Sunday 21 January 2018 / 11:54 AM

NRL 2018 OUTLOOK: PARRAMATTA EELS

The Parramatta Eels were one of 2017’s big movers, charging into the top four before dipping out of the finals in straight sets. They’ve kept a stable squad and Mitch Moses has had a full off-season at the club, but Jarryd Hayne is a potentially disruptive addition. BRAYDEN ISSA analyses the blue-and-golds’ 2018 campaign.

An inconsistent start to the season threatened to derail the Eels’ playoff chances, before a purple patch where they won 11 of their last 13 games blasted them into the top-four equation. Injuries to key players — first breakout star Clint Gutherson, then his replacement Bevan French alongside starting hooker Kaysa Pritchard and veteran leader Beau Scott — held them back from reaching their full potential. After a year full of promise, getting bounced from the finals in straight sets was a disappointing way to finish, but it nevertheless it sets a great foundation heading into the new season. Can Parramatta improve and contend for a premiership?

2017 SNAPSHOT: 4th (16-8); Points For – 496 (8th) Points Against – 457 (8th)

BEST RECRUIT: Kane Evans is a quality addition, the rangy forward adding some power running to the pack, but a full season of Mitchell Moses is the most important addition to the Eels’ chances (I know, its cheating, but the other option is Tony freaking Williams). He made strides after arriving at Parra midway through last season, and a whole off-season forging a combination with Corey Norman will do wonders for his development.

KEY MAN: Corey Norman possesses all the flair and skills to be a star five-eighth in this league, but being paired with a player of a similar skillset in Mitchell Moses does leave the team devoid of a conductor in the halfback role. Their attack looks deadly with momentum, but struggles to play off the back foot — Norman, the more senior of the two, has to take charge.

UNDER THE PUMP: Parramatta’s squad list runs deep, but they do lack genuine firepower in the prop department. Tim Mannah, Daniel Alvaro and Suaia Matagi are all solid rotation pieces, but none would be considered elite at the position. This is where the Eels fall behind the other heavyweight teams, so their front-row rotation will have to become more than the sum of their parts to keep afloat.

SELECTION POSER: Get your pitchforks ready. Quietly, Kirsome Auva’a put together a quality season when handed a spot on the wing and Brad Takairangi was good enough in the centres to make the New Zealand side. One of them will be displaced by the arrival of Jarryd Hayne. For reasons better detailed here, Hayne threatens to interrupt the culture and performance of the team, and has already begun dominating headlines before he’s even arrived. Not to flog a dead horse, but he’ll have to make big strides to earn his spot, especially over two quality contributors. He’ll get the start (availability pending) due to his profile, but results will have to come fast.

YOUNG GUN: After making his debut in 2016, French has remained a mainstay in the Eels lineup, impressing both at fullback on the flank. With Gutherson seemingly locking down the No.1 jersey, French will likely be played on the wing where his speed and finishing make him a dangerous threat. A whole season on the edge will see him challenge for the NRL’s try-scoring title.

BREAKOUT SEASON ALERT: Gutherson was a revelation when he slid into the halves as a makeshift five-eighth, and a sensation when he made a home for himself at fullback. Rising to superstar status usually follows a similar trajectory: there’s signs of star potential (his 2016 season), an apparent breakout year where everybody takes notice (last season) and then the breaking of the glass ceiling and realisation of said potential. Despite what you may think, we’ve only scratched the surface with the ‘Guth’. Don’t be surprised.

THE STAT: Despite finishing within the top four, Parra ranked ninth in points differential. Overachieving by such a large margin is usually a sign of great coaching lifting up a squad, which checks out here — Brad Arthur is a fantastic coach, and their finish to the year suggests they did overachieve slightly (for perspective, the Dragons had the third best for-and-against, which is direct proof of the total opposite). Whilst that was true for last season, at full strength the Eels boast quite a talented squad, and should be aiming to land higher in that department.

COACH’S JOB SECURITY DANGER RATING: Low – Brad Arthur is one of the finest mentors and tacticians in the competition and is the right man to lead this team going forward. It would take an epic collapse for his job to come under scrutiny, and I’m not sure even that could do it.

THE DRAW: Glass Half Full – They only leave Sydney once in the first 12 weeks and five times all season. Furthermore, they only play the other top-four teams from last year once each.

Glass Half Empty – A tough run home facing the Storm, Cowboys and Roosters in the last three rounds, with the first two away from home. If they’re fighting to secure a finals spot, this could prove a huge hurdle.

POSSIBLE LINE-UP TO START 2018:

1 Clint Gutherson
2 Jarryd Hayne
3 Michael Jennings
4 Brad Takairangi
5 Bevan French
6 Corey Norman
7 Mitchell Moses
8 Daniel Alvaro
9 Cameron King
10 Tim Mannah
11 Manu Ma’u
12 Tepai Moeroa
13 Nathan Brown

14 Suaia Matagi
15 Kane Evans
16 Peni Terepo
17 Kenny Edwards

WAY-TOO-EARLY FORECAST: Top-four contender, premiership dark horse

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About the author

Brayden Issa

Brayden is a Sydney-based sports management student and sports fanatic, specialising in rugby league, basketball, football and cricket. He is concerned with everything related to professional sports performance and management.

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