It’s probably Ladies who League’s worst kept secret that I am a Parramatta supporter.
Even though I am a Parramatta supporter, I am an NRL appreciator so try to make sure that I write about a variety of issues, not just the ones relating to my club.
But it sometimes gets to the point where I can’t help writing about the Eels. Last year it was mainly frustrated writing – frustrated about our lack of success on the field, our issues at a board level and our coaching issues. However, today, I want to write about the team which I feel has improved the most, so far, in the 2014 season.
The 2014 season is still in its infancy as we approach round 7. Parramatta currently sit 5th on the ladder with 4 wins and 2 losses… a fairly dramatic turn around following our form in Season 2013.
As a fan, I know, all too well, the risk of putting too much emphasis on the performance of your team in the opening rounds of the competition. Finals football and September are still many months away and it is dangerous to become overly confident too early in the season. Teams can shine in the first half of the season, peak too early and find themselves struggling from fatigue come September. Injuries can impact a team at any point in the season and many teams find themselves struggling post State of Origin.
This story is not one which suggests that Parramatta will be playing finals football in September but merely one to recognise the tremendous turn around not just this season, but especially over the last month.
Parramatta started its Premiership campaign this year with a solid win over the Warriors. I must admit, following that performance, while I was hopeful, I remained apprehensive. Over the past few seasons, Parramatta have consistently won in Week 1 and then slumped in the weeks which followed.
Despite our loss against the Roosters the following week, I wasn’t too worried. I felt that our first half performance was solid and losing Nathan Peats hurt us that week.
I knew it would be the weeks that followed that would show me what sort of a team Parramatta would be in Season 2014 and my goodness, I have been one happy fan.
I don’t think its too early to say that the Eels are a changed team. Defensively we are no longer a team that each week leaks over 30 points. Watching little Chris Sandow tackle big men, solo, has been tremendous. We show desperation in defence and we work together to achieve a result.
Our attack is also, once again, exciting. One of my favourite things about the Eels in the 2009 season was their unpredictability in attack. This unpredictability seems to be coming back and we no longer simply look to Jarryd Hayne to provide all attacking prowess. Now, men like Nathan Peats, Semi Radradra and Chris Sandow all look dangerous close to the side line and we are reaping the reward.
I think it is too early to determine what exactly has changed for Parramatta this season. But I am able to pin point a few things.
We have recruited well. Last season, Ricky Stuart had a major clean out at Parramatta and there were many casualties. In order to replace these men we recruited but we have also utilised one of Parramatta’s best assets, our junior nursery.
Over the last few seasons one of Parramatta’s major issues has been an inconsistent spine. We all know the importance of your number 1, 6, 7 and 9 and Parramatta had constant movement in that position, making it very difficult. There were also uncertainty as to where Jarryd Hayne should play and as a result it appeared as though he was never very sure whether he was a half back or a five eighth.
This has changed this season. Jarryd Hayne is back in form and looks delighted to be playing as number 1. Corey Norman has been one of our most consistent and best performers, classy in attack and executing some sensational attacking plays. It’s been wonderful to see Chris Sandow back with a big smile on his face. Ever since returning from Wentworthville, he has been playing excellent footy and I look forward to seeing more of him this season.
I’ve left the best till last. Nathan Peats. Peatsy has absolutely transformed the Eels this season and I would go so far as saying he is the best buy of the season… for any club. Not only has he been very physical in defence, making tackle after tackle after tackle, but his attacking flair has added so much to the side. He always looks dangerous close to the line and has assisted our other attacking players by taking the pressure of them.
Not only has our side improved as a result of stability in our halves but there have been some other players who have really stepped up this season and some new players which will very soon, become fan favourites. Just to name a few – Manu Ma’u, Semi Radradra, Pauli Pauli and of course, Will Hopoate. Willie Tonga is also having his best ever season in the blue and gold and it is great to see him back in form.
We cannot praise the Parramatta Eels squad without recognising the importance in a change of coach. Brad Arthur seems to command the respect of the playing roster and has completely rejuvenated this Parramatta team. We look like a completely different team and we are finally playing like a team which utilises the talent within its playing ranks.
As I mentioned, it is far too early to comment on how the Eels will do the rest of this season, but if they continue to play as they have been, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them playing finals football – and wouldn’t that be wonderful. Parramatta have one of the largest fan bases in the NRL and its fans have suffered for many, many years and have also been embarrassed over the last 2 years.
Also, Parramatta doing well is also good for the NRL because the Tigers, St George Illawarra, the Bulldogs and Manly are also playing well. All these teams are fierce rivals of Parramatta and in the case of the Tigers, Dragons and Bulldogs, teams whose fans like blockbuster games. I am predicting a massive crowd on Monday for the Eels clash against the Tigers and it should basically be a perfect afternoon of football.
The Eels are a team to watch this season and their turn around, has been nothing short of wonderful to watch.
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