Don’t believe the hype … yet: Eels must prove they’re real deal

This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.

Parramatta’s premiership hype train is at full steam but there are still doubts over whether they can go the distance.

With the Eels sitting pretty at the top of the ladder heading into round six, it’s easy to see why the media are talking them up as premiership favourites.

But there’s an important group that remains unconvinced – the captains of the other 15 NRL teams.

When asked before the season restarted a few weeks ago, none of the captains of the other clubs named Parramatta as their premiers for 2020, nor were they named as a dark horse to win the title.

If you look at Parramatta’s results for the last couple of years, it is easy to understand why the rest of the competition doubts whether the Eels can go all the way.

Take last season as an example, one of the only two years in which Parramatta played finals football since the 2009 grand final.

The club finished fifth with a 14-10 record. A strong showing, but less convincing when you take a closer look at results.

Including finals, Parramatta played the teams ranked above them six times but only managed to win two of them – against Canberra and the Rabbitohs. Those results also included two thrashings at the hands of the Melbourne Storm.

At the time, I commented that Parramatta’s position on the ladder accurately represented where they were as a team – better than those battling it out to make the final spots in the eight, but not good enough to match the competition heavyweights.

But could this have changed in 2020? The Eels have conquered each test put in front of them. For fans of the club there have been a couple of positive signs.

Firstly, in the game against the Sea Eagles, they led by 18-2 early in the second half. Despite Manly’s storming comeback, Parra remained calm under pressure and hung on for a 19-16 victory, albeit with the help of a last-minute forward pass ruling.

Against the Panthers, the opposite happened. Parramatta were down by 10 points at the break, but managed to come back to win the game.

Eels teams in the past have been known to buckle under pressure and to throw the towel in when things weren’t going their way. This appears to have changed in 2020.

But their next test is their biggest – Saturday night’s match of the round against the back-to-back premiers, the Sydney Roosters.

There’s no other way to put this; the Roosters are the benchmark for the Telstra Premiership.

Some were concerned after they dropped their first two games of the season, but since the competition resumed, the Roosters have been undefeated and have not looked like losing.

They are a star-studded team with the likes of Luke Keary, Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and Angus Crichton. The cherry on top is James Tedesco who was near perfect in Monday’s romp over the Bulldogs.

Tedesco finished the game with three tries, two try assists, 10 tackle breaks and 231 running metres. In short, he was unstoppable.

The Roosters play stunning attacking rugby league. A threepeat is certainly not out of the question with the way they are playing.

For the Eels, they have key players like Mitch Moses, Reed Mahoney and Clint Gutherson but what’s been so exciting about them this year is that even without a stack of internationals and State of Origin players, the team has worked together with each player filling their role.

Ryan Matterson leads the competition in offloads, with Kane Evans not too far behind.

Maika Sivo and Michael Jennings have formed a potent combination on the left flank, while Dylan Brown is injury free and is developing into a more consistent playmaker.

Gutherson may not be the NRL’s most talented fullback but he makes up for it in enthusiasm and support play.

Then you have Nathan Brown, whose energy and enthusiasm was certainly missed in the earlier rounds when he was suspended.

Make no mistake this is not a must-win game for Parramatta, but it will certainly be the best test of their credentials.

A strong showing against the Roosters, may give some of those naysayers something to think about.

And as for fans like me that think this is all too good to be true, it might give me a little more reason to believe the Eels actually are the real deal in 2020.