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As the 2007 season approached the Eels fans were quietly excited but in reality didn't really know what to expect from the new coach in Michael Hagen and only two signings of note, being Brett Finch and the return of Ian Hindmarsh. The eels chose to invest in the future of their youngsters as they had won the Premier League grand final two years running now and it was time to either give these young players a chance in the NRL at Parramatta, or risk loosing them to other NRL clubs.
The Eels exodus included experienced NRL players like Dean Widders, Jeremy Smith, John Morris, Wade McKinnon and Glen Morrison. A lot of fans believed that some poor decisions were made however they were also keen to see how the youngsters would perform in the NRL and after the first few rounds, it was apparent that these new combinations would take some time to gel.
And gel they have.
As the season has rolled on the combinations have started to work, some better than others. Some individuals have stood out but generally the young players have performed pretty well.
Each week the League Unlimited Eels members vote for the player of the round on a 3,2,1 basis and the votes are cumulated weekly.
The best players at the completion of Round 13 are as follows:
17 points - Nathan Cayless 10 points - Luke Burt 9 points - Tim Smith 8 points - Nathan Hindmarsh 8 points - Fuifui Moimoi 7 points - Feleti Mateo 5 points - PJ Marsh 3 points - Ben Smith 3 points - Aaron Cannings 3 points - Mark Riddell 2 points - Jarryd Hayne 1 point - Daniel Wagon 1 point - Brett Finch 1 point - Blake Green
Most Disappointing Player
Our most disappointing player so far this season would have to be Brett Finch, although the Eels don't really have to much to be disappointed about at this stage. To his credit, he has been excellent in defence but we have plenty of back rowers and good support off the bench. A good 5/8 should provide more in attack than Brett Finch has so far this season and his kicking and passing has been disappointing.
Timana Tahu has also been a bit disappointing in that he seems to always be injured and can't really get to much momentum going.
The Eels best win for the season would have to be the game against the Tigers in round 12. The Tigers had won 6 on the trot and the Eels were looming as a team who were slowly starting to gel against mediocre opposition. It was to be a big test against a team above them and they not only won convincingly, but shown they were capable of racking up a big score without relying on the boot of Tim Smith to got them over the line.
Most Disappointing Performance
The Eels most disappointing loss so far was second round 13 loss to the Raiders on a cold night in Canberra. The Raiders put 24 points on us in the first 12 minutes and that's where the damage was done. We looked uninterested from there on and were never in the game at any stage. It was most disappointing considering the previous week, the Eels played some of the best footy of the year against the in form Tigers.
The Round 2 flogging by the Bunnies was also a bit of a slap in the face
The Eels have had a few debutants this season, thanks to Michael Hagen's interest in giving Premier League players a run in th NRL.
By far the most impressive debutant has been Krisnan Inu who also debuted for New Zealand at fullback during the Anzac day test match.
Weller Hauraki was very impressive in his only game. Blake Green also had a creditable debut despite being played out of position at 14 and being a regular half or 5/8 in the Eels premier league team.
The Eels only had two new signings for the 2007 season. The main signing being Brett Finch from the Sydney Roosters, a former NSW State of Origin half and the resigning of Ian Hindmarsh from English Super League. Of the two new signing, Ian Hindmarsh has given the Eels the most creditable service so far this season, despite missing out on the last couple of rounds with a head injury. Close call but I'd give it to Ian Hindmarsh.
Summary on the first half of the season and predictions for the second half
Like a glacier slowly gaining momentum, the Eels have been building on their teamwork and starting to gel. With a mass exodus of experienced players the Eels had to go through a rebuilding process. While coaching staff believed in the depth at the club after winning the last two Premier League grand finals, it was a matter a nurturing the talent that was at the club. There was always going to be a settling in period and it took time for player to settle in, particularly the halves combination of Tim Smith and Bret Finch. As the season has progressed so has their form and their confidence which was apparent during the round 12 games against the Tigers.
As far as the rest of the season goes I predict that the team will continue to improve although it may be a rocky road for such a young team and a top 4 finish would be expected at this stage.
After the turmoil of 2006, when Brain Smith decided he was past his use by date at the Eels, they were left with their Premier League coach, Jason Taylor, to get them through the season. The Eels went on a winning spree that got them into the final 8 and there were a lot of fans who wanted to see JT stay on at the els but the decision was made he he was Redfern bound.
Enter the next contestant, Michael Hagen, the third coach in a 12 month period.
Nowdays a coach's role is not only to coach the team, but to mould it and have a big say who stays and who goes. Its hard to judge a coach on half a season, but if the Eels position on the NRL table is an indication, then Michael Hagen has done a reasonable job.
One thing that Michael Hagen has done which his predecessor did not is to encourage a lot of the younger players at the club by giving them a chance in the NRL team. As previously mentioned we have had a higher than usual number of debutants this year and this has been a pleasing feature of Hagen's coaching, as there is a lot of junior talent at Parramatta Stadium.
In any case, the players seems to be a bit more relaxed as the season progresses and the Eels are slowly climbing the NRL ladder, and thats normally the barometer for success.
Final Position Prediction
At this stage of the season the Eels seem to be on the improve.
Should they continue to improve at their current rate, they should finish top 4.
Most Improved Player
The Eels have a few players that have significantly improved their form this year.
NATHAN CAYLESS. You might think, how can an established NRL and International player improve ? Nathan Cayless is currently our best player for the season and his work rate has increased significantly over the past couple of seasons. He is now back to his form of 2001 and one the Eels most improved players for 2007.
LUKE BURT. After spending the 2006 season on the Wing, at fullback, then at fullback in Premier League, then back to the NRL team, Luke Burt has made the fullback role in the NRL team his own this year. It was widely tipped that Jarryd Hayne would eventually fill the fullback role as that was his role in a lot of his junior football and for the Eels premier league team.
However Luke Burt's form has been so good that he is the Eels No 1 fullback and his support play has been excellent this season. He also leads the NRL point scoring at this stage of the season.
FELITI MATEO. At 23 years of age he has been around for a while but not given too many chances by Brian Smith. With the exit of Dean Widders there was an opportunity to make a bench spot his. His form has been so good that he has cemented a back rower's spot, despite playing a lot of his junior football at 5/8.
He has the ability to be an alternative play maker with his deft passing and his ability to free his arms as well as unload the ball in tackles. He's also got a good kicking game and has a fair bit of acceleration for a player his size.
For me, he is the Eels most improved player so far this season. He's has also been considered by the current Australian coach as a future Australian representative.
Ben Smith also deserves a mention. He is now building the strength and confidence after a leg fracture that kept him out for almost a full season. There has never been any doubt about his defensive capabilities, however the pleasing aspect is his attack is building nicely as the season progresses.