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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Parramatta Eels took a huge stride forwards in the NRL last season by finishing fifth overall, reaching the playoffs where their inexperience came to haunt them in a thrashing at the hands of the Melbourne Storm.
It still was an impressive campaign after earning the wooden spoon in 2018. Brad Arthur was under huge pressure to lead a response, heading into the final year of his contract with the club. An influx of young players drove the team out of the doldrums and into the upper echelons of the table.
Once in the playoffs, Arthur and his team made a statement by producing the biggest win in post-season history by hammering the Brisbane Broncos 58-0 in their Elimination Final. The tables were then turned on them by the Storm, proving that the Eels have a way ahead of them before they can compete with the elite of the NRL.
However, they are backed in the rugby league betting odds at 11/1 to win the Grand Final next season, suggesting that another rise is not out of the question. Arthur certainly has a talented array of attacking players at his disposal. The challenge in 2020 will be to resolve their defensive issues that were prevalent throughout the term and most notably in their defeat to Melbourne.
No player was a bigger hit last season than Maika Sivo. The 26-year-old was a dominant force in the final third in the league, scoring 20 tries in the regular campaign - one short of Israel Folau's record for a rookie. Siko's consistency was extremely impressive for a player of his experience. He scored in eight straight games in a stretch during the middle of the term, while he ended the regular season with his first hat-trick by manhandling the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles. Sivo still has work to do in his development - finessing the defensive style of the game. However, he will be one of the foundation pieces of a potential run to the crown.
Mitchell Moses was deadly accurate throughout the season, finishing in the top five of points and goal scorers for the campaign. He controlled matches from the halfback position, displaying composure with his distribution particularly in key moments. At the age of 25, he will only improve and the learning experience in the defeat to the Storm will be a reminder to Moses that he has plenty of work ahead of him to establish himself as a truly elite player.
Another rookie Dylan Brown also made a huge impact - so much so that he has become sought on the free-agent market at the time of writing. The 19-year-old provided energy and flair during his time on the field, although he battled a back injury during the middle of the term. He was instrumental in the victory over the Broncos and will only get better with further time on the field.
The departure of Manu Ma'u to Super League side Hull could be a detriment, as they'll be losing his physical presence and leadership. Ryan Matterson will aim to fill the void, but it's an area where the Eels could be lacking in 2020. There are not many issues with the roster as it stands currently and there's certainly enough talent to make a significant surge into the latter stages of the playoffs. However, Arthur has to prove more than most that the club's hierarchy made the right decision to hand him a contract to take Parramatta forward and make the most of their undoubted potential.