While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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In the aftermath of the club's salary cap fiasco, the hitherto high-flying Eels were hit with a cap penalty of a loss of 12 competition points, as well as the club's accumulated for and against tally being reset.
The effects were compounded by being told to shed players to fall under the 2016 competition's cap in order to begin playing for points again, which resulted in the losses of Junior Paulo, Ryan Morgan, and Nathan Peats - and that was only the beginning, with captain Kieran Foran being released mid-season due to personal issues.
And yet despite all the self-inflicted setbacks, the club finished the season with 13 wins - enough to make the Finals, bar for the 12-point penalty.
Parramatta powerbrokers and fans, then, had solid reasons to put their faith in the club to finally break their Finals drought heading into season 2017.
After an unacceptably long time without playing October football, the Eels were able to reach the lofty heights of Finals football and, despite their meek exit in straight sets, displayed plenty of positive signs heading into 2018.
Mid-season signing Mitchell Moses was an inconsistent revelation at 7 for the Eels, and was able to display enough improvement in his game to fire a warning to rival clubs that he is only just getting started, and that fans should keep an eye on him. Moses was responsible for two of the most ludicrously ballsy passes one will ever see this season, and none was more impressive than his pass to Will Smith in the Qualifying Final against for Smith to score a much-deserved try. Instead of trying to describe the pass, this reviewer highly, strongly encourages you to watch the footage - it was arrogant, breath-taking, lucky, and simply brilliant.
The club's biggest weakness has been their workmanlike forward pack; while the pack is mobile, fit, and agile, the lack of sheer brutality and size was at times a handicap to the Eels. When larger forward packs got momentum, the smaller, more aggressive Eels pack was often unable to stop the roll-on and regain the upper hand.
A finish inside the NRL top four is considered a resounding success for any club in the NRL - but this achievement is especially impressive when factoring in the unavailable personnel: Bevan French, Clinton Gutherson, Corey Norman, Isaac De Gois, Kaysa Pritchard, Peni Terepo, and Josh Hoffman all missed substantial parts of the season through injury, and yet the club was still able to find an extra gear to finish fourth. When considering that, at the time of his season-ending injury, Gutherson was at the top of the Dally M points scoring, it's particularly commendable to see a club lose a player of that calibre, and still finish in the top four.
With an inexperienced and young squad, 2018 promises to be a strong year for the Parramatta club.
The round 11 mid-season signing of Mitchell Moses.
While he did take some time to find his feet in the new structure that he was now a part of, and while his defence will always be a talking point among fans, Moses displayed confidence (often over-ruling his more experienced halves partner Corey Norman), skill (throwing some stunning passes), and a newly refreshed attitude, and became Parramatta's go-to man when they needed something to happen.
Given Moses' youth and inexperience, it is only logical to assume that his attacking game will continue to evolve as his confidence grows.
Losing a player through injury is never an outcome that coaches or fans are happy to accept - but losing a player who was the best player on the field, and in a Final, and to have that player not return for the remainder of the match, is a huge blow to the club's chances of winning, and that's exactly what happened in the Qualifying Final against the Storm with Tepai Moeroa.
Moeroa was dragging defenders with brutal charges, and hitting attacking players like a freight train; he almost single-handedly rattled the Storm's cage.
However, after going off for an HIA, and not returning to the field, the Storm were able to find their groove, and grind out the win. Moeroa's loss was felt in a big way.
Parramatta boasts some wonderful talent in the second row, featuring players like Manu Ma'u, Kenny Edwards, and Tepai Moeroa, and the Eels were at their best when using their back-rowers to create time and space for Norman and Moses to then set up their outside backs.
The Eels' lack of the prototypical modern day prop forward hurt their defensive wrestle, and the lack of a genuinely big bopper to make metres rucking the ball out hurt, as well.
Brown, in particular, had a spectacular season; while his talent is plain to see, it was his temperament that many thought would prove to be his downfall, but somehow, coach Brad Arthur managed to get Brown's mind focussed week in and out, and he delivered staggering figures on a weekly basis. It was often murmured that, despite Brown's relatively small frame, he would not look out of place wearing a NSW jumper, given his fine 2017 season.
Gutherson arrived at the Eels in 2016 having already suffered one major injury in his time at Manly, and many wondered whether he would make it. His 2017 season must certainly have shut his critics up, as he amassed several Dally M points - to the extent that, at the time of his season-ending injury, he was leading the Dally M Medal points. That's how good his season was going.
Siosia Vave was expected to fill the big jersey of Junior Paulo, and while he had a handful of passable games, he did not display any real consistency. His hit-ups varied between "going through the motions" to "runaway freight train", and his defence, though acceptable, was lazy, and at times, insipid.
The Wentworthville Magpies suffered from a seemingly revolving door policy in regards to their playing personnel, and their on-field results reflected as much; players were in one week, out the next, and the fabric of the side was constantly chopping and changing, and it all culminated in the Maggies missing the top 8 altogether.
Parramatta's NYC team went on a golden run to make their maiden Grand Final.
However, the NYC side was stacked with players still eligible for SG Ball, and they eventually succumbed to the bigger, older, more experienced Manly side in the Grand Final.
Kane Evans has the build of your prototypical modern day front row forward - tall, heavy, and with explosive speed and agility for a big man, it is indeed very exciting to see how he improves a hard-working, but small, pack. Evans certainly lacks for nothing in attack; he can break tackles, and pop offloads, on a regular basis, and has often broken the line for the Roosters in plays which led to tries. Given his height and build, he should be able to help in the defensive wrestle, too.
But 2018 will also see the Parramatta club lose one of its superstars in Semi Radradra, as he heads off to French rugby union. It is often said that no player is irreplaceable, but Radradra would be the closest thing to that; often pulling out 90 metre tries from nowhere, regularly returning the ball back from kicks for 20 metres, and making big defensive plays, the big Fijian lad will be sorely missed, and whoever takes up his jersey will have huge shoes to fill.
Norman and Moses, each a year older by 2018, will have had the benefit of a full off-season together; Gutherson and French, key linchpins in the Eels' attack, will have recuperated from injury, and will be raring to go in 2018; the much-maligned, but often under-rated Parramatta forward pack will be bolstered by the addition of Kane Evans, and desperate to show that 2017 was no fluke.
The NRL is the toughest competition in the world, and there are no guarantees, but this reviewer sees a very bright 2018 season ahead for the Eels.