This article was first written and published for The Roar.
The 2019 Parramatta Eels are not the Melbourne Storm. They are not the Sydney Roosters and they are not the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Perhaps I deluded myself into thinking they were something more than what they are at the beginning of the season, particularly heading into Round 9, when the Eels were sitting comfortably in the top eight after a come-from-behind win against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
They aren’t even the Canberra Raiders.
But after two straight losses – first to the Storm 64-10 and then to the North Queensland Cowboys 17-10 – Parramatta find themselves sitting just outside the top eight with a big clash coming up against the bottom-placed Penrith Panthers this Thursday night.
There have been some worrying signs over the last couple of weeks, including some disappointing defence in the middle third, errors compounded by giving the opposition penalties and some brain snaps which have been exceptionally costly.
Our current spot on the ladder, though, is fairly aligned with where most fans saw us finishing at the end of the season. In fact many had the Eels battling it out for the wooden spoon come the back end of the year.
Fortunately the likes of Blake Ferguson, Reed Mahoney, Marata Niukore and Clint Gutherson have meant that we should not be in that position come September.
Where we are sitting on the ladder right now reflects where we are as a footy team and the quality of talent within our ranks.
But for the first time in a long time I look to this team and I genuinely feel positive about what the future holds, particularly after the news we have had this week.Advertisement
If you take away the game on Saturday night, it was a pleasing week to be an Eels fan.
On Monday came the announcement of a new $40 million high-performance facility at Kellyville. This development will include a minimum of four rugby league fields, an elite standard match venue and an art community facility, which will be home to the high-performance centre. Fortunately this proposal had bipartisan support, so the election result on Saturday night has no impact.
Then the good news continued. On Tuesday Brad Arthur re-signed for an additional two seasons, meaning he will remain at the club until 2021.
Brad Arthur has led the Eels to just one finals series since he became Parramatta’s coach in 2014. (AAP Image/Brendan Esposito)
For some, this decision may have been frustrating given that in the time Brad has coached the Eels we have made the finals only once.
But the reality is this: Brad has been at the helm during a deeply difficult time for our club. He stuck with us through a salary cap saga, which has led to significant change and reform off the field.
Last year the football department also underwent a significant review, which painted an extremely damning picture of Parramatta’s on-field success over the last decade, including a lack of premierships, a lack of finals footy and a lack of State of Origin and Australian representatives.
In response to this review a number of changes have been made at the club, including the appointment of a head of football.
Given it is only this year that Brad has enjoyed the appropriate support around him, he should have more time to show the club what he can do.
Then came the final piece of news and by far the most exciting. It was announced on Thursday that Parramatta captain Clint Gutherson had re-signed for another three years.
Whilst Clint is a talented footballer, his contribution to the vibe of our side is far more important. He is the lovable larrikin who is adored by fans and brings energy to the team.
Although I was thrilled that Clint had re-signed, what was even more pleasing was the way the club stuck to its guns throughout the negotiation process, refusing to bow down to demands from Clint’s manager and refusing to be influenced by the ongoing media circus around the re-signing.
Far too often in the past Parramatta have paid overs for players that were not worth it. This is a trap underperforming teams often fall into given high-profile players in most cases do not want to come to underperforming teams unless they are appropriately compensated.
This tells me that we are in a new era of leadership for the club, where decisions need to make commercial sense rather than be based on desperation to win a competition.
The next few weeks will be crucial for the club going forward.
Of course the football is important. Over the next month the Eels will face the Penrith Panthers at home, the South Sydney Rabbitohs at home, the Cronulla Sharks away and the Brisbane Broncos at home. To remain in touch with the top eight the Eels would hope to win at least two of these games.
But additionally there is a raft of players off contract at the end of this season. Now that the coach and captain are locked in, focus will naturally move to the remainder of the group, which includes the likes of Mitch Moses.
It also includes a number of players who may be let go at the end of the year, freeing up some additional cap space that the Eels could use on the open market.
While the club has played finals football only once in the last decade, with stability off the field and the best stadium in New South Wales to call home, why wouldn’t players want to come to the Eels?
This season may not be the one where Parramatta breaks its premiership drought, but I’m hopeful that is what we’re building towards.