With the sun now set on another sensational NRL season, it’s time to sit back and attempt to decode what went so badly wrong for Parramatta in 2018, a team many experts had tipped to make this years grand final.
There is no single problem that led to the disastrous year endured by the club and their long suffering fans, it is more a web of crossed over issues and mistakes that brought about the disappointments for the Eels who had such high hopes before the season began.
Therefore lets try to attack the problems one point at a time. The first problem is the coaching of Parramatta.
While there is no doubting the passion and commitment of head coach, Brad Arthur, the question need to be asked, is he the man to finally lead Parramatta to NRL glory after what will next year be 33 years without a premiership?
The players love Arthur and you never hear a bad word spoken about him from the roster, however some of the problems that have beset the club must rest at the head coaches feet.
Arthur had an entire off season to get Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman to understand and play their roles for the team. However, from round one against Penrith these two players overcalled each other, argued and hardly lived up to their abilities and pay packets. It is Brad Arthur’s job to get the two playmakers to work for the team, to do what is best for the team, to give them their roles in the team and make sure they stick to those roles.
Instead, these two who many thought would lead the Eels to victory in 2018 rarely showed their best, looked frustrated and were mistake ridden. While there were glimpses of Moses and Norman at their brilliant best, these occasions were just that, glimpses, that were too seldom seen this year. Both player were also tipped for State Of Origin appearances in 2018 however their poor club form cost them the chance for the coveted Blue and Maroon jerseys.
The fact Arthur could not get Moses and Norman to play roles that best suited the team is a major concern.
The players also appeared to be lacking the fitness necessary for the rigors of the season and another questions that must be asked is why was experienced rugby league trainer Ron Palmer let go and an AFL trainer brought in?
The NRL and AFL are vastly different games with different fitness and strength conditioning requirements. This was a strange decision and one that must come under serious question.
Parramatta have a history of losing talented young coaches, the likes of Justin Holbrook who led St Helens so well this year, Luke Burt who took the Eels 2017 Holden Cup team to the grand final only to lose him to the Gold Coast as an NRL assistant coach this year and Peter Gentle who was an assistant coach for Arthur in 2017 and left for South Sydney for the 2018 season where the Rabbits went from the NRL doldrums to just missing the 2018 grand final.
Successful clubs have talented coaches spread throughout the club to help identify and develop future NRL players. The job is too big for just one man and Parramatta appeared to be sadly lacking in talented support for Brad Arthur this year.
Culture is another key to a successful club. Have a strong, positive culture with everyone on the same page and you have a strong club. Have a disjointed or less than professional culture, and problems will quickly spread in the club like a hated cancer.
It is well known Arthur and Norman have had their disagreements over Norman’s off filed behaviours and at times poor attitude.
Kenny Edwards, who was sacked by Manly and St George before ever playing an NRL game was finally sent packing by the Eels this year after yet another off field disaster.
And then there is the enigma that is Jarryd Hayne. No one has ever doubted Hayne’s talent, it has always been his attitude that leaves coaches, players and fans with an unpleasant or unpalatable feeling towards the player.
Hayne came back to a Gold Coast team that was having one of it’s best ever seasons in 2016 however when Hayne joined the club late in the year, the team hardly one another game and something looked to be wrong.
2017 saw another less than happy year for the Gold Coast and the public fallout between head coach Neil Henry and Hayne that saw Henry sacked by the club was yet another nail in the coffin of public opinion of Hayne’s character.
Hayne returned home to the Eels in 2018 after having left them in less than palatable circumstances to follow his NFL dream and many Eels fans worried about the culture his return would bring to the club that had such a successful 2017 campaign.
Despite reassurances from the club that Hayne was happy and training well, fans got their first indication that Hayne’s commitment might not be all that it should be when he finished last in a time trail in the pre season, finishing behind both Brad Arthur and his son.
Hayne went on to barely fire a shot in 2018 until the last six weeks when his form did improve and we saw some of what Hayne can do when he is switched on.
However it was too little too late. There was a story that Hayne had been suffering under a stomach complaint for much of the season and it has been reported he will again turn out for the Eels in 2019.
Will his form and attitude help the Eels turn things around? For Eels fans lets hope so.
Recruitment at the end of the 2017 season also left much to be desired. Apart from the Hayne signing, the Eels picked up the injury plagued Tony Williams who spent the majority of the season injured and was eventually sacked for off field offences and Kane Evans who had hardly set the world on fire for the Roosters in 2017, spending time in their reserves side.
There were a few positives however with players signed to the Parramatta lower grade sides. The likes of Jaeman Salmon, Daniel Dole and Rhys Davis had some success in the Intrust Cup team and could provide quality depth for the Eels in 2019.
It was bizarre that the experienced and talented yet injury plagued Beau Henry did not get a run in higher grades for the club. He was awarded Ron Massey Cup player of the year and it is rumoured the Roosters have grabbed him for the 2019 season.
Why the Eels coaching staff did not give him a run with their Intrust team may be yet another example of poor talent identification and team selections.
Some of the Eels NRL players were terribly out of form in 2018 and it is hard to understand what went wrong for Cameron King.
A talented dummy half who was a major part of their 2017 success, King appeared to be on the outer at the club from early on and was in and out of the team for much of the season. He has been released by the club for 2019.
Michael Jennings is another who had a less than happy year and is being shopped around to other clubs for 2019.
The Eels also lacked aggressive go forward for much of the season and apart from the never say die Nathan Brown, their forwards for the most part had indifferent years.
The Eels badly need a front row leader. The additions of Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane should be bug plusses for their 2019 campaign.
The clear negative affects of losing Radradra may be offset in 2019 with the signing of Blake Ferguson if he can retain his 2018 form and stay trouble free.
So there it is. A kaleidoscope of issues the Eels need to rectify for their 2019 season to bring the long suffering Parramatta Eels army something to cheer about in 2019.
It is to be hoped a much stronger, more professional and ‘team’ committed Parramatta turn out in 2019.
Brett Wright is a successful published Australian fiction and non-fiction author. See below links to his website.
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