2024 Preview: Parramatta Eels

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Aidan Edgecomb looks ahead to the 2024 season for the Parramatta Eels.

Can Parramatta edge their way into a 2024 finals spot?

After finishing runners up in 2022, many fans had high hopes for the Eels coming into last year's campaign. In round one, they were competitive and took a near full strength Melbourne side to golden point before being heartbroken by an 83rd minute Harry Grant try. They didn't recover.

It was a frustrating year for the Eels with elements of promise including knocking off the reigning and eventual premiers twice and generally playing an expansive brand of attacking footy. Though they managed to sit in the top eight for parts of the seasons last third, the success was relatively short lived as by Round 27 they'd slumped into a mediocre 10th place.

The catalyst to it all? A seven-game suspension to five-eighth Dylan Brown after being found guilty of sexual assault charges. The loss of a key player at a crucial time in Brown proved impossible to replace and throwing in a Mitchell Moses injury, the Eels found themselves missing both starting halves.

With no major signings coming into 2024, it's tough to see a reality where the Eels can be significant challengers. This isn't to say they don't have a talented roster, and plenty of stars capable of stepping up in big moments - but when compared to other top clubs - the general outlook is bleak.

As pressure mounts on coach Brad Arthur, his tactics, player selections and bench rotations will be critical if his side wishes to compete. Although clichéd, discipline and grit will be crucial for Parramatta to convert their glimpses of promise into a sustained, season-long campaign.

Why they'll win it

Plenty of Parramatta's top players were below their best in 2023 and will be looking to bounce back strong. Although losing his starting spot to gun signing J'maine Hopgood, the financially responsible Ryan Matterson will be looking to return to his best after a lean year. If injury impacted stars like Shuan Lane and Reagan Campbell-Gillard can shine yet again, the Eels could find themselves close to the top.

Their dominance up the middle at times in 2023 was incredible. Whether it be outmuscling top teams like Penrith, or busting holes through The Dolphins in June, there was definite firepower showcased. If they can carry this over into 2024 with a bit more consistency, teams may find them tough to defend against.

Why they won't

Injuries and suspensions were a major part of their downfall in 2023 and a lack of depth in key positions will likely see them struggle yet again. I worry whether they have an extended roster strong enough to replace top players who may have an interrupted season. Throw in origin, the test to young, replacement players could prove too much to handle.

This ties into Parramatta's reliance on Clint Gutherson. Whilst Dylan Brown may deliver fancy attacking plays, Gutho is instrumental in their structure both with the ball and in defence. If Gutherson goes down or has a quiet patch, they will struggle immensely with the lack of leadership and direction.

Even if both those concerns don't amount, I doubt their roster, as talented as it is, will be able to compete regularly with top teams. Teams like Penrith and Brisbane seem, on paper, a class above and will likely be too strong over the length of a season.

Player movement

2024 GainsMorgan Harper, Kelma Tuilagi (Manly)
Contracted for 2024Bailey Simonsson, Blaize Talagi, Brendan Hands, Bryce Cartwright, Clint Gutherson, Daejarn Asi, Dylan Brown, Haze Dunster, Jirah Momoisea, J'maine Hopgood, Joey Lussick, Joe Ofahengaue, Junior Paulo, Kelma Tuilagi, Ky Rodwell, Maika Sivo, Makahesi Makatoa, Matt Doorey, Mitchell Moses, Morgan Harper, Ofahiki Ogden, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Ryan Matterson, Sean Russell, Shaun Lane, Tevita Taumoepenu, Uinitoni Mataele, Will Penisini, Wiremu Greig, Zac Cini
2024 LossesJack Murchie (Huddersfield)
Waqa Blake (St Helens)
Andrew Davey, Josh Hodgson (retired)
Samuel Loizou (Wests Magpies NSW Cup)
DevelopmentCharlie Guymer, Ethan Sanders, Jock Brazel, Luca Moretti, Sam Tuivaiti

Key players

I emphasised the importance of Clint Gutherson earlier, and his role in any potential success for the team cannot go understated. Another crucial player is his co-captain, Junior Paulo. The origin and international level prop was uncharacteristically quiet in 2023 but in the games he showed up, Parramatta undoubtedly played their best. A return to the top for Paulo will see the Eels whole forward pack flourish.

Halves pairing Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown will be looking for an injury and suspension free year, where they can form a consistent partnership. Any spark in the Eels attack relies on their combination and fans will be hoping they're at their best.

Rookies and breakthroughs

Although having played 17 games in 2023, Sean Russell's year was still injury interrupted and he didn't have the chance to make the impact he would've liked. With a strong preseason, Russell will be hoping for a year where he can be fully fit and cement as a crucial element in the Eels side.

Similarly, Brendan Hands played 19 games last year, with most of those coming off the bench to relieve either Josh Hodgson or Joey Lussick. Coach Brad Arthur has indicated he intends to only play one dummy half for 80 minute and though Lussick is expected to get the gig, Hands could certainly apply some pressure and is a chance to eventually secure the #9 jersey long-term.

Best 17

1. Clinton Gutherson (C)
2. Maika Sivo
3. Will Penisini
4. Bailey Simonsson
5. Sean Russell

6. Dylan Brown
7. Mitchell Moses

8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
9. Joey Lussick
10. Junior Paulo (C)
11. Bryce Cartwright
12. Shaun Lane
13. J'Maine Hopgood

Interchange: 14. Daejarn Asi 15. Wiremu Greig 16. Luca Moretti 17. Ryan Matterson

2024 fixture list

All times Sydney local (AET)

PRE 1Sat 5:55pmFeb 17thHCanberraNetstrata
PRE 2Sun 4:00pmFeb 25thAGold CoastNth Ipswich
R1Sat 5:30pmMar 9thHCanterburyCommBank
R2Fri 8:05pmMar 15thAPenrithBlueBet
R3Sun 4:05pmMar 24thHManlyCommBank
R4Mon 4:00pmApr 1stHWests TigersCommBank
R5Sun 6:15pmApr 7thACanberraGIO
R6Sat 5:30pmApr 13thHNorth QLDCommBank
R7Fri 7:30pmApr 19thHDolphinsTIO
R8Fri 8:00pmApr 26thAManly4 Pines
R9May 2-5BYE
R10Fri 8:00pmMay 10thHBrisbaneCommBank
R11Sun 4:05pmMay 19thAMelbourneSuncorp
R12Sat 7:35pmMay 25thASouths[unknown]
R13Thu 7:50pmMay 30thHCronullaCommBank
R14Mon 4:00pmJun 10thACanterburyAccor
R15Sat 7:35pmJun 15thHSydneyCommBank
R16Jun 20-23BYE
R17Sat 5:30pmJun 29thANewcastleMcD. Jones
R18Thu 7:50pm
Jul 4thHSouthsCommBank
R19Sat 5:30pmJul 13thAGold CoastCbus Super
R20Jul 19-21BYE
R21Fri 8:00pmJul 26thHMelbourneCommBank
R22Fri 8:00pmAug 2ndAWarriorsGo Media
R23Fri 8:00pmAug 9thHPenrithCommBank
R24Fri 8:00pmAug 16thASydneyAllianz
R25Fri 8:00pmAug 23rdABrisbaneSuncorp
R26Sat 3:00pmAug 31stHSt Geo IllaCommBank
R27Fri 6:00pmSep 6thAWests TigersCampbelltown