2022 NRL Grand Final - Panthers v Eels
CONSTANT FIXTURE: Clint Gutherson has made more NRL appearances than any other fullback since 2019. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Parramatta Eels finally broke their semi-final curse in 2022, but couldn't find a way past the immovable force that is the Penrith Panthers in the grand final.

For three years in a row, the Eels had been knocked out in the second week of the finals, but their return to a grand final for the first time since 2009 brought with it hopes of a premiership.

They were ultimately dashed, and while the Eels do suffer some losses this off-season - most notably Isaiah Papali'i to the Wests Tigers and Reed Mahoney to the Canterbury Bulldogs - they are still likely to be there and abouts come the end of the season.

The run to the grand final will almost certainly give Brad Arthur's side plenty of confidence heading into the new season as well, with the knowledge that they can take the next step.

Mitchell Moses' contract is one they will want to confirm before Round 1 following the long-term extension of Dylan Brown, with Arthur still likely to feel the heat if the club can't match their 2022 performance.

While they may still sit near the top, there is always going to be room for improvement, so if the Eels could steal a single player to turn their almost-there side into one who is totally there and ready to win the competition, who would it be?

Current squad

Jakob Arthur, Daejarn Asi, Waqa Blake, Dylan Brown, Nathan Brown, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Bryce Cartwright, Matt Doorey, Haze Dunster, Wiremu Greig, Clint Gutherson, Josh Hodgson, J'maine Hopgood, Shaun Lane, Samuel Loizou, Makahesi Makatoa, Toni Mataele, Ryan Matterson, Jirah Momoisea, Mitchell Moses, Jack Murchie, Ofahiki Ogden, Junior Paulo, Will Penisini, Mitch Rein, Ky Rodwell, Sean Russell, Bailey Simonsson, Maika Sivo


Despite some key departures over the off-season, the Eels still look relatively well-rounded heading into the 2023 campaign.

The spine sees a like-for-like swap, although the merit of paying more than they were willing to offer for Mahoney to an older hooker who has just spent a year out of the game with an ACL injury is debatable at best, and continues to throw questions on the state of Parramatta's recruitment and retention.

Regardless, Josh Hodgson will walk into the number nine role, with Mitch Rein providing his backup.

He joins a spine which consists of Clint Gutherson, Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses, with the trio all outstanding last year in taking the Eels to a grand final. It could easily be argued in fact that all three had career-best seasons, with the question now realistically being whether they can match those efforts throughout the new season.

The spine is joined in strength by the prop forward positions, with representative-calibre players Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo to line up, while Ryan Matterson should realistically claim the number 13 jersey on a permanent basis in 2023.

He played from the bench last year for the majority, with Marata Niukore turning into the lock after the dropping of Nathan Brown, but Matterson will have to stand up and take that role this year.

Maika Sivo and Will Penisini are the first two automatically picked at wing and centre respectively, with Penisini in particular one of the breakout players of the 2022 season.

An area of weakness in 2022 was the back five for the Eels though. Not helped by injury, the club were forced to play players out of position, with Waqa Blake ultimately turning himself into a player who appears stronger on the wing than in the centres, while Bailey Simonsson, Haze Dunster and Sean Russell - the latter two spending much of 2022 on the sidelines - will fight for minutes in 2023.

With Blake likely forced back into the centres by the departure of Tom Opacic and a lack of depth elsewhere, it does raise the question whether Parramatta need an upgrade in one of the most important defensive positions on the field if they are to repeat their grand final advancement in 2023.

The second row is the other area of possible weakness for the blue and gold following the departure of Isaiah Papali'i.

They have, at this stage, failed to replace him, and with Matterson moving into the middle, only Shaun Lane is guaranteed a starting spot. That leaves Jack Murchie, Matt Doorey and youngster Toni Mataele jockeying for a position.

The trio are all solid, but none will come close to replacing Papali'i, while their depth on the bench has also taken a hit with Matterson forced to start. Jirah Momoisea, J'maine Hopgood, Nathan Brown and Bryce Cartwright appear to be the four players joining the unlucky second rowers missing the starting team in fighting for the three forward spots, while one of Jakob Arthur, Mitch Rein or new recruit Daejarn Asi is likely to play at 14.

Options to steal

Option 1: Stephen Crichton (Penrith Panthers)

The man they call ‘Critta' has become one of the best centres in the NRL, and while he wants to play fullback, the Eels have a spot for him in the centres, with the idea of moving to the back if Gutherson is ever out injured.

Crichton, who played for a Samoan side that made the final of the recent Rugby League World Cup, has been involved in plenty of big games in the last couple of years, and played an excellent role in all of them.

His coolness under pressure - most of the time at least - is something the Eels would love to have in a position that has become tougher and tougher to play in the modern game, with centres demanded to do plenty of work in defence, both grunt and positioning.

But his smooth attack goes hand in hand with that, and the combination he could create with both Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses, who have tendencies to run the ball left, right and centre, is mouth-watering.

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Option 2: Beau Fermor (Gold Coast Titans)
Fermor may be one of the most improved players in the NRL over the last two years, playing a role at the Titans which has at times made David Fifita line up on his non-preferred side of the field.

His ball-playing, ball-running, tackle-busting, hard-tackling style saw him picked in Queensland's extended squad for the final game of this year's State of Origin series, and will likely see him in calculations again next year.

He has come up with a long-term contract extension on the Gold Coast, but is the sort of player who Parramatta would benefit greatly from having.

Not overly flashy, but consistent, he would make Mitchell Moses, Dylan Brown, Clint Gutherson and Josh Hodgson look a million dollars more than he wouldn't.

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Option 3: Justin Olam (Melbourne Storm)
Olam has been something special in recent years for the Storm.

The star centre is one of the best the game has to offer, and the Papua New Guinean's consistency at both ends of the park in Craig Bellamy's all-conquering Melbourne Storm set-up has been something special to watch.

Like Crichton, he would add plenty to the Eels' edge.

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Option 4: Hudson Young (Canberra Raiders)
Like Fermor, Young is among the most improved players coming out of the 2022 campaign.

The Canberra star has simply gone to another level, and during the brief periods when he didn't play for the green machine during the most recently completed season, it was evident beyond belief.

An Australian bolter who didn't quite make the cut, Young will undoubtedly be on the cusp of Origin next year.

Tackles Made
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The verdict

The Eels need a second-rower more than just about anything, with all due respect to the players they have signed for the new season.

Fermor has been excellent, but Young brings more star quality to the side at this stage, and as a result, is the player more likely to go some of the way to replacing Papali'i, who leaves a yawning gap in the side.

Hudson Young.


  1. Hmmm. Eels need a centre, and a back-rower.

    I’d suggest they also need a prop. Brad Arthur flogs Regan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo for long minutes. He used to have Oregon Kaufusi coming off the bench. He was their best bench middle but he was disappointing – neither long minutes nor big impact. Now he has gone they have even less middle-forward depth.

    I suggest they would be best off with Jack Bird. He can play more or less anywhere, so if they are a centre down one week, he can improve the team there. Or he can play back-row and improve the team there. Maybe he could play in the middle.

    Anyway, he would give them some options while the newer guys battle it out for a slot in the centre / back row / front row.

  2. If they need a centre and a second row player, hire Sifa Talaki.
    He can play either position, and would give the Eels monster metres if playing at centre.

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