This article was written by Melissa Muscat.
It’s not easy being a Parramatta Eels supporter in Cronulla Sharks territory. Even more so with their recent success of the 2016 NRL Premiership. I know first hand there are Sharks supporters aplenty in the south, having resided in the Sutherland Shire for the past 15 years. I can only imagine it would be even tougher for the younger generation, with Parras last success long before their birth.
Whilst I was born when the Eels won their last premiership, I was too young to remember it, so I am craving, like many other Parra faithful, young and old, to celebrate, experience and bask in a premiership win, hopefully in the not too distant future.
To be an Eels fan at the ripe old age of 15, is no easy feat. These fine young men and women have not experienced Parramatta’s success first hand but rather rely on their parents or relative’s memories and recollections of the glory days. They’re reminded constantly from their peers just how long it’s been since the blue and gold last lifted the trophy. This younger generation of Eels supporters deserve to experience premiership glory just as much as anyone. No doubt such success will also see an increase in a new demographic of fans by the droves. They’re out there trust me, they’re just waiting for the right moment to emerge.
It can’t be denied, Parramatta are a very loved and well supported club. The Eels hold the third highest membership in the NRL, just below Brisbane Broncos and South Sydney. This for a club who haven’t won the title in 32 years is a phenomenal statistic. When that fateful day arrives, beware fellow NRL clubs, the Eels are well primed to take out that number one membership position.
Whilst I am a Shire resident, I have only recently assumed a teaching position at De La Salle Caringbah. Prior to that I taught in Kogarah and Bonnyrigg in western Sydney. Being the new teacher, I decided to do some research to find out if I held company with my Parra Eels following amongst my students, and not surprisingly, I discovered I am in quite good company.
Astoundingly, the first fact I learnt was that School Captain Matt Winstone and Vice Captain Zac Philipson are both Eels fans! A reputable Shire school is lead by blue and gold captains, and what good leadership the school is in. Zac was born in Baulkham Hills and moved to the Shire when he was four years of age. His parents are Eels fans and have kept the support for Parra alive in the south. Matt also has blue and gold blood running through his veins with his cousins being a major influence. The boys rate Manu Ma’u and Corey Norman amongst their current favourite players.
Luke Sheppard of Year 7 was first initiated to the game of Rugby League in 2009 as an innocent four year old. It was that fateful match against the Dragons in the Semi Finals and his entire family were cheering on the Red V. Parra went on to upset the Minor Premiers and that was when Luke decided the Eels were going to be his team. ‘I was the only Eels supporter in primary school too. I have a memory when the Sharks beat the Eels and my teacher handed out lolly bags with black, white and blue lollies!’ Luke also beams that as a Year 6 student he convinced his Kindergarten buddy who he was a peer support for, to go for the Eels. Get this boy a lifetime membership already! Luke’s favourite player is Corey Norman.
Also in Year 7, Sam Lacey-Jessep is an avid Eels supporter. Sam’s mum is a fan and he has watched DVD’s of Parra’s glory days from the 80’s. His earliest memory is receiving Parra shorts as a child which he has kept. Sam concedes that he is sad his former favourite player Semi Radradra has left but now loves King Gutho.
Cooper Duffy of year 9 says he was born into the Eels following. ‘I have a picture of me as a baby in an Eels outfit, dad’s a fan.” Cooper recalls his first Parra game which was the 2009 Grand Final with his mum who is a Bulldogs fan. He watches every game and his favourite player is Bevan French. When questioned about copping flack in regards to being a Parra fan in Sharks territory, Cooper quips, ‘No, I give it back to them. I tell them they are trophy hunters just because of their recent premiership win.’ Clearly this young man has learnt resilience over the years.
What all the boys conceded though was that all is fair in love and war and the banter between the Sharks supporters is nothing but friendly fire. The students are excited for the upcoming match on Saturday night when the Eels take on the Sharks at ANZ Stadium. Cue in the Johnny Mannah Cup, a cause remembering a true gentleman of the game and bringing two great clubs together in honour of one great man. The Mannah family are in the hearts of the entire rugby league community this week. Legends like Johnny are never forgotten and truly engulf what spirit the game brings, uniting people from all walks of life, regardless of which team they support.
De La Salle Caringbah students
Top: Cooper Duffy Year 9
Bottom from left: Sam Lacey-Jessep, Corban Marinos, Luke Sheppard Year 7