Nathan Smith reviews how Parramatta has handled the influx of players coming off of contract…
It’s okay Parramatta fans, it’s over now. The much talked about player movements for 2022 and beyond, which has drawn opinions from both experts and punters alike, has finally wrapped up. It’s been a time of painful uncertainty, especially with so many names being shopped around. With it all finally finished up, let’s review how Parramatta went.
Player Gains and Retention
Reagan Campbell-Gillard (2023-2025)
Haze Dunster (2023-2025)
Clinton Gutherson (2023-2025)
Josh Hodgson (2023-2025)
Junior Paulo (2023-2026)
Mitch Rein (2022)
Bailey Simonsson (2022-2024)
Let’s start with the three big ones: Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Clint Gutherson, and Junior Paulo. All three are immense for the Eels.
The captain, Gutherson, is integral to driving the work ethic and culture of the club. From training paddock to the field, his relentless efforts are what inspires those around him to push themselves and sets a foundation that enables player development. With his presence at the club for another three seasons, the club’s leadership is in good hands.
Plenty were sweating on the retention of Junior Paulo. It was suggested the Dolphins were going to make a big play, and there were even whispers the Bulldogs would move a few players around to try and gain his services. A collective sigh of relief emanated from the west of Sydney when it was announced he’d be staying at the Eels for another four seasons. Paulo has unquestionably become one of the game’s best props in the past two seasons, which is backed up by the six NSW caps he now has to his name. Beside him is Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who has been on the cusp of representative duties after a return to form that resembles the player he was in his early days at the Penrith Panthers. Together, they will form one of the stronger prop pairings for years to come.
Finally, you have the re-signing of Haze Dunster, who will stay with the club for a further three seasons. A promising young winger from the local system junior system, his rise to first grade offers a semblance of promise for a club that has in the past been accused of not developing its local players.
Mitch Rein is a handy back-up to Reed Mahoney for the 2022 season, given the lack of depth the club has had in the hooking position in the past. Additionally, Bailey Simonsson is another good pick up, who will likely fulfil a similar role to Blake Ferguson in running it up from the back of the field and offering some spark on the edge. Finally, you have Josh Hodgson, who comes in at hooker from 2023 onwards. A proven veteran, his signing is an indication that the Eels will be looking to their juniors, such as the likes of Jayden Yates and Brendan Hands, to develop under his mentorship and pick up the position long term.
Reed Mahoney (Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, 2023-2026)
Marata Niukore (New Zealand Warriors, 2023-2026)
Isaiah Papali’i (Wests Tigers, 2023-2025)
Ray Stone (Dolphins, 2023-2024)
Take a deep breath Eels fans. We’ll pull the band-aid off fast. Reed Mahoney is leaving at the end of 2022.
It was, of the four movements, the one that most fans struggled with. Having arrived on a train-and-trial contract back in 2018, Mahoney has developed into a player who in 2021, was very close to making the Queensland State of Origin side. He tackles anything that moves and attacks with a grittiness that sees him demand points by any means necessary. His departure shines light on something not often talked about: Parramatta’s struggle with the hooker position. In the past 10 years, they’ve seen Matt Keating (who is still the Eels’ longest serving recent number nine), Nathan Peats, Kaysa Pritchard, and now Mahoney. It’s a stat that overshadows the supposed “halfback curse” and indicates more long-term stability in the middle of the field is needed.
Let’s look at the other losses. Though they aren’t as big a shake up as the loss as Mahoney, they will be felt nonetheless. Marata Niukore, who has been one of the more underrated, yet most consistent performers for the Eels, will take up a lucrative contract with the Warriors. Furthermore, after a breakout 2021 that saw him named in the team of the year, Isaiah Papali’i will move on to the Wests Tigers. Finally, Ray Stone, who has been a fearsome defender in the middle of the field, has taken up a contract with the newly formed Dolphins.
Each of these men will leave a sizeable hole in the side, having been integral members of the team’s composition in recent years. What remains to be seen is whether this will impact the Eels’ progress and pursuit of a rare premiership.
So how successful have the Eels been in retaining players? There’s ups and downs. As suggested, there’s many big names staying that will create stability for the club, as well as a few handy signings, however, there are also a few sore points in the losses department. Ultimately, it’s worth trusting the direction of the club given they are currently more consistent than they’ve been since the early-to-mid 2000s. Furthermore, if you want to look at the “glass half full” in relation to the losses, each of those that are leaving have developed into the players they are at the Eels. Moving forward, who’s to say the club can’t develop another Mahoney or Isaiah Papali’i? Most importantly, they’re all on board for the 2022 season for one last tilt at the premiership together as a team.
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