“Slowly but steadily” would be a useful term to describe the 2014 season the Parramatta Eels endured, coming back from earning the wooden spoon two years consecutive, to narrowly missing out on their first NRL finals appearance in five years.
Over the current off-season, their superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne and his quitting of Rugby League to train in the U.S. for the NFL have dominated the headlines. While it’s a hard pill to swallow for both Eels and NSW Blues fans, something that could either have a more positive or negative effect on the Eels has been swept under the rug: Brad Arthur’s clean out of 12 first-grade players.
Installing Brad Arthur as Parramatta Eels coach in 2013 was both a gamble for the Western Sydney team and the coach for whom it was his first time as head coach of an NRL side. But from the near-finals triumph we saw take place last season, it was surely a gamble that paid off but whether it was one that exceeded expectations comes down to the rejuvenated squad Arthur will institute this season.
Notable exclusions in Arthur’s overhaul of the playing roster include: Fuifui Moimoi, Mitchell Allgood, Ken Sio, Jacob Loko, Willie Tonga and Kelepi Tanginoa. Some more notable inclusions being: Beau Champion, Anthony Watmough, Reece Robinson and Ben Crooks.
What’s easily noticeable from these changes to the squad is the amount of forwards both in the exclusions and inclusions for 2015. The re-signings are mostly in the backline and for an extensive period of time, while Anthony Watmough is the only inclusion to the squad in 2015 to be signed until 2018. Watmough had a stellar 2014 season with the Manly Sea Eagles where the Northern Beaches club narrowly missed a consecutive grand finals appearance. Watmough has worked his way through the ranks at the Sea Eagles beginning in 2003 as a junior from the local Northern Eagles club, to becoming one of the most valuable Prop’s on the rugby league market.
Ladder position: Brad Arthur is now showing he is prepared to be a bit more trial-and-error with his forward pack than his backline, putting the forwards on 1-year contracts while leaving the backline relatively unchanged is a gamble. But we will soon know the results of Arthur’s tactics as the Eels are up against the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Bulldogs all within the first six rounds. A similar schedule to early 2014 where the Eels pulled off four wins in their first six rounds of the season against top teams. If Arthur’s side can pull off that sort of performance again this year, with the forward pack of reputable signings benefitting from the growing experience of Arthur and the re-signed backline, the Parramatta Eels will reach their first finals series since 2009.
Top Tryscorer: Semi Radradra
Top Pointscorer: Chris Sandow
Player of the Year: Manu Ma’u