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2009 was a year of miracles for Parramatta. After losing a host of personnel in 2008, including coach Michael Hagan mid pre-season, the Eels came into the year as huge underdogs to even feature in the finals. Yet a late season charge and the form of players like Dally M player of the year Jarryd Hayne and rookie half Daniel Mortimer dragged the side into 8th place, eventually catapulting them into the most unlikely of Grand Final places.
The impressive way the club finished the 2009 season is a huge cause for hope for Parramatta fans in 2010. Despite losing several key members of the squad that made the Grand Final, the most notable being the underrated trio of Kevin Kingston, Todd Lowrie and Joe Galuvao, the Eels have bought well for the coming season. State of Origin prop Justin Poore will add some much needed grunt and stability to the pack, along with promising ex-Rooster Shane Shackleton. Add the punch of Timana Tahu to the backline and the return of young star Kris Keating from a long term injury, and it's safe to say the Eels have a very strong side on paper.
Problems may come for Parramatta when injury rears its head, as it all too often does. The Eels have lost a lot of quality forward depth in players like Kingston, Galuvao, Broderick Wright, Jeremy Latimore and others, and much of the burden may fall on untested rookies in the event of injury. Players like Justin Horo and Anthony Mitchell may be highly rated in the lower grades, but that ability doesn't necessarily translate into first grade immediately, if at all. A few injuries to key players, especially in the forwards, and Parramatta could find themselves in a lot of trouble.
On the positive side for the Eels, they have excellent depth from 1 through 7. One of Eric Grothe, Luke Burt, Joel Reddy and Krisnan Inu looks set to miss out for Timana Tahu, Ben Smith can play centre and Jono Wright performed ably in his few appearances last season. In the halves, Daniel Mortimer and Jeff Robson will be fighting to keep their spots over the returning Keating, and Feleti Mateo can happily play in the number 6 should injury hit hard. Not only is this handy in case of injury, but you can expect fierce competition for spots in the side, which should keep the players performing at a high standard.
Much will depend on the Eels young stars in the coming season. The performances of players like Jarryd Hayne, Feleti Mateo, Daniel Mortimer and Krisnan Inu will go a long way to deciding whether the Eels are genuine contenders or just nuisance value. Mateo and Inu have had one or more seasons that were indifferent at best, but both can be world beaters when they fire. On the other end of the scale, Hayne and Mortimer had stellar 2009 seasons and the big question is whether they can continue that form. If most or all of those players fire then Parramatta will truly be a side to fear. Fui Fui Moi Moi's manic charges were another big factor in the success of 2009, and if his pre-season fitness training pays off opposition sides will be less than pleased to know the big man will be playing more brutal minutes in 2010.
Signings: Gains: Justin Poore (Dragons), Shane Shackleton (Roosters), Timana Tahu (NSW Waratahs) Losses: Junior Paulo (Dragons), Josh Cordoba (Sharks), Kevin Kingston (Panthers), Joe Galuvao (Sea Eagles), Todd Lowrie (Storm), Jeremy Latimore (Warriors), Albert Kelly (Sharks), Taulima Tautai (Sharks), Broderick Wright (Sharks)
Predicted side for Round 1 1. Jarryd Hayne 2. Luke Burt 3. Joel Reddy 4. Timana Tahu 5. Eric Grothe 6. Daniel Mortimer 7. Jeff Robson 8. Nathan Cayless 9. Matthew Keating 10. Justin Poore 11. Nathan Hindmarsh 12. Shane Shackleton 13. Feleti Mateo Int.: 14. Kris Keating 15. Fuifui Moimoi 16. Tim Mannah 17. Brendan Oake
Player to Watch; Krisnan Inu Although he seems the most likely man to miss the first game of the year, Inu is a talent that shouldn't be counted out. After a poor 2009, the one time wonderkid will be looking to break back into form in 2010, especially with the return of former three quarter partner and mentor Timana Tahu. Criticised by many fans for a percieved attitude problem, Inu will be keen to show that the assassin still lies behind that impish smile.
Rookie to Watch; Justin Horo While most of the talk from Parramatta fans centres on the wonderfully talented Anthony Mitchell, it may well be backrower Horo who has the best chance to impress in 2010. The Eels are relatively weak in backrow depth, and Horo looks likely to be next cab off the rank. Big but mobile, hard working but skillful, Horo starred in Wentworthvilles successful 2008 campaign before an ankle injury interrupted his 2009 season and he will be looking to make up for lost time.
Current Injuries Ben Smith has a broken nose and is likely to miss one or two weeks of competition.
2010 Season Schedule R1 v Dragons (H) R2 v Sea Eagles (H) R3 v Tigers (A) R4 v Sharks (A) R5 v Raiders (H) R6 v Rabbitohs (H, ANZ) R7 v Cowboys (A) R8 v Bulldogs (H, ANZ) R9 Bye R10 v Sea Eagles (A, Heritage Round) R11 v Sharks (H) R12 v Dragons (A) R13 v Storm (H) R14 Bye R15 v Knights (A) R16 v Broncos (H) R17 v Warriors (A) R18 v Cowboys (H) R19 v Panthers (A) R20 v Bulldogs (A) R21 v Roosters (H) R22 v Titans (A) R23 v Broncos (A) R24 v Tigers (H) R25 v Rabbitohs (A) R26 v Warriors (H)