The 2016 season started out full of promise for the Parramatta Eels and was delivering on that before it quickly turned into the season from hell.
The manner in which Brad Arthur’s side battled on amid countless setbacks and controversies to chalk up the club’s most regular-season wins since 2007. Despite ultimately having nothing to play for, the Eels lost three in a row just once and finished the year with two convincing wins. Their 13-11 record would have been good enough for seventh spot.
So many, but the salary cap scandal was the biggest, decimating the club. It led to star players being cut and their season being completely written off after being docked 12 points by the NRL.
Backrowers Beau Scott and Manu Ma’u were the Eels’ best across the season. Big man Danny Wicks put in the same strong performances every week and led the Parramtta pack. Utility back Clinton Gutherson was possibly not expected to play every game this year, but he did just that across a number of positions and was superb at five-eighth in the absence of Kieran Foran and Corey Norman.
Corey Norman. His on-field efforts were great up until his season-ending suspension – finishing top 10 in the Dally M Medal count – but once his off-field dramas surfaced, he let his entire side down.
— Anthony Blare (@netykaxuxoxo) October 2, 2016
Promise in store
Bevan French. This kid is an excitement machine, possibly one of the fastest players in the game and knows how to score tries from anywhere on the park. After starring in the Nines, the 20-year-old speedster made his NRL debut in Round 12 and did not disappoint, scoring 19 tries in just 13 games.The whippet is only going to get better.
Round 2, 20-16 v North Queensland. It was only their second match of the year, but the Eels took the challenge up to the defending premiers in a stellar effort where everyone played well, setting the tone for the blue-and-golds’ massive on-field improvement.
Round 20, 34-14 v Gold Coast. The Eels had hung in and fought all year despite being sent to the bottom end of the ladder. But this game saw the Eels looking weary and somewhat disinterested, with that form leading to another three losses over the following four weeks.
Anthony Watmough missed the entire season due to a knee injury which eventually forced him to retire. Kieran Foran took a leave of absence due to personal issues before returning, only to suffer a season-ending shoulder injury after two games. Semi Radradra was out for five weeks during the second half of the year, Tim Mannah missed 10 games through the middle part of the season, and centre pairing Michael Jennings and Brad Takairangi missed a handful of games each.
There were plenty. The salary cap scandal stripped the Eels of the 12 competition points they had earned during the year to date, as well as some heavy fines. Corey Norman was found guilty in possession of recreation drugs, warned for consorting with criminals and involved in recording a sex act. Semi Radradra was charged with domestic assault. Junior Paulo, who left for Canberra mid-season, was warned over his dinner with alleged criminals. Kieran Foran’s personal problems were controversially made public, with his battle with depression, relationship break-up, prescription drug overdose, rumoured gambling addiction and friendship with Eddie Hayson becoming media fodder.
Brad Arthur has endured a lifetime’s worth of misery in just one season, but he stamped himself as one of the NRL’s leading coaches by steering his team through the wreckage. With a cleanout having taken place and the year behind him, he will be hoping the Eels can get back to just playing football – which they did very well under trying circumstances in 2016. The club is behind him and he looks to have a good relationship with his players, turning the squad into one of the competition’s best defensive outfits.
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) October 13, 2016
Jeff Robson returned to the club from the Warriors midway through this year, while they have picked up Siosia Vave from Manly, Nathan Brown from Souths, Josh Hoffman from Gold Coast and George Jennings from Penrith. Foran and Michael Gordon join mid-season losses Nathan Peats and Junior Paulo, along with the retired Watmough, on the departures list.
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) October 10, 2016
Cameron Smith. The Eels need better direction from dummy-half – particularly after Peats’ forced move – but more importantly, they need a role model who will keep his teammates in check on and off the field. Isaac De Gois and Kaysa Pritchard look set to share the hooking duties again in 2017.
The Eels have let a huge amount of talent go and have yet to adequately replace most of them, but their gritty efforts under duress hold them in good stead for a return to the finals for the first time since 2009. Linchpin Norman will be back on deck, along with a few handy additions, and there’s no limit to what this side can do if the club can avoid controversy.
— Parramatta Eels (@TheParraEels) October 16, 2016
14th – Won 13, Lost 11 *docked 12 points for salary cap breaches. For 462 (12th), Against 443 (5th).