Record: 16 wins, 8 losses
Ladder Position: 4th ( Second week of the Finals )
Player of the Year: Nathan Brown
If you asked Eels fans would they be happy with a top four finish after the ‘year from hell’ that was 2016 I think you would find most would have said yes, but after such a powerful end to the regular season you can’t help but feel Parramatta let themselves down in the Finals.
Winning nine of their final ten competition matches had Eels fans dreaming of finally ending their 30 year title drought, but despite a solid effort against the Storm they exited the finals with a ‘meek’ 24-16 loss to North Queensland.
It was the story that just wouldn’t go away and finally in mid May the Tigers finally gave in to half-back Mitchell Moses’ request for a mid-season transfer to Parramatta. Although the situation quickly became one of the more ‘ugly’ sagas of season 2017 it couldn’t dampened the fans excitement for the arrival of the promising yet enigmatic play maker.
Questions were asked of his defence and his temperament after Tigers coach Ivan Cleary suggested Moses had ‘downed tools’ whilst still at the Tigers, but despite a slow start Moses quickly found his feet and started contributing to Eels victories.
Moses finished the season with 226 competition points and eleven try assists, ten of them coming in an Eels jumper. But it was his improved defence and kicking game that will have made coach Brad Arthur happiest with his new No.7.
Everybody knew Moses could do the fancy stuff but for a side to challenge for a Premiership they need their halfback to steer the team around the park, and after the way Moses played in the Blue and Gold fans will be hoping he finally breaks the curse of failed halfbacks since the retirement of Peter Sterling.
Bargain Buy Brown
When Parramatta signed Nathan Brown from South Sydney not many Eels fans would have thought he would end up winning the club’s player of the year award the Ken Thornett Medal. Brown had stints at the Tigers and Rabbitohs and for the most part seemed undisciplined and unfit, but by the end of 2017 he had become the Eels best forward and was playing 80 mins most weeks.
Brought over on a reported ‘modest contract’ Brown worked his backside off in preseason and despite starting from the bench in Round 1 he eventually ‘unseated’ veteran and captain Beau Scott for the No.13 jersey and he didn’t relinquish it all season.
The most impressive part of Brown’s game was his work rate as he led the Eels in Hitups, offloads and tackles, whilst coming second in metres gained by only 51 meters to Semi Radradra. Credit must go to coach Arthur for turning Brown into such a dominant forward after showing no signs of being so during his career until he joined the Eels, but Brown deserves the most credit for his hard worked in the preseason has clearly shown.
A Stable Spine is what Parramatta will be hoping for next season after finding themselves using countless combinations in the key positions which make up the ‘spine’ this season.
Parramatta used three different fullbacks, four different players at 5-8 and half back whilst Arthur had to find a new hooker twice this season which led to Parramatta struggling for ‘cohesion’ and ‘consistency’ in the first half of the year.
The arrival of Mitchell Moses and his combination with Corey Norman helped bring some consistency to their play whilst Clint Gutherson played his best at Fullback, but the Eels then lost Gutherson, hooker Kaysa Pritchard and also Bevan French to season ending injuries to leave them again looking for new combinations.
Whilst Will Smith and Cameron King did exceptionally well filling in the Eels and Arthur will be looking forward to keeping the same spine together for the majority of 2018.
Fan favourite Semi Radradra fair welled Eels fans after spending five seasons at the club where he started as an ‘unknown’ from Fijian Rugby but ended as a star and arguably the best winger in the game. It was no secret Radradra desired a move to French Rugby with rumours of his manger asking for a release last season, so it was no real surprise when it was announced Semi had signed with powerhouse club Toulon for the 2017/2018 season.
To his credit Radrdara made his last season as an Eel one to remember as he crossed the line for 22 tries and made an impressive 24 line breaks. Semi loved nothing more than scoring a try and will leave the game with 82 career four pointers in the blue and gold, whilst also leaving the fans with memories of some of the best tries scored in the NRL era.
Semi’s intercept try against the Rabbitohs in 2016 will be remembered for many years to come, after intercepting an Adam Reynolds pass on his own 10 metre line Semi set off on an astonishing run which left commentators struggling to find words fit to describe it. Radradra beat eight players, threw 3 dummies and went through 90 metres almost un-touched to score possibly the best try of his career.
Radradra hinted at a possible return to Parramatta once he completes his contract in France and the Eels will no doubt be keen to get him back, fans of all clubs enjoyed watching the Flying Fijian in full flight and they too will be hoping to see him again in the NRL.
Building for Something Special
Since Brad Arthur took over from Ricky Stuart for the 2014 NRL season the Eels have been slowing improving and building from the mess the club was in after consecutive wooden spoons. Despite having the odd setback including the shocking injury toll to key players the Eels finally came through on their promise and made the finals for the first time since 2009.
Although the fans will be disappointed with the way their season ended there will be hope for next season as the squad will benefit immensely from playing in what was for most of the players their first finals series. Playing Finals Football is very different to regular season matches and Parramatta’s inexperience in these matches showed against the Storm and Cowboys who by in comparison had plenty of Finals experience .
Having gained the experience and hunger after playing in the finals this season the Eels will be looking to build for season 2018 with the majority of the squad being contracted for next season. Mitchell Moses will improve again after spending a preseason at the club, whilst the return of Clint Gutherson and Bevan French will add some more pace and skill in the backline.
The Eels should be aiming to improve on season 2017 and after finishing in the top four that again should be the target for 2018, except this time the Eels will be smarter and wiser heading into September as they aim to end their 31 year Premiership Drought.
2018 GAINS AND LOSSES
GAINS: Kane Evans ( Roosters )
LOSSES: Semi Radradra ( Toulon ), Isaac De Gois ( Retired ), Jeff Robson ( Retired ),