Just eight years ago, the Parramatta Eels were propelled to an NRL Grand Final berth on the back of one of the greatest individual spells of football we’ve ever seen. While Jarryd Hayne has managed to carve out more years in the game, as well as spells with the San Francisco 49ers and the Fiji rugby sevens team, the Eels have gone through plenty of turmoil and crossed more than their fair share of new horizons to get to this point.
A new year, a new approach
The 2017 Eels are a hard-nosed, clinical football side who are well and truly built and operating in the style of their head coach Brad Arthur, the kid once told by former Penrith Panthers head coach Royce Simmons that he didn’t have what it took to make it in the game. The man who, despite having never played a game in the top flight, has become one of the best coaches in the NRL.
Arthur honed his craft as the under 20’s coach at the Storm, before assistant coach gigs at Melbourne, Parramatta and Manly earned him the chance to return ‘home’ to the Eels.
Arthur has worked away, both publicly and behind the scenes, through off-field turmoil, a salary cap scandal and boardroom disruption to build a playing roster of solid, dependable football players sprinkled with just enough class and talent to challenge the best in the business.
Forwards like Kenny Edwards and Manu Ma’u are backed up by the attacking prowess of Corey Norman and Clint Gutherson. Michael Jennings could fall into that bracket too, with the former Penrith and Sydney Roosters star having played at the highest levels and been one of the most electrifying talents in the game since coming for a final chance.
Jennings ran out of lives at Penrith after some off-field issues and a need for that club to lighten the load on their salary cap. He was pushed out of the Roosters in yet another Nick Politis-led overhaul at Bondi but the centre appears to have rediscovered the flair that launched him to superstardom.
The Brad Arthur reign
Arthur has encouraged, cajoled and demanded more of his players. Veterans like Jennings and precocious young stars like Mitchell Moses have risen and performed to such a level that the club not qualified for the finals, they finished in the top four. Their reward for that will be a second bite at the cherry against North Queensland Cowboys after pushing Melbourne Storm close in week one of the finals.
While the Cowboys cannot and will not be written off, especially after their courageous and valiant victory over the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks last weekend, there is a very real sense that the Eels are riding a wave of destiny onwards and upwards.
They don’t have the star power of Hayne to call on anymore but as the Gold Coast Titans have found out, pinning your hopes and dreams on one player can have dire consequences. The Eels have plenty of talent and plenty of young players rising. Clint Gutherson and Bevan French could well be the face of the game in a few years time.
The Eels have made it this far on the grind and hard work of the collective, alongside the skill of flair players like Jennings, Moses and the almost unstoppable Semi Radradra. A lot of the credit for that, must go to Arthur, who has made Parramatta title contenders once again.
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