Monday 20 April 2009

What's the matter Parramatta?

The 2009 NRL Regular Season is only six weeks old but for the Parramatta Eels the next twenty could be the longest 140 days in club history. For a team that both its playing unit and supporters would have expected to contend for the Finals in 2009, the roster has produced just one good performance this year when they defeated the Bunnies in Round 2 and pulled off somewhat of a Houdini act when they ran down the Raiders in Round 3 for their only two wins so far. But they were blown off the park by the Warriors in the first half of Round 1 - a 26-18 loss, were trounced by a vastly under strength Roosters 24-6 in Round 4, beaten by a better team in the Dragons 22-8 in Round 5 after they released halfback Brett Finch and were overrun by a Bulldogs team this past Sunday that Phil Gould quite correctly observed were not nearly at their best... by a score line of 48-18. So within six weeks the Eels have fell out of contention for a premiership as it is clear they don't have the cattle (that conclusion we can safely jump too) and face a gruelling schedule over the next month to avoid dropping to the lowest rung of the ladder and staying there indefinitely. - starting with an away trip to Brisbane, home to the Cowboys who ominously found their attacking groove in Adelaide, away to Manly and finish off the stretch at home to the Bunnies. Round 7 - 7:35pm Friday , April 24 Broncos vs Eels Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane Round 8 - 7:35pm Friday , May 01 Eels vs Cowboys Parramatta Stadium, Sydney Round 9 - BYE Round 10 - 2:00pm Sunday , May 17 Sea Eagles vs Eels Brookvale Oval, Sydney Round 11 - 7:35pm Friday , May 22 Eels vs Rabbitohs ANZ Stadium, Sydney If they can't get a win in the next four matches they will sit with a win/loss record of 2-8 and with one of their two byes used on 6 Points after the first 11 Rounds of the competition - practically halfway through the year. The fact that Cronulla (1-5), Manly, Canberra, North Queensland, Penrith and the Roosters (all 2-4 - with the Tigers 2-3 before Monday Night Football tonight) are currently around them on the ladder shouldn't lull the Eels into thinking they aren't going all that badly. Of all those teams only the Sharks are playing truly ordinary football but get Paul Gallen back soon which will strengthen their resolve for the next few rounds. But Parramatta's only saviour coming back is their best player Nathan Hindmarsh - who for all his value is not a match-winner. He is exactly the kind of player than can make you competitive through his work and leadership but he is not going to win a game on his own - and the team's best playmaker Brett Finch is no longer on the books. So in a nutshell - what is going on in Parra? For one their best players are both forwards who aren't line breaking types. Nathan Cayless can cart the ball up but he's been out of form this year and should never (in my opinion) been moved from the backrow to prop because he was - in his youth - a fairly potent running backrower. Hindmarsh as previously stated has some great attributes - that are found in premiership winning teams - but he's lost his leg speed and doesn't have a ball player to reinvent him on the edges anymore. The team's next star is Feleti Mateo who was quite rightly being integrated back into lock forward by Coach Daniel Anderson and learning how to play tough minutes up the middle which would make him a ball playing asset at the end of each half when the opposition forwards tired. But he's gone straight back to halfback now the Jarryd Hayne experiment is over and Finch has moved on. This is a mistake but Parramatta don't really have a choice unless Anderson is prepared to give Kris Keating the keys to the car and drive the team alongside either Jeff Robson or a rookie in the halves. If Anderson is developing a side he wants then he needs to keep Mateo at lock where he will be a game-breaker instead of five-eighth where he won't run the ball enough and be too pass happy. Then there are the team's two most overhyped players - Jarryd Hayne and 2009's most disinterested player Krisnan Inu. I had pegged Hayne for that award (Most Disinterested) until the past two Rounds where it is painful to watch Inu go through the motions with no passion whatsoever about the situation his team has found itself in. With Luke Burt almost non-existent in attack from fullback, Anderson could try Inu in the role to try and wake him up and if the kid doesn't show a change in attitude then send him to park football for a reality check. Hayne should go back on the wing for a week or two to realise that more ball isn't always quality ball and will remember what made him such a good winger was his ability to convert quality chances. At five-eighth and centre he almost looks like he'd prefer to avoid grunt work that comes from passes without an immediate attacking opportunity and his error count is rising. The forward pack outside of Hindmarsh and Cayless is really average with only FuiFui MoiMoi and Joe Galuvao showing any intent in the past fortnight to tough it out. The chequebook needs to be opened up for a quality second rower and hooker in the off-season if they are available as well as some decent depth - because at the moment the younger players the club are looking for to step up - seem incapable of doing so. For Parramatta the weeks ahead will be tough and when you factor in that they will be on Friday Night Football for three of their next four games they will be heavily scrutinised by influential commentators. As a result Anderson has to (in my opinion) stick to some key roles he had identified for players in the off-season (Mateo at lock is the main one... Hayne at five-eighth not so much) and fit in stop gap solutions for the time being. There is no point wasting talents out of position or accepting the wasting of talent by other players due to a lack of application because there are seemingly no other options - when the season looks lost. The Eels are struggling because they no longer have the cattle but the rest of the season certainly presents Anderson with a great opportunity to fit his players where he wants them in readiness for the roster he can put together for 2010. If the Eels thought their 48-18 loss to the Bulldogs was tough, the weeks ahead will see them under even more scrutiny as they play three Friday Night Games in their next four games.