Parramatta Eels
Season Preview

2010 Position: 12th (10 wins, 14 losses)

Gains: Carl Webb (North Queensland Cowboys), Reni Maitua (Suspension), Jordan Atkins (Gold Coast Titans), Chris Walker (Catalans Dragons, ESL), Eni Folau (Easts Tigers, Queensland Cup), Brad Murray (Sydney Roosters), Chris Hicks (Warrington Wolves), Paul Whatuira (Huddersfield Giants), Casey McGuire (Catalans Dragons, ESL)

Losses: Nathan Cayless (Retirement), Eric Grothe (Retirement), Feleti Mateo (New Zealand Warriors), Krisnan Inu (New Zealand Warriors), Kris Keating (Canterbury Bulldogs), Jonathan Wright (Canterbury Bulldogs), Tim Robinson (Manly Sea Eagles), Timana Tahu (Released)

The rollercoaster ride that Parramatta Eels fans are currently on began back in Round 19 of the 2009 season. The Eels looked like missing the finals yet again and only a miracle would save them. That miracle was Jarryd Hayne. They managed to go on a 7 game win streak and from there, all the way to the grand final. They eventually lost to the over the cap Melbourne Storm but things looked promising for the next season.

2010 began with high expectations for the Eels. Golden child Hayne was predicted to emulate his late season form. New kid on the block Daniel Mortimer was ready to lead the Eels to glory. And former Eels star, Timana Tahu was back in the blue and gold. All signs were pointing to another successful season.

But with a virtually identical squad to the one that contested the 2009 grand final (plus a couple of big name additions), Parramatta were by far the season’s biggest underachievers. They couldn’t even blame injuries for their poor form with only new recruit Shane Shackleton missing any major time. It was a stunning fall from grace. And the future for Eels fans isn’t looking much brighter.

In the off-season they lost a lot of big names and a lot of potential. Captain Nathan Cayless and later, Eric Grothe, both retired, leaving a big hole in the veteran ranks. Star 2010 signing Timana Tahu went AWOL and was finally released. Exciting (and yet very frustrating) duo Krisnan Inu and Feleti Mateo moved clubs to the Warriors. Adding to the loss is that of young prospects Kris Keating and Jonathan Wright.

The Eels recruitment to replace these lost players can only be described as mind boggling. In fact, rugby league fan forums around the internet were found inundated with “LOLEELS” posts upon each new 2011 signing. First it was Carl Webb, the former Queensland and Test prop, who is better known now for his pre-season weigh in. They followed up the Webb signing by securing former Bulldog and Shark, Reni Maitua. Well, that is as soon as his two year suspension for banned drugs finishes (May 19th). The list goes on with “bad boy” Chris Walker, former Manly player Chris Hicks, Casey McGuire and dual NRL premiership winning Paul Whatuira, who recently spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Those six players have an average age of 30.

Despite being a wealth of experience, none of these players address the Eels major concern of 2010 and that is their halves. Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer were abysmal for the most part in 2010. Kris Keating showed some spark but he’s off to the Bulldogs. The Eels had a chance at signing former Manly halfback Matt Orford but decided to pull out of the process when his release from Huddersfield was taking too long. All the while, they watched other teams sign promising halves such as Trent Hodkinson and Wade Graham.

Daniel Anderson, who took the club to the grand final in 2009 in his first year as head coach with the Eels, was also sacked in the off-season. Stephen Kearney, former Melbourne Storm assistant and current New Zealand national team coach was appointed his replacement. At first many Eels fans were up in arms over the change but whispers coming out of pre-season camp suggest that Kearney is a hard task master and won’t pander to any of the players. Take Tahu’s axing as an example of his no nonsense approach.

What went right in 2010: Young forwards Tim Mannah and Justin Horo were the lone bright spots for the Eels in 2010. Both will have promising careers in the future with Mannah already getting Origin selection for the Blues in game 3 last year. Look for Mannah to fill the big shoes of departed captain Cayless.

What went wrong in 2010: The Eels fifth tackle options were terrible. The halves couldn’t build any pressure on the opposition and the offense was stagnant at best. Only the struggling Sharks scored fewer points than the Eels in 2010 (and the Sharks beat the Eels twice). They missed Kevin Kingston’s contributions off the bench that were such an important factor for their 2009 success. The Eels also looked lazy and disinterested out on the field, especially star fullback Jarryd Hayne. Kearney’s first job will be to try and get the Eels focused on playing 80 minutes of football, week in, week out.

Final say for 2011: The Eels seem to struggle when they have lofty expectations. That won’t be an excuse this season. Without addressing their halves problems, it’s hard to see the Eels scoring more points in 2011, which is a real concern. The run on side for their first match will be a completely different to the team that contested a grand final only 18 months ago. The recruitment by the Eels has been somewhat laughable but none of the signings are long term deals, nor are they on big money luckily. The veteran players they have signed could turn out to be just that, wily veterans that add a class to a well-oiled team. They could just as easily turn out to be over the hill, former stars looking for one last pay day back in Australia before retirement calls. Be prepared for another long season Eels faithful.

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