I can only imagine how frustrating life must be for an Eels fan. Each yeah, the promises get bolder and more pronounced. The signings are often high-profile, earning big bucks and so often fail to deliver.
The coaching staff is touted as the sort of no-nonsense, old-school guys that can turn things around at Parramatta and deliver a return to the glory days of the early-to-mid 80s.
The local juniors, always praised as they climb through the ranks are always set to blow up and set the league on fire alongside the club’s crop of settled veterans and exciting talent.
Then, at some point, things turn sour and the dreaded talk of ‘next year’ crops up.
‘Ok, it didn’t work this year, but we’re on the right path, so next year will be our year.’
Stunningly, we seem to have reached the ‘next year’ point as early as Round Six this season.
2018 done and dusted already
Just six weeks into the season, the Eels 2018 campaign has completely derailed. Six games, six losses. Two to local rivals Penrith, a most recent loss to the Raiders who had just one win themselves coming into the round and are coached by a man well-known in Parramatta, Ricky Stuart.
Stuart left the Eels under pretty dire circumstances and copped plenty of the blame for the horrid state of the club when Brad Arthur came in.
With Stuart gone, plenty thought Arthur would be the man to rebuild the club and instill the discipline and hard-working culture the club appeared to be lacking.
To Arthur’s credit, he’s done some good things. On paper, the recruitment has been good. Unfortunately, recruitment on paper counts for very little when you’re 0-6 and your star halfback looks disinterested and unable to take hold of a game, or when the prodigal son you brought home looked off the pace before succumbing to injury, but not before reports he’d shredded the good feeling in the dressing room.
No team in the history of the NRL has come back from a 0-6 start to finish in the top eight and make the finals. As things stand, the odds of the Eels being the first to do that are astronomical. If you can get a bookie to draw up a market for it, it’d be worth a single dollar or two just for the sheer size of the payout should the Eels achieve what looks virtually impossible.
Far more possible is that the season continues to spiral out of control and the club enters yet another mammoth rebuild at the end of the season. If the Eels miss the finals with the squad they have, big names will be cut and heads will roll come the end of the campaign.
The Eels have plenty of big names off-contract at the end of the 2018 season. Jarryd Hayne only signed a one-year deal after linking back with the club and his $500k salary could easily be better spent on overall improvements.
Also off-contract are Kirisome Auva’a, George Jennings, Cameron King, Suaia, Matagi, Kaysa Pritchard, Beau Scott, Peni Terepo, Siosaia Vave and Tony Williams. As things stand, I couldn’t really make a case for bringing any of those guys back.
Perhaps more concerning though is that some of the under-performing big-name players sit on well-paid, long-term contracts.
Josh Hoffman, Kenny Edwards, Michael Jennings, Tim Mannah and Corey Norman have all been well below their best in 2018 and are all tied to the club on good-money deals to the end of 2019.
Simply put, blowing things up and starting again may not be an option for the Eels management in the short-term.
Whatever they do, the Eels are in desperate need of a shakeup. I’m not convinced that sacking Brad Arthur and wading back into the coach market is the answer. As things stand, he looks bereft of ideas but he also looks like a man who has been asked to get the best out of a hodge-podge of players thrown together without an overall recruitment strategy.
2018 is pretty much done and dusted. Losing to a Ricky Stuart coached side will have added a humiliating nail into the coffin for the Eels faithful who have derided him for so long. Things aren’t going to get better overnight but for one of the proudest clubs in rugby league, a coherent approach to rebuilding is an absolute must.
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