PARRAMATTA EELS - 2009 Season Preview

<p>THE blue-and-golds have potential and talent at their beck and call, but last year this team was missing one vital ingredient – commitment. </p><p> The Eels were underachievers and despite a few glimpses throughout 2008, they never lived up to the hype surrounding the club after their finals charge in 2007. But it hurt them – hurt the players and hurt the club – and this year they are ready to make amends. </p><p> There is renewed vigour under new coach Daniel Anderson and even old stalwarts like Nathan Hindmarsh are relishing a change in scene at training. Giant backs Eric Grothe and Ben Smith, who were largely unseen last year due to a drop in form and injury respectively, return this year with points to prove. </p><p> <strong>How They’ll Play It</strong></p> Daniel Anderson’s early season indication he is willing to try new things, like moving Jarryd Hayne to five-eighth, demonstrates the new coach’s emphasis on free and effective attack.</p><p> He wants the players with natural and freakish ability like Hayne, Krisnan Inu and Feleti Mateo to get the ball in their hands as much as possible. </p><p> Mateo’s move back to lock will liberate him of playmaking duties, giving him free rein to attack the line and hand off those amazing offloads to Hayne, Inu or any other speedster in the Eels’ backline trailing through. Anderson has also been working on the club’s forward pack, which failed to dominate last season.</p><p> Nathan Cayless was the top forward, averaging just 116 metres a game, and they will need to improve to have a greater impact on bending the opposition’s defensive line.</p><p> <strong>Keep An Eye On</strong></p> Second-rower Weller Hauraki is a powerhouse forward who is finally ready to make an impact this season. </p><p> After making his debut in 2007, Hauraki showed signs he was to have a breakthrough year last season, but instead got tied up in the pre-season shooting involving Hayne. The 24-year-old never really got out of second gear, but he has come into 2009 determined to make it count. </p><p> The Kiwi plans to increase his workload and is in pole position to take an empty starting second-row spot. The 102-kilogram Dannevirke junior, a hard runner with enough skill to deceive defenders, is on the verge of New Zealand selection.</p><p> <strong>They’ll Really Miss</strong></p> The experienced trio of Mark Riddell, Chad Robinson and Daniel Wagon have fled to Europe and robbed the Eels of a combined 563 first grade games. </p><p> Riddell’s incisive runs from dummy-half and knack for drawing penalties was a key component of the Eels’ game last season, and leaves the club in the relatively inexperienced hands of Matt Keating. </p><p> Robinson and Wagon were less effective in attack but the defensive workload these players took on was immense, and Parramatta only have their existing stock to scout for players to fill the workhorse roles. </p><p> Experience – especially in big games – can never be discounted and to lose so much in one hit will be hard for the club to overcome.</p><p> <strong>It’s Time To Stand Up</strong></p> Parramatta’s forward pack is one of the softest in the league, with poor metres gained flattered only by a solid defence. </p><p> The men who need to lead Parra’s pack into a new era are Nathan Cayless and Nathan Hindmarsh. Both players are hitting 30 and apart from representative honours, neither have a trophy to their name – and they know it’s now or never.</p><p> The experience these players carry is invaluable and their leadership is integral to bringing the rest of the Eels’ young pack up to the standard of the rest of the NRL.</p><p> <strong>Coach Watch</strong></p> The Eels have a new mentor in Daniel Anderson, but it is his second time around at the club. The local product served his coaching apprenticeship at Parramatta, making his way through the junior grades to become Brian Smith’s assistant in the late ’90s.</p><p> Stints at the Warriors and St Helens in England were highly successful, and Parramatta is hoping Anderson can mirror that achievement at the club he grew up supporting. </p><p> Anderson does not believe four years out of the NRL will hinder his ability to coach a competitive side, and his time in the UK is delivering some fresh ideas for the Eels – good news, given they were largely uninspiring last season.</p><p> <strong>They’re All The Better For</strong></p> Perhaps the disappointment of 2008 was the sickly medicine the Eels tasted at the end. They were lazy at times and never found any consistency, expecting their improvised attack to bamboozle oppositions. They relied too much on luck – but perhaps now Parramatta have learned their lesson. </p><p> Pride is a strong motivator, and the Eels have found all the impetus for improvement they need out of 2008’s poor performances.</p><p> <strong>Predicted Finish</strong></p> Daniel Anderson was handed a squad he had little input in selecting, so don’t expect results quickly. </p><p> Parramatta will be more disciplined and better structured than last season, but it will take time for the results to come. If they perform well, the Eels have a chance of sneaking into the top eight.</p><p> <strong>Under-20s</strong></p> The Eels were predictably strong in the inaugural Toyota Cup season, and have managed to hold on to about 12 of last year’s players. </p><p> Five-eighth Daniel Mortimer will be the fulcrum of the Eels’ attack, taking over the majority of playmaking duties now Kris Keating has graduated to the NRL. He is joined in the halves by Albert Kelly, an Australian Schoolboy and cousin of Greg Inglis who made his Toyota Cup debut last season as a 17 year old. </p><p> In the forwards the Eels have lost experience in the Mannah bothers but back-rower Tim Auremi, who was the captain of the 2008 Australian Schoolboys, is a good prospect, as is hooker Anthony Mitchell. Parramatta’s squad is marginally weaker than last season; however, they have a proven record in lower grades and should be among the top sides once again.</p><p> <strong>New Breed</strong></p> A lot is expected of Bowraville junior Albert Kelly, who already has the prestigious title of Australian Schoolboys vice-captain next to his name. Kelly comes from the highest pedigree in rugby league as Greg Inglis’ cousin.</p><p> Keep an eye out for more on Joel Orton when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.</p>