The Eels – Will they electrocute or be eaten?

Reed Mahoney Looking Dejected After Shoulder Injury
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

The Parramatta Eels if they weren’t already should be on red alert at the moment. They are in very real danger of slipping out of the Top Four entirely. They have won just a single match out of their previous four played. As if that wasn’t reason enough for concern, their latter two defeats have been a 28-point shellacking at the hands of South Sydney (the team directly in front of them on the ladder) and a 28-point shutout at the hands of the Roosters (the team directly behind them on the ladder).

Even their own supporters are seemingly fed up. “Very, very poor boys”. “Looking forward to a better year in 2032”. “Just relieved my finals anxiety … it’s clear we won’t be there and that’s a good thing for a supporter”. And “I told everybody last week they will not win another game” were some of the comments left on Parra’s official Facebook page after the previously mentioned Rabbitohs mauling.

It has gotten dire for them now. If they were to lose to rivals Manly this weekend then those Top Four horrors would, in fact, be confirmed.

So, the big questions to have come out of all of this are, what has gone wrong? And is there any way to fix it? Some of it may not make for pretty readings Eels fans, but fear not, your team can still salvage their season as of yet.

Dating back to the finals last season the Eels have struggled against the NRL’s upper echelon sides. They were eliminated from the business end of the campaign in straight sets, 36-24 and 38-24 vs Melbourne and South Sydney respectively. In addition, in their final preseason game of this year, the Panthers kept them to a single try in what was a 16-6 scoreline. Fast-forward to around midway through the current season and that’s where things really went pear-shaped for Parramatta. They suffered back-to-back heavy losses in RD’s 11 & 12 to Manly and South’s.

The Eels have clearly lost their confidence, they’re struggling to play inspiring Footy, and they look a bit lost out on the park. However, arguably their best result this season was when against all odds they toppled the Storm by four points in RD2 (16-12). Melbourne didn’t score their second try of that match until just seven minutes before the full-time siren sounded. They (the Eels) also completed 37/42 (88%) of their attempted sets that day and they conceded just three penalties as well.

What does all this highlight? What it shows is that they were smart and disciplined and when push came to shove, they were eventually able to run down last seasons Grand Final winners. Compare that to their 28-0 loss vs Sydney just two rounds ago. They had ten incomplete sets (double what they had vs the Storm). They also allowed the ‘Chooks’ to go from 0-0 in the 24th minute, to be winning 12-0 by the 29th. They did not have any of those lapses (or noticeable ones anyway) vs Craig Bellamy’s men. They can attempt to fix their quickly faltering campaign by trying to go back to what works for them and what’s easiest for them. Lately, the Eels have been letting the opposition dictate the flow of the game, which ultimately dictates the result.

One thing working heavily in Parra’s favour is the return of Mitch Moses from injury. He is such an influential part of that Eels squad and when he’s on fire, it’s infectious for all of his teammates. In his return against the Rabbits, he laid on one try assist, ran for 103m’s, kicked for 654m’s, and completed 11 out of his 16 attempted tackles.

As the dual Australian and Lebanese representative continues to gain match fitness and play increased minutes, he’s going to get closer to his playing peak. This is extremely critical as Paramatta attempt to gain any sort of winning momentum heading into the finals.

He’s also a big leader within the club, in crucial moments against big teams they’ve missed what he can offer in terms of his direction and know-how experience.

Moses hasn’t been the only injury concern for the Eels this campaign and that has forced them to blood some youth earlier than they might have liked.

One key example of that is Winger Haze Dunster. The 22-year-old’s debut was during the finals last season when Michael Jennings was stood down after a positive drug test. And now he’s been thrust into the team again and with just two tries from eight matches, it hasn’t been the easiest transition for him but that’s far from his fault. Blake Ferguson should be there instead, but obviously, he’s battling his own issues at the moment.

The Backs aren’t the only ones with problems. In the Forwards Ray Stone has featured on just five game days this campaign and Bryce Cartwright has only been in thirteen of the Eels twenty matchups. It hasn’t always been easy for the Eels on the injury front this year.

Isaiah Papali’i has done well this season but he’s only 22-years-of-age. Him having been sin-binned twice highlights that he still has a lot to learn despite all the good things he’s done such as his average of 4.7 tackle breaks per game.

To compound matters, Reed Mahoney’s season is now over as he’ll need at least three months to recover from a dislocated shoulder. Ultimately the Paramatta medicos opted against trying to rehab it for what would’ve been the second time this year. This was probably the right choice as playing on could’ve potentially risked a lot of further damage to it. The young gun will be missed.

However, despite all the gloom and doom of the Eels injury crisis, the other young guys have shown in spades that they are capable of stepping up to the plate. And surrounded by veterans such as Clint Gutherson, Maika Sivo, Mitch Moses and Junior Paulo there should still be hope that they can yet reignite their season in pursuit of a fifth Premiership.

As somebody who has followed Rugby League most of my life, I can’t lie and say it looks easy for the Eels right now. Because truth be told it looks exceedingly damn difficult. I would sure as hell not want to be in Brad Arthur’s position right now. But for every problem they are facing, there is a solution as talked about, even if it’s not so obvious at first. If they can turn it around in time for Finals Footy, then there’s no reason Parra fans can’t have something to celebrate come to the end of this season. But for now, I’ll hand it over to the club to do what they have to do.

Toby is somebody who is a knowledgeable and passionate sports fan, but none more than the NRL. From a young age, he has been covering and supporting Australia’s greatest code. He has diplomas in both sports and business, while he loves a good laugh, some good food and travelling.

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