2011 Season Preview - Parramatta Eels

Rewind the clock 365 days and the Eels were entering 2010 riding the wave of a stunning surge to the grand final the year prior. The expectations on a stronger-looking Eels team were immense, placing them either as premiership favourites or second in the running for the silverware and most rugby league fans believed a top four position was elementary. However, things didn't quite follow the script in 2010 and what followed was a remarkable fall from grace. The club finished in 12th spot, rumours of off-field infighting were crippling and Daniel Anderson departed with time to run on his contract. The on-field action was marred by poor execution and inconsistency and a lack of effort when it mattered most.

Turn the clock forward to 2011 and Parramatta has undergone a significant transformation personnel wise. Stalwart Nathan Cayless, the most capped captain in NRL history, has hung up the boots on a distinguished career. He is joined by part time winger/part time singer Eric Grothe junior, who has been another to announce his retirement. The topsy-turvy duo of Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu will don Warriors jerseys this season, while centre Timanu Tahu has been released after a troubled return to the blue and gold.

In their place arrive a host of elder statesmen and one forward desperate to regain his standing in the NRL. Chris Walker, Chris Hicks, Paul Whatuira and Casey McGuire return home from the English Super League in a recruitment drive obviously focused on adding experience to the roster. A few 'old heads' are vital but questions remain about whether they can still compete at the level required. Former Cowboy and State of Origin representative Carl Webb is another to benefit from a show of faith from Parramatta. Although it's been seasons since his devastating prime, Webb is adamant he hasn't reached his expiry date. However, talk is cheap, the proof will be in the pudding (or perhaps lack of) for Carl.

The trump card for Parramatta is the addition of Stephen Kearney. Over the past few seasons, the Kiwi coach has installed unprecedented discipline and consistency into the New Zealand national side and will be striving to do the same at Parramatta. Despite it being his first gig as full time NRL coach, Kearney already has a wealth of knowledge to draw upon having spent time as assistant to Craig Bellamy at Melbourne and with Wayne Bennett at international level.

Overall, there is less hype surrounding the Eels in 2011 which can only help the side free themselves from the pressure of expectation. Parramatta supporters will be hoping the veteran recruits can bring stability, while Kearney needs to squeeze every last ounce of ability from his squad to push for a top eight berth.

Player to Watch - Jarryd Hayne
It is impossible to write an article about Parramatta without mentioning Jarryd Hayne, who is without doubt the man to again keep your eye on. The 23-year old is the pinup of the Eels' success but also routinely the scapegoat when things go wrong. Much like his team in 2010, Hayne looked lethargic at times but a lack of expectation this year should allow him to clear his head and focus on footy. At his peak, the fullback can dominate a rugby league game like few others.

Rookie to Watch - Jacob Loko

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