Parramatta Eels - 2013 Preview

The 2013 Parramatta Eels will have their goals set no higher than making the eight, after a disastrous two years at the bottom of the table. With a host of weaknesses, and their only strength being the running games of a couple of key players, even a finals appearance is likely to make the Eels fodder for one of the stronger clubs. That said, this Eels squad is on a par with about ten other weak clubs fighting for the bottom handful of finals spots. Parramatta fans can look forward to seeing a full season out of Jarryd Hayne (who only played twelve games in 2012), an improved Tim Mannah, and possibly even the NRL debuts of a couple of promising young forwards.

The only real strength for Parramatta is the line breaking ability they have in the spine. Hayne, Roberts and Sandow are all dangerous runners of the ball, and all have the ability to create line breaks for others. Hayne and Sandow have excellent kicking games.

There are three areas that make the Eels weak: inexperience across the park, a lightweight back row, and lack of familiarity through the spine.

Only eight members of the current Parramatta squad have played more than 100 first grade games, and none have reached 200. Eleven of them made their NRL debuts in the past two seasons, while seven members of the squad have never played first grade.

The Eels have probably the smallest back row in the NRL. Starting edge forwards will be Ben Smith, who is skinny, and Reni Maitua, who is short. Lock will be Paulo or Harrison, who are both only about 100kg. All other back row options in the squad hover around the same, with the exception of outside back Jacob Loko, who has the frame to play at 110kg+ if he were to shift to the forwards.

Finally, only two members of Parramatta's spine have played together for more than a season. While Hayne and Keating have been the club's fullback and hooker since 2009, Chris Sandow has only played for the Eels since last year. Both Hayne and Keating spent the second half of 2012 out injured, limiting their ability to form combinations with the club's halves. Five-eighth options are Ben Roberts and Luke Kelly, who both arrived last year; Roberts spent the middle part of the season in the NSW Cup, while Kelly signed mid-year and only played four games before suffering a season ending injury. Hayne-Roberts-Sandow-Keating have only played seven games together; Hayne-Kelly-Sandow-Keating only played together once - a 19-18 away win over Penrith.

Player to Watch
Tim Mannah is coming off his poorest season, where he averaged over 30 metres per game less than in 2011. Given the prolonged family tragedy he endured throughout the year, a loss of form is understandable. Mannah himself said he finished the year underweight, and that new coach Ricky Stuart has encouraged him to bulk up over the off-season. This should see the return of the yardage monster that played so well from 2009 to 2011, and improve his play-the-ball that was once described as the quickest in the NRL.

Rookie to Watch
With a lack of quality in the forwards, and only 33 players on fulltime contracts, there is opportunity for a couple of Parramatta's Holden Cup players to make their NRL debuts in 2013. Kelepi Tanginoa, who is still 18 years old, was among a group of five NYC players to train with the fulltime squad this pre-season. He displayed plenty of power, speed and footwork in the under 20s last year, and if he continues to develop, will be far too good for the national youth competition. Tanginoa could well finish 2013 in the NRL side.

Kenny Edwards (Southport Tigers), Matthew Eisenhuth (Eels NYC), Daniel Harrison (Sea Eagles), Darcy Lussick (Sea Eagles), Lorenzo Ma'afu (Ipswich Jets), Api Pewhairangi (Knights NYC), Semi Radradra (Eels NYC), Vai Toutai (Eels NYC), Brayden Wiliame (Storm NYC)

Jordan Atkins (released), Marmin Barba (Titans), Rory Brien (Tigers), Luke Burt (retired), Nathan Hindmarsh (retired), Justin Horo (Sea Eagles), Casey McGuire (retired), Justin Poore (Wakefield Wildcats), Troy Savage (AS Carcassonne), Esi Tonga (Sea Eagles)

Jon Mannah (13 September 1989 - 18 January 2013) passed away from Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Rest in peace.

Best Lineup
1. Jarryd Hayne 2. Cheyse Blair 3. Ryan Morgan 4. Willie Tonga 5. Ken Sio 6. Luke Kelly 7. Chris Sandow 8. Tim Mannah 9. Matt Keating 10. Darcy Lussick 11. Joseph Paulo 12. Ben Smith 13. Reni Maitua
Interchange: 14. Ben Roberts 15. Jacob Loko 16. Fuifui Moimoi 17. Mitchell Allgood