Parramatta Eels – 2014 NRL Preview

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In part 4 of his 16-part preview of the 2014 NRL season, rugby league writer Daniel Boss analyses the chances of the Parramatta Eels. The Eels will be looking to avoid a 3-peat of wooden spoons, which would be the first time that this has occurred since 1991-93 (Gold Coast Seagulls).

2013 Review

It has been tough to be a Parramatta supporter over the past two seasons, as they have taken out back-to-back wooden spoons. The 19 losses for the Eels in 2013 tied a club record for losses in one season (1995) and the 5 wins was the lowest amount of wins in any one season since 1995, where they only won 3 games. Again, issues off the field dominated the media in terms of news regarding the club as the makeup of the board continues to be an issue. Following the departure of their coach Ricky Stuart to Canberra, the Eels looked poised to sign Jason Taylor as their new coach but the new board insisted that the club hire Brad Arthur. It didn’t help that big recruit Chris Sandow spent the back end of the season at a rehabilitation clinic.

The biggest reason for the Eels being placed at the bottom of the ladder over the past couple of seasons is their poor defence. In 2012, the Eels conceded more than 7.5 points more per game (28.1 per game) than the average and in 2013; they conceded more than 10 points more per game (30.8 per game) than the season average. The Eels’ attack also was quite poor in 2013, as they only scored 13.6 points per game, which is 6.9 points per game lower than the season average and was lower than the 18 points per game scored in 2012. Parra are hoping that they can have star fullback Jarryd Hayne fit for the majority of the season, which will help raise these statistics.

Outside Backs

Obviously, Hayne is the star of this team and will play fullback if fit (massive if based on previous seasons). The rest of the backline is full of young players with loads of potential, aside from Willie Tonga who has been a shell of his former self over the past couple of seasons. The big signing for the Eels is Will Hopoate, who has not played a game since the 2011 Grand Final. He will no doubt be rusty and it will take time for him to reach his best form. Also in the projected starting backline are Ken Sio and Ryan Morgan. As mentioned above, both have plenty of potential and could be long-term players for the Eels. In terms of depth, the Eels do have the injury prone Jacob Loko, who would be a projected starter if not for so many injuries. He has shown promise in the limited opportunities in first grade that he has had. The Eels did lose Cheyse Blair and Jake Mullaney but picked up utility back Justin Hunt from Souths, who does have some first grade experience and comes from a team with a winning culture. Other outside backs that the Eels possess include Vai Toutai and Semi Radradra.

Halves

The starting halfback will be Chris Sandow; however I don’t know what Sandow we will see in 2014. The Eels will need him to be somewhere near his best if they are to be competitive in every game. As for his halves partner, it looks like Brisbane recruit Corey Norman will get the first go. The Eels do have Luke Kelly, Ben Roberts and recruit Liam Foran to provide other options in the halves. Parra obviously wants a backup option for Sandow and Norman and having three players with first grade experience provides other options. Of the three options, I am of the opinion that Foran is the better option and the most likely to unseat one of the starting halves.

Front Row

The Eels have veterans Tim Mannah and Fuifui Moimoi as their starting props. Moimoi is still solid, even though he is nearing the end of his career and is not as damaging as he was 4 or 5 seasons ago. Parra need Mannah to step up and lead the forward pack as Nathan Hindmarsh did for the club for many years. He is a former origin player who hasn’t improved as much as the Eels have hoped after his highly impressive first couple of seasons. At hooker, the Eels have lost Matt Keating but replaced him with Souths signing Nathan Peats. In my opinion, Peats is a solid player but not spectacular. The Eels are hoping that he can tighten up the defence. The depth at prop for Parramatta is quite good, as they have Darcy Lussick, Mitchell Allgood, English signing Lee Mossop and Manly signing David Gower. Lussick and Mossop are the pick of this bunch, if Lussick can return to his Manly form and if Mossop can reach the form that saw him selected in the England squad for the World Cup.

Back Row

The back row has long been an issue for the Eels and this was magnified last season as they could not replace Nathan Hindmarsh. They have lost Reni Maitua and Pat O’Hanlon and only picked up emerging former Tigers back rower Brenden Santi. The projected starting back row is comprised of Ben Smith, Daniel Harrison and Joseph Paulo. Paulo is a quality and was one of Parra’s bright spots in 2013. He adds to the team’s attacking prowess through his strong ball-playing ability. Harrison showed that he is a quality back rower at Manly but for some reason wasn’t given much opportunity last season, while Smith is solid but well below his best form. In terms of depth, the Eels have the likes of Peni Terepo, Api Pewhairangi, Ken Edwards and the above mentioned Santi. None of these are household names.

Bench

Last season, the Eels played mostly with 3 forwards and a utility player on the bench. I think that they will try something similar in 2014, as they will look for a more attacking hooker to take advantage of tiring defences in the back end of each half. Of the 3 forwards, two will play in the front row and I do like Parra’s depth at prop. This will be the real strength of this bench. The other forward will be a back rower. The Eels don’t have a great amount of quality depth in the back row but it is an opportunity for one of the young players to be able to make an impact for the side.

Coach

After going through 3 head coaches in the space of 2 years, the Eels have gone back to option number two: Brad Arthur. He did have some limited success in the few games that he coached at the end of the 2012 season. However, he does have quite a task in front of him, if he is to help the club come off the bottom of the ladder. As Arthur only has limited head coaching experience, his ability is an unknown quantity. He does have the support of the board which is a positive, but at the Eels that is only worth something until the next board election.

Best squad

  1. Jarryd Hayne
  2. Ken Sio
  3. Ryan Morgan
  4. Willie Tonga
  5. Will Hopoate
  6. Corey Norman
  7. Chris Sandow
  8. Tim Mannah
  9. Nathan Peats
  10. Fuifui Moimoi
  11. Ben Smith
  12. Daniel Harrison
  13. Joseph Paulo
  14. Luke Kelly
  15. Darcy Lussick
  16. Lee Mossop
  17. Peni Terepo

Prediction

15th. The Eels don’t have a horribly bad squad, yet the still possess one of the weakest playing rosters in the NRL. It is a stronger side than what took the field in 2013, there is still a lot of improvement needed if Parra are to challenge for a finals spot. I’m not sold on Corey Norman at five-eight as he had only limited success with a much stronger team around him in Brisbane, plus I don’t know what to expect from Sandow. They are capable of winning their fair share of matches in 2014 but they won’t win most of them. The draw for the Eels in the first couple of months is quite tough. If they can win 3 from their first 8, then that would be considered a positive for Eels supporters to take into the rest of the season.

2014 Ladder Prediction

  1. St George Illawarra Dragons
  2. Brisbane Broncos
  3. Wests Tigers
  4. Parramatta Eels
  5. Canberra Raiders
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