Daniel Nichols – Parramatta Eels Season Review

Daniel Nichols looks back at the 2013 NRL season for all 16 clubs. In his first instalment he looks back on the Parramatta Eels.

Finished: 16th
Predicted: 15th
Fan Prediction: 10th

Where It Went Wrong: Just about everywhere for the long suffering Eels fans. Star player Jarryd Hayne was injured for long periods of the season, and even when he was fully fit he only seemed half interested. Halfback Chris Sandow’s off field problems caught up with him big time, ending with him missing the end of the season to deal with his demons. Winless away from home, and hardly difficult to beat in most home games, the Eels just couldn’t get a foot in the race for the finals.

Turmoil at boardroom level has continued to hurt the on field performances, and ended with ‘saviour’ coach Ricky Stuart leaving for the Raiders. The board and chairman still don’t seem to be on the same page in regards to the next coaching appointment, and there are growing rumours that star recruit Will Hopoate may be looking to opt out of his massive and highly trumpeted deal for 2014.

The public midseason sackings of 12 or so players, including senior players Ben Smith and Reni Maitua did not motivate the players as was hoped but instead distracted them and drove wedges between coaching staff and playing staff. Stuart, who was responsible for the mass roster shake up won’t even be around to follow through on his grand plans which seemed to do more harm than good in 2013.

Eels fans have every right to be angry, with the horrible performances on field compounded by the in-fighting at board level combining to land the club with their second straight Wooden Spoon, which ended with their coach leaving them high and dry after promising so much.

Where It Went Right: Despite the club’s second straight wooden spoon, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Parramatta club … just mostly. The Eels fought off rumoured interest from the Bulldogs and Rugby Union to re-sign their star Hayne. Hayne again showed that when fully fit and motivated, he is still amongst the very elite in the game, and the news of his re-signing was rightfully met with great relief and celebration by Eels fans.

A fair few of Parra’s young brigade got a run this season, perhaps earlier than officials would have hoped but NRL experience is invaluable and players such as Terepo, Toutai and Sio played plenty of games in the pressure cooker environment of the NRL. Luke Kelly stepped up in the place of Chris Sandow and will be a big player next season.

There may also be a silver lining in Chris Sandow’s entering rehab mid-season. He may finally have received the help he needs to allow himself to focus on his footy. Sandow obviously had more pressing issues off field than just his rumoured gambling problems, and I for one was happy to see him step away from football and focus on getting himself right. No doubt he is key to the Eels future success and this may help him back to his best.

Last but not least, the Eels may have rid themselves of a coach who did not truly want to be there. When he signed on Stuart promised the world. He cut players and staff, brought in his team and promised to return the Eels to their glory days. Fast forward 12 months and when the going got tough Stuart went south and signed a lucrative deal with the Raiders. I have no doubt Stuart’s family played a big part in the decision BUT if Stuart were truly committed to the Eels he could have made it work as he did with the Sharks and Roosters. I think the split benefitted both parties and judging by social media, there weren’t too many tears shed when Stuart left.

Verdict: SURELY there is no way but up for the Eels. Winning on 5 games in a season, it’d be scary to think they could get any worse. They need to appoint a coach and give him 100% support at board level. Brian Smith was brought in to help the coaching staff, this is a move that should provide guidance and experience to the incoming coach, but he needs to step aside and let the incoming coach take total control. 2013 was a horrible season for the Eels, but it’s hard to find anyone who expected too much different. 2013 was always going to be a year to set up for the future but 5 wins is not acceptable for any professional sporting team. The Eels are better for the experience but it will not be one fans or officials will want to repeat in 2014.

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