I say this with no enjoyment but the Parramatta Eels are entering the 2019 season without many expectations.
Having finished last in 2018 and having failed to recruit an immediate season-changing half or forward, the Eels aren’t among the fancied teams this year.
Blake Ferguson is a huge in but the Eels desperation to replace Semi Radradra with a like-minded player seems to have distracted them elsewhere.
That said not all hope is lost for the famous blue and gold.
In a few seasons times we may be looking back at 2019 as the season the Eels started their ascent back to finals footy on the back of their young stars.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why the Eels are looking to spend their new found salary cap space on a 31-year-old Issac Luke.
With the greatest of respects to the former Kiwi number nine, who had a magnificent 2018, if I were the Eels I would be throwing everything behind Reed Mahoney.
Mahoney doesn’t have the pedigree of Luke but this Eels side is not going to challenge for the title, why stunt the development of a brilliant young number nine in favour of a player who will likely only play one or two seasons.
Sound familiar Eels fans?
Last season the Eels pushed aside the likes of Bevan French to cater for a clearly past his best Jarryd Hayne. French is now a reserve grader while Hayne is knocking around in a local rugby competition.
That’s certainly not to say that Luke’s season will follow the same route but my support would be behind the 20-year-old Mahoney rather than a stop-gap measure.
The moving on of Corey Norman has freed up considerable cap space and it should not be wasted on the first player who came up on the market.
The Eels need to invest in generation next: Reed Mahoney, Dylan Brown and Jaeman Salmon.
The aforementioned Mahoney already has nine NRL games to his name and looked set to enter 2019 as the Eels lead option at hooker. The former Queensland under 20s number nine had shown plenty in his debut season.
Mahoney now has a full off-season under his belt in the first-grade squad. That means a full off-season running plays and more importantly bulking up in the gym.
For mine he has shown enough in his young career, he deserves a shot at proving he is the long-term option.
He may be the long-term option regardless of any potential Luke signing but is it really worth investing big money into a 50-minute hooker, while stunting Mahoney’s development?
Dylan Brown, despite not making his NRL debut yet, was the target of a multi-million dollar raid from the Warriors.
Given the departure of Corey Norman, the Eels are now looking for a number six or seven to partner Mitch Moses in the halves. Brown now looks like the best option.
His closest challenger comes in the form of Jaemon Salmon. The 20-year-old looked to have the edge due to having already played 5 games at the top level. An off-field incident combined with Brown’s natural skills seemed to have shifted the pecking order.
Salmon will miss the opening game of the season but has been rumoured to be spending some time at centre meaning he may replace the supposed out of favour Michael Jennings.
With two 20-year-old talented kids and a hugely regarded 18-year-old half in their run on side, perhaps all is not so bad our Parramatta way.
Daniel Alvaro had a break out 2018 season and looks set to lead a big Eels pack into battle. The returning Junior Paulo rounds out a massive front row.
Shaun Lane, Manu Ma;u and Nathan Brown round out a monster pack that should set a platform for the Eels young stars.
With Ferguson, Gutherson and Jennings (x2) at their disposal, the young play-makers should have plenty of weapons at their disposal too.
It’s not a side likely to challenge the Roosters, Bunnies or Storm, but there are some real positives here to be focused upon.
I wouldn’t be throwing that away for a one-season quick fix.
Whether or not the Eels have the guile and bravery to back their youngsters is another question altogether.
Bevan French burst onto the scene and looked like the game’s next superstar only to be shifted around the back line to the point he no longer makes the run on side.
I don’t want to see that happen to the three current Eels youngsters.
Don’t me wrong, if a player of real quality comes on the market, the Eels should pounce, but not at the expense of their future stars.
Brown looks to have a huge future, Mahoney has looked the goods, and Salmon has plenty of talent despite his off-field mistake.
Once the suspension is served I really hope to see all three of these kids running out for the Eels for the foreseeable future.
There’s plenty to like about the 2019 Eels but perhaps its worth looking to the future rather than going for a quick fix.