TOWNSVILLE, AUSTRALIA - MAY 18: Eels coach Brad Arthur speaks at the post match media conference at the end of the round 10 NRL match between the North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels at 1300SMILES Stadium on May 18, 2019 in Townsville, Australia. (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

This time every year the chatter begins, on TV and radio, in newspapers and online – who is the NRL’s coach of the year?

The general consensus: Dessie has it in the bag, a short half head ahead of Ricky and the consistently magnificent Bellyache. But wait a second, check that photo finish again, who’s that unfashionable nag in the blue and gold colours loping along down the outside?

I’m not here to poo poo the Sea Eagles, Raiders or Storm mentors’ claims to be the 2019 King of the Clipboard. All have done an incredible job and any one of them would be a worthy winner, but I do contend that Brad Arthur has earned a place in the debate.

In 2018, the Eels came last. Stone. Motherless. Trent Barrett was resting easy on his garden furniture, comforting himself in the knowledge that at least his side wasn’t as bad as Parra. I mean, seriously, even the Titans were looking down their noses.

Parramatta has won 12 games so far this year, compared to just six in 2018, and that’s with four rounds yet to play.  The -176 points differential of last year has blossomed to +27 in 2019, an improvement by more than 200 points. In terms of sheer numerical improvement year on year, no other side can boast such figures.

I keep hearing people tripping over their platitudes in praise of Des lifting Manly from 15th in 2018 to fifth this year, yet little mention of Arthur lifting the Eels an equal number of rungs up the ladder from 16th to sixth. Why is this?

Look, I get it, Parra hasn’t looked like a top six side this year. They have had some good fortune – meeting a Panthers side reeling from a sex tape scandal in round one, an injury-ravaged Sharks in round four, the Origin-depleted Rabbitohs in round 12, a hopelessly out of form Broncos in round 14, a Warriors side that couldn’t buy a penalty in round 19.

Sure, their consistency has rightly been questioned – failing to score a point in Canberra, spanked by Melbourne during Magic Round, beaten by Penrith at Bankwest in what remains a contender for worst game of the year, carved up by Wade Graham on a cold Saturday night in Cronulla and being an unwilling participant in the Tommy Turbo Show at Brookie.

But strip away how it’s looked and let’s revisit the fact that matters most, Parramatta is sixth on the ladder, with a good gap back to seventh. There are 10 other sides right now who wouldn’t mind being as “inconsistent” as the Eels. So, how did they get there? Look no further than the coaches box.

Somewhere along the line this year, the Eels have learned something that’s very un-Eels-like, they’ve learned some resolve and how to grind out a win. In all of those games I mentioned where the opposition wasn’t at the peak of their powers, Parra won. They didn’t fluff around like the Parra of old, winning a few and letting a few they were expected to win slip through their fingers, they won them all.

More recently, games against a desperate Dragons and Knights; on both occasions, Parra hung tough, managed the closing stages, won the big moments and took home the two points. Who is this side and what have they done with the real Parramatta?

Remember the Eels versus Raiders in Darwin? The Raiders got out to a big lead and were run down. The narrative afterwards was that the Raiders got complacent and lost, right? In hindsight, maybe it was the Eels who got hungry and won? Just a thought.

Yes, Parra has a new rampaging Fijian winger on the left and that ex-Rooster with the wonky nose is more than earning his keep on the right, but between the wings, Brad Arthur’s squad is largely the same as the one that took home the spoon last year. The Eels don’t have any future immortals (Storm), no sets of home grown sibling superstars scheming with a State of Origin captain/halfback to terrorise their opposition (Manly) and no influx of highly talented bruisers from the north of England (Raiders), but they do have a bunch of blokes who have slowly learned to apply themselves, dig in and work as a team.

Quietly going about their work, no fanfare, no headlines, no frills – just like the Eels mentor himself, who is unassumingly compiling one of the coaching performances of the year without many people even noticing.

So come on Zero Tacklers, give it to me, comment away, tell me why I’m wrong and why the editors of this fine website erred in publishing this dross – as long as it gets Brad Arthur into the debate, my work here is done.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Coach of the year is between Stuart and Hasler. Probably leaning more towards Dessie due to the weaker squad than the Raiders but both deserve recognition for both clubs having a great season

  2. I agree with the logic of comparing Hasler to BA as far as performance to date goes (as far as ladder positions go), and made that very point on a post a couple of days ago.
    That said, I don’t think either of them should be in contention yet, and would at the very least need to their squads into the prelim. (Min) to even have a chance. It’s meant to be coach of the year, and top 8 in itself shouldn’t be enough, irrespective of the previous year’s performance.
    Both (BA and Hasler) are coaching sides that underperformed last year. BA had to wear the responsibility for underperformance (and he did, and rightly so) because it happened whilst he was coach. Hasler didn’t (and fair enough, he wasn’t coach) but all he’s done (to date) is get a fair performance out of the squad (a squad with numerous rep players). He’s looking good because of how bad they were last year. That’s it (at this stage).
    RedV, good luck if you’re bringing Trent in (as a “Justin Case”).

  3. The Eels will NEVER win a Premiership with Arthur as a coach, the Eels have been lucky so far, just wait and see when finals time come, they will bundle out quick

  4. Saints were absolute garbage 2 weeks ago against Parra yet went down by 8. If Parra played a top 10 side that day they would have got pumped

  5. Huarpe / RedV, I’m fully aware of our abilities. I’m not screaming “premiership” from the roof tops and I don’t think we’ll go far in the finals. I hope we do, and if we play our best footy for 80 min. every game we can get towards the pointy end, but I’m a realist.
    That said, and let’s forget last year, and focus only on this year (and that may prove to be mute, but time will tell) but we are blooding a lot of rookies, and these guys are only going to get better, so I think we’re developing a really solid foundation.

  6. My vote would be for Dessie. He took a side that many were predicting a chance for the spoon and in one season has got them to 5th. The Raiders have been good and have been a surprise there is no denying that but it has taken Stuart 5 years of mediocrity to get them to here. Stuart was also lucky to land Bateman who has galvanised that team. You take him out, they lose.
    Dessie has largely had to work with what he was left with and that wasn’t overly pretty.

    Dessie gets it for me

  7. But Rucky, that’s no different to Parra, and in both cases they are very similar teams to that of 2017, and in very similar positions (their current positions) to that of 2017.
    I think the “big improvements” are more what is/should be expected of the teams (a fair performance) but off such low bases (last year’s serious underperformance) that it’s making it look much better than it actually is.
    In short, it’s probably fairer to say Trent should have got dud of the year, and Hasler’s got it back to par, but par’s not worthy of coach of the year.

  8. Look.at the easy draw the eels have had.
    Last few v dragons knights warriors titans and dogs .
    Played storm chooks once .
    Played south’s with no origin players.
    I hope my team gets a soft draw for next year.

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