As fans mourn the loss of Jarryd Hayne, the Parramatta Eels will be trying desperately to find as close to a suitable replacement as they can. Hayne dropped a bombshell on the Rugby League world by announcing his intention to ‘follow his dream’ and play in the NFL and it’s as shocking news as an Eels fan will receive in their lifetime. As the news that is as groundbreaking as it is devastating begins to sink in, Eels fans will have one eye on the future in the search for a new number 1.
At first glance suggesting Hopoate might appear to be thinking outside of the box, however in reality it’s quite possibly the most logical choice. In his time at Manly, Hopoate played his best football at fullback and throughout 2014 he showed he has the passing attributes of a modern day fullback. If Hopoate was up to the challenge, not only would the Eels have a new top class (and young) fullback but also have plenty of money in the salary cap left to strengthen other areas of the side. Hopoate as Hayne’s replacement would leave the Eels money to chase Daly Cherry-Evans and/or a big name forward. Hopoate will probably never be the fullback Hayne was but he can still be a great one. He has dangerous footwork and great ball skills however isn’t blessed for speed. With a full season under his belt having returned from his Mormon mission, expect Hopoate to improve physically and increase his strength, speed and just be overall better prepared. The main advantage of playing Hopoate at the back is the financial side of it all, Hayne was rightfully earning a huge salary and the money left over leaves the Eels with a huge choice to make, but with a lot of options.
Perhaps the only thing that could make an Eels fan muster half a smile right now would be the signing of Israel Folau. Folau appeared almost certain to move to the Eels in the past and now the Eels have a financial war chest to compete with Rugby Union. Folau may have spent a long time outside of Rugby League but the fact remains that he’s an unbelievable athlete. Folau has had unbelievable success in Union and it’s unlikely he’d be open to return to the NRL just yet. Signing Folau may be a piped dream at this stage but money talks and Parramatta will be desperate. Furthermore without over-speculating the NRL will be desperate to add a new, marketable star having now lost Jarryd Hayne, Sonny Bill Williams and Sam Burgess. At this point but there’s nothing to suggest Folau would even consider signing coming but the Eels would be mad not to give it a go and with some backing from the NRL, you never know.
Ben Barba’s career at Brisbane hangs in the balance with the signing of wonder kid Anthony Milford along with Darius Boyd perhaps following Wayne Bennett to the Broncos. There are perhaps complications surrounding Barba’s young family although you wouldn’t think he would completely rule out a move to the Eels. Barba’s first season in Brisbane was a real mixed bag and there aren’t many who still consider him an elite player. With the Broncos having plenty of fullbacks and young talent in the halves, the possibility of Barba having to look for a new club is very real but it remains to be seen whether a move to the Eels is even a possibility. He’s not the player Jarryd Hayne is but he does a creative spark that the Eels desperately lack without Hayne, it’s easy to forget he set the NRL alight and won the Dally M medal just two years ago. If Ben Barba does find himself at the Eels it will be the result of a right place right time deal rather than meticulous planning. It’s tough for the Eels to know whether they’d be buying an inconsistent player who can’t even start for the Broncos or a superstar who nearly won the Bulldogs a premiership, buying Barba would obviously be a huge gamble but replacing Hayne was never going to be simple.
Perhaps the most realistic option on this list, however also perhaps the least appealing. Hoffman is a great runner of the football, evasive, strong and can sniff out a hole. However he is light years away from having the creativity to make up for what Chris Sandow and Corey Norman lack. Hayne’s strength may have lied in ball running however he was also a top class playmaker. Hoffman isn’t a good passer of the football and is a relatively limited player. A positive is that it’s unlikely for him to command the salary that others on this list would, meaning there’d still be salary cap room to go after another big name. Josh Hoffman has repeatedly made it clear that his preference is to play fullback and he doesn’t mind which club. This suggests he’d be more than happy transferring to Parramatta however the main question is whether he’s an adequate replacement. Signing Hoffman wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world but it would be far from the best. The only acceptable scenario for the fans and club would be signing Hoffman and strengthening the team around him at the same time.
The whispers of Kurtley Beale to the NRL have been getting louder and now he has an opportunity. Most code hoppers claim to be in it ‘for the challenge’ and Beale would certainly have a challenge on his hands, along with plenty of money on the side. Signing Beale would a big coup for the NRL yet a colossal, incalculable risk for Parramatta. Beale would bring an unknown quantity on the field and plenty of controversy off it. Beale is athletic and skillful, certainly possessing more than the necessary attributes to play in the NRL. On paper it looks good but Rugby League’s played on grass. There’s far from any guarantee that’d he’d be a success on the field. Similar to Folau although not quite on the same scale, the NRL would be very keen for this move to go ahead. He’d be marketable and the NRL needs a win at the moment. Beale is instinctive and talented, he wouldn’t live up to the standards set by his predecessor but he would bring excitement and creativity to the team. At this point there is obviously no reason to think that Beale might be donning Blue and Gold next season but it does add up. Signing Kurtley Beale would throw up more questions than it would answer but it would certainly be compelling to watch.