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Time is running out for Brian Smith to get results at the Parramatta Eels. The under siege head coach will have few excuses if he fails to at least achieve a finals berth in 2005, after overseeing the Eels worst season since 1995. The signings of Dragons hooker Mark Riddell, Cowboys lock Glen Morrison, Newcastle and NSW winger Timana Tahu, Warriors rake PJ Marsh, as well as toilers Paul Stringer and Chad Robinson have raised expectations for a far more productive 2005. However, the cynics still believe that the once ?super coach? Smith is past his time. Veteran CEO Denis Fitzgerald has also copped strong criticism from the media and Eels fans for his loyalty to Smith.
The Eels had talked big during the off season, highlighting how they had gone for size in the playing market to catch up in the bulk department with the heavyweights. But Parramatta?s 2004 campaign got off to the worst possible start when they conceded 36 unanswered points in the first half to the controversy embroiled Bulldogs. A few days later the club was shocked by star centre Jamie Lyon?s sudden decision to walk out on Parramatta. Lyon spoke of a dislike of city life and returned to his home town of Wee Waa to play bush footy.
The Eels did well to recover over the next month and were actually 4 wins from 6 starts without having played all that well. Then a number of factors conspired to send the Eels slithering down the ladder. Injuries to key players such as Nathan Cayless, Eric Grothe and David Vaeliki troubled the Eels during a difficult mid season period. A major low point of the season was a 6-37 thrashing at the hands of a depleted Dragons outfit. The Eels were booed off the field by their home fans and there were strong calls for Brian Smith?s sacking.
Two straight wins against the Knights and the Sea Eagles briefly relieved the pressure but the Eels never established any of the consistency required to push for the eight. There were glimpses of what the side was capable of when it really turned up to play. The 26-12 win over the Roosters at Parramatta Stadium was a rare game in which the Eels outsmarted their opponents by targeting the Roosters? suspect defence on the edges. Unfortunately the Eels were back to their bad habits the next week with a 6-28 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville, a result which typified their season.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Without doubt, Nathan Hindmarsh. The scruffy haired toiler was outstanding in a poorly performed outfit in 2004. He deservedly won the Dally M second rower of the year award and was also Rugby League Week?s Player of the Year. He is an 80 minute player, a running and tackling machine and without his consistently good performances the Eels might have struggled to avoid the wooden spoon. Fullback Wade Mckinnon deserves a mention for being one of the NRL?s most improved backs.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: The Eels have bought some very good players for 2005 and will boast a formidable squad on paper. The problem will be jelling as a unit and finding the right halves combination to give the Eels some sorely needed direction. The Eels are a good chance of making the finals in 2004 and if they fail to do that then I think Brian Smith will have run out of excuses.
Match Records 2004 ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 Bulldogs Telstra Stadium LOSS 14-48 2 Brisbane Broncos Suncorp Stadium WIN 26-18 3 Newcastle Knights Parramatta Stadium WIN 38-34 4 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium LOSS 12-26 5 South Sydney Rabbitohs Parramatta Stadium WIN 41-20 6 Manly Sea Eagles Brookvale Oval WIN 32-26 7 Cronulla Sharks Parramatta Stadium LOSS 14-18 8 North Queensland Cowboys Parramatta Stadium LOSS 20-24 9 BYE
10 Melbourne Storm Parramatta Stadium LOSS 16-36 11 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Parramatta Stadium LOSS 6-37 12 Wests Tigers Leichhardt Oval LOSS 6-33 13 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium WIN 18-16 14 Manly Sea Eagles Parramatta Stadium WIN 52-12 15 Brisbane Broncos Parramatta Stadium LOSS 24-34 16 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 16-26 17 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium LOSS 10-20 18 Sydney Roosters Parramatta Stadium WIN 26-12 19 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 6-28 20 Melbourne Storm Olympic Park LOSS 16-22 21 Wests Tigers Parramatta Stadium LOSS 2-18 22 BYE 23 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park WIN 44-22 24 New Zealand Warriors Parramatta Stadium WIN 48-18 25 Penrith Panthers Parramatta Stadium LOSS 20-30 26 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium LOSS 10-48 9 WINS, 15 LOSSES. FOR: 517 AGAINST: 626 POSITION: 12TH
Parramatta Eels - 2005 Player Movement Gains: Mark Riddell (Dragons), Chad Robinson (Roosters), Paul Stringer (Rabbitohs), Timana Tahu (Knights), Glenn Morrison (Cowboys), Josh Davis (Junior Kiwis), PJ Marsh (Warriors), Henry Perenara (Dragons), Marcus Perenara (Warriors), Ian Henderson (Roosters).
Losses: Adam Dykes (Sharks), Chris Armit (Bulldogs), Chris Thorman (Huddersfield), David Vaeliki (Wigan), Nathan Armit (Bulldogs), Junior Langi (Salford), Corey Pearson (retired), Craig Stapleton (Broncos), Lee Hopkins (released).
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist