winner.

That said, his production was well down in 2021. So much so that he only contributed two try assists across 21 appearances.

Clint Gutherson had 20. Mitch Moses also had 20. If you said the halves and fullback would combine for 42 try assists, I'm not guessing this breakdown.

It's not all about try assists, or stats in general, but Brown couldn't step up to add that third point of attack nearly enough in 2021.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Dylan Brown of the Eels runs with the ball during the round 25 NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Manly Sea Eagles at Bankwest Stadium on September 06, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Manly whipping boys: If there's one team the Eels hate losing to it's the Sea Eagles. This Parra-Manly rivalry is not a friendly one. It's full of history and plenty of battles.

Manly's 28-6 win over the Eels in Round 11 was bad enough. The Eels were 9-1 at that stage but fans were smarting from that loss.

Round 22 shaped as an opportunity for revenge but instead saw the Eels whooped 56-10 on the Sunshine coast.

This was an ugly a loss as there had been all season. The fact it came to their most bitter of rivals did not sit well.

Season Grade: B

I genuinely can't believe the negativity this club attracts by opposition fans. They finished, comfortably, inside the top eight and by all rights should have lined up for a prelim.

Isaiah Papali'i had an all-time season and lead an incredible forward pack that matched it with the very best on almost every occasion.

Reed Mahoney's injury came at a horrible time and was likely the difference come finals time.

A fully fit Mahoney plus a fully firing Dylan Brown and there is no reason they can't push further next season.

The Eels had a season every side outside of the top four would happily trade for. That's more than a pass mark. If they had pinched that late win over the Panthers, who knows?