This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
On Saturday night I breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the game between the Parramatta Eels and the Sydney Roosters.
The Eels lost this game 44-10 and to be honest it seemed a fitting end to what has been a dismal season and a season that I would rather forget.
When I think back to how I felt as a fan this time last year, the comparison could not be starker.
This time last year the Eels were heading into the finals after securing a top-four finish. It was the first time since 2009 that the Eels had made the finals (let alone finished in the top four), and even without one of our most crucial players in Clint Gutherson, I went into the finals series thinking we would be competitive.
Unfortunately, the team bowed out of the finals in the second week after consecutive losses to the Melbourne Storm and the North Queensland Cowboys.
Despite this, I still mark season 2017 down as a success because at the start of the year the goal was simply to make the top eight.
Because of this, most Eels fans came into this season with great confidence. It seemed that the boardroom and management struggles that we as fans had become so accustomed to were finally in the past. We had stability. In 2017 we had also broken the ANZ Stadium hoodoo and had finally learnt to win at the venue.
Gutherson was only a couple of weeks away from returning from his ACL injury which disrupted his 2017 campaign, Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman had had a pre-season together and the great unknown of Jarryd Hayne had returned and we were hoping for something. Surely if Hayne was going to play good footy anywhere, it had to be at the Eels.
I held onto this great confidence for about 40 minutes.
After the first half of the Eels’ opening game against Penrith, I thought that what was coming was more of what I saw in 2017 – exciting footy and a team with aspirations to finish in the top four. But then, after that first half when Mitch Moses got sent to the sin bin, Parramatta went into the sheds.
When they come out, something had changed and our season simply went from bad to worse. We lost our first six games and that included a 54-point shellacking by the Manly Sea Eagles in Round 2. The Eels went on to only win six games the entire season.
To have been a fly in the wall in the sheds during that Round 1 game.
The question that has plagued me all season though, is what has gone wrong? It has bemused and puzzled me and I still don’t have an answer.
With teams like the Canterbury Bulldogs at least you can point to their mammoth salary cap issues and the impact that that has had not just on the current playing roster but also recruitment.
With Manly, you can point to salary cap issues as well as problems at a coaching level. For the Knights, you can point to injuries to key players like Mitchell Pearce and Kalyn Ponga.
But for the Eels? What’s the excuse?
I’ve heard a couple of reasons – one being the loss of Semi Radradra. But really? Is the loss of one man big enough for a team to drop from the top four to the bottom of the ladder?
I know Semi was Parramatta’s highest try scorer last year and was integral in helping the team get out of our red zone in defence, but his loss is not enough to explain away the season.
Injuries? We had some but they’re something every team has to manage. We also managed exceptionally well last year without Gutherson, so it doesn’t seem a reasonable excuse.
Was it simply a number of small things going wrong that combined, ended up being catastrophic?
Not being able to answer this question fills me with both great confidence and great fear for next season.
It fills me with confidence because if there is no apparent problem at the Eels, then perhaps we can just put this down to being a bad season.
We did have a couple of injuries throughout the year, losing does become habit and it was a habit that was ingrained after the first quarter of the season and perhaps the scars of those first few weeks were too deep to overcome.
But it also fills me with great fear because if you don’t know what the problem is, how can coaching staff possibly address it going into 2019? What will the coaching staff do differently leading into a new season?
There’s no doubt about it – along with the Cowboys, the Eels were by far and away the most disappointing team in 2018.
The Cowboys looked old and slow, while the Eels were outpaced, out-enthused and let themselves down with ill-discipline week after week.
We have a couple of new players joining the club next year. Hopefully Blake Ferguson can help to fill the Semi-shaped hole left in the Eels backline. Shaun Lane and Junior Paulo will bolster the forward pack.
I’m also excited to see what Jarryd can do after a complete full season.
The most exciting part of all, though, is that next year we have a brand new stadium to go home to – wouldn’t it be a wonderful way to christen the new stadium with an Eels top-eight finish.
Plenty is going to have to change between now and then for that to happen, though.
It may have been a rubbish season, but as always I’m grateful to have been able to support the blue and gold through 2018. It’s part of being a fan and I know come October I’ll already be dreaming about Round 1 next year.