2024 NRL: Parramatta Eels Season Preview

Nathan Smith previews the Parramatta Eels’ 2024 season.

Season Preview

The Parramatta Eels enter the 2024 season after a disappointing 2023. Largely inconsistent, the Eels had shown glimpses of their best but were cruelled by a mixture of injuries and off-field incidents. Despite that, there is plenty of reason to be excited for the season to come.

Last year, it was evident that the exodus of players from 2022 meant Brad Arthur was never entirely sure what his team should look like. Waqa Blake, for example, started the season at centre, before being dropped. Josh Hodgson started the season at hooker, to be replaced by Brendan Hands, and then finally Joey Lussick. In many ways, it was a season where the Eels seemed to have pushed the reset button.

They enter 2024 with a clearer sense of the team’s composition. Let’s start with the key players. Captain Clint Gutherson enters his eighth season at the Eels reportedly fresher than he’s ever been on the back of a lighter pre-season. The same applies to the Eels’ star props in Junior Paulo and Regan Campbell-Gillard, who played right up until the end of November in 2022. Additionally, the chief playmaker Mitchell Moses found a new level of maturity last season, most evident in his State of Origin Game 3 performance. These are world-class players regularly pushing themselves to higher levels, and there’s no reason why that trend shouldn’t continue.

Typically, the players around this core group have been, at times, indifferent – particularly on the edge. However, coming into 2024, there are some positives for fans to hold on to. Firstly, Maika Sivo has come out of the pre-season as the Eels’ fittest trainer. This season, he needs to be looking to use that new-found fitness to take on hard carries that he’s often guilty of not doing. Beyond this, fans know what to expect from local junior Will Penisini, while young gun Sean Russell will hope to stay injury-free and cement a spot on the opposite wing.

The hooking position was perhaps the biggest issue for the Eels in 2023. The experienced Joey Lussick should likely start at hooker, with an opportunity for Brendan Hands to find a spot on the bench. Lussick’s role will be simple: give fast and accurate service to his halves. If Shaun Lane has an injury-free season, expect him to find lots of opportunities outside of Dylan Brown.

The Eels’ draw is slightly more generous this year. For example, they receive a bye earlier in the season, and importantly, one during the Origin period, which they did not get in 2023. Furthermore, they don’t find themselves up against multiple, freshly rested teams; whereas last season, they played three straight teams off of byes. These are small considerations, but important, as the luck of the draw can play a role in a team’s success. The Eels have a plethora of home games to open the season and will know the importance of winning as many of those as possible after last season’s dismal start.

Overall, the Eels should return to finals contention in 2024. Their side is well-balanced, the draw fair, and given they keep their best players on the field, they will find success. The question has to be asked as to whether they have a team capable of winning a premiership, with the general consensus being that they lack a genuine x-factor that can change the game. Regardless, this is an established team with combinations, experience, and skill; and at their best, they will be hard for opposition teams to beat.

Best Signing

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Kelma Tuilagi shapes as a player who fits the narrative of players who’ve found their stride in the Eels’ jersey in seasons past. The likes of Isaiah Papali’i and J’Maine Hopgood arrived at the club in a similar context, having been unable to regularly crack the top-grade side with their teams before moving to the Eels. If there’s one thing that can’t be questioned of Brad Arthur, it’s that he finds ways to turn fringe first graders into stand-out performers.

Key Player

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Dylan Brown is the key to the Eels’ success this year.

2022, his best season to date, demonstrated just how integral he is to the Eels’ team. It’s his defensive efforts as much as it is his attack that makes him so vital. In 2023, he was suspended due to an off-field indiscretion, which saw him miss a large chunk of the middle part of the season. He unquestionably let the team down, and it’s a fair assessment to say a part of their mediocre season comes down to his actions.

Despite this, he played a big role in the Pacific Championship Final, which saw New Zealand beat Australia by a record 30-0. This demonstrates what the Eels missed out on while he was out. With a debt owed to his teammates, expect Brown to step up and be a big factor in the side’s successes.

Player to Watch

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A debutant in 2023, Luca Moretti is a player with plenty of potential. He brings an old-school, no non-sense approach that adds to the intimidation of the forward pack. He will likely compete for a spot on the bench, and be injected into the game when the Eels need an extra bit of grunt. Last season, he averaged 131 metres per game and had a tackle efficiency of 92.6% – respectable numbers for a young guy coming in. Expect his game to reach an entirely different level in 2024.

Number Crunching

Premiers: 4 (1981, 1982, 1983, 1986)
Minor Premierships: 5 (1977, 1982, 1986, 2001, 2005)
10 years win/loss record: 132 wins, 116 losses (53.2%)
5 years win/loss record: 76 wins, 50 losses (60.3%)
2023 win/loss record: 12 wins, 12 losses (50%)
NRL Finals Appearances since 2014: 5
NRL Finals win/loss record since 2014: 4 wins, 8 losses (33.3%)
Biggest win since 2014: 58, vs Brisbane Broncos (58-0, 15/9/19, CommBank Stadium)
Biggest loss since 2014: 54, vs Melbourne Storm (10-64, 12/5/19, Suncorp Stadium); vs Manly Warringah Sea Eagles (0-54, 18/3/18, Lottoland)

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