Bob Drane, NRL.com
With five wins for the season, Parra showed little improvement under new coach Ricky Stuart. In just seven months, Stuart marched 12 players and experimented with a total of 30. It needed to be done, but came at the expense of structure and consistency. The Eels slumped to their second successive wooden spoon.
With a 40-10 win first up against the Warriors, they burst out of the blocks like Matt Shirvington – running a marathon. By Round 4 things had gone decidedly pear-shaped, with a 50-nil hiding from the Roosters among their season low points. They also conceded 50 to Manly in Round 17, and were held scoreless by the Raiders in Round 19. Parramatta’s zero wins on road included an embarrassing 64-4 capitulation to Melbourne in Round 24. They finished meekly with a 54-6 loss to The Knights. Not what their fans wanted.
Where They Excelled: Five times, they won one consecutive match! Ok, so “excelled” might be too strong a word. The Eels excelled in only one area. They maintained their optimism and never stopped paying homage to long-suffering fans. That was reflected in their bounce-back win over the Dragons in Round 25, having conceded 11 tries to the Storm the week before.
Where They Struggled: Where didn’t they? This team was made for the wooden spoon. They lacked depth and talent. The loss of Hindmarsh and Burt to retirement at the end of last season didn’t help. They may have got the timber cutlery even with those men on board, but at least they’d have had experience.
The Eels missed the third-highest number of tackles in a match (49 against Manly in Round 17) and ranked fourth overall for missed tackles, with 678.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Storm registered the least tackles in their Round 24 match – because they were too busy scoring! In that match, Melbourne also recorded the most line-breaks for the season (14) as the Parra defensive line leaked like a $20 blow-up swimming pool.
The Eels also conceded the second-most line-breaks against Manly with 12 in Round 17. Indeed, they topped the season list with 143 conceded. Manly also gained the third-most try assists (eight) in that match, and the third-most line-break assists (nine).
The Eels’ impotency is further indicated by their meagre 842-metre return in the Storm match. Possession and defence were the big issues.
What they did with the ball when they got it was largely ineffective. They gained the least metres overall by an enormous margin (average 1228.17 compared to the top-ranked Knights’ 1436.8).
The inexperienced Eels were easily pressured and didn’t know how to apply pressure. They registered the second-fewest offloads. Obviously, they finished last for points scored (average 13.58) and top of the list for points conceded (30.83). Indeed, their points-conceded was unfavourably complemented by a top metres conceded stat (1448.5), highest line-break conceded average (six), and sixth-highest offloads conceded (241). Ouch.
Best Games: Not many. They included the 19-18 thriller over the Broncos in Round 9, and their most hopeful performance in Round 25 against St George Illawarra, a 26-22 win. It was a good recovery from the embarrassment of the previous week. The important detail is that Hayne was a late withdrawal and the team showed they can lift without him.
Worst Games: Too many to mention, although it doesn’t get much worse than the 64-4 capitulation to the Storm in Round 24. Apart from the stats boon already mentioned, the Storm also bagged their second-most tries and goals in a match (seven and 10 respectively) and second-most points. The Eels made a mere 843 metres in that match – the second-worst return this season.
Add two drubbings by the Sea Eagles (50-10 and 40-6, Rounds 17 and 21), one by the Roosters (50-0 in Round 4) and one by Souths (30-10 in Round 15), and they’ve been a great help to the top sides!
Missing In Action: The Eels lost seven players for indefinite periods, placing them behind the Raiders who missed 10. Superstar Hayne was sorely missed for half the season, especially as he still managed nine tries.
Figuratively and literally missing in action, halfback Chris Sandow was arguably the biggest disappointment of 2013 – he provided minimal spark in his 15 games before being dumped. Sandow missed 3.6 tackles per match – the third most by any player.
Prop Darcy Lussick was touted as a world-beater when he joined from Manly at the beginning of the season – but finished with a meagre 77-metre average gain to his name.
Turning Point: After exciting their fans with a comprehensive victory in Round 1 they lapsed back into the doldrums with three consecutive losses, before winning just one of their next four. Enough said.
Hold Your Heads High: Fuifui Moimoi and Jarryd Hayne continue to struggle manfully. In 15 games, Hayne was up there with an average of 132.3 metres gained, which placed him seventh, and nine tries, placing him fourth among a stellar cast of fullbacks. His 102 tackles stat for the season doesn’t tell the tale of some very impressive goal-line defence.
Pats on the back to prop Tim Mannah and Keating, who along with Joseph Paulo were the only players to suit up every game.
Mannah was the only Eels forward to make triple figures in metres per match (121.1), while Keating’s 873 tackles for the season ranked him 10th in the league.
Wingers Ken Sio and Semi Radradra did well. Sio was the Eels’ leading try-scorer (with 10) while Radradra made a line-break a game in seven outings.
Conclusion: Most of the Eels’ poor figures were a function of inexperience. Of 30 players tried, 11 played less than 10 games. The question is whether they can get better with the personnel they have.
Next year holds no prospect of a newly signed superstar, although Origin-calibre Will Hopoate finally joins the fold after his two-year Mormon mission hiatus. Young Luke Kelly is a fair halfback who impresses his coach. He’s professional and capable, possibly a future leader . Big, strong and with good pace, Radradra is a very promising winger. With Brisbane’s five-eighth Corey Norman, South Sydney pair Nathan Peats and Justin Hunt and Brit prop Lee Mossop, Stuart is assembling something approximating the side he wants – considering his wish list is limited.
The greatest gift Stuart can give the Eels is hope. At the moment, it is more important than talent, depth or even a game plan.
Home Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (11th)
Away Record: 0 wins, 12 losses (16th)
Longest Winning Streak: 1
Longest Losing Streak: 10 (Rounds 10-21)
Players Used: 30
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 57 (16th – fewest)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 130 (16th – most)