Season Preview: Parramatta Eels

THE story was almost scripted perfectly for the Eels in 2009 – but don’t expect their coach Daniel Anderson to rely on a similar late run to make the finals this time around. <br><br>Limping along the bottom of the table for the first half of the season, the Eels looked alarmingly similar to their apathetic 2008 squad. Then something clicked. Even now, Anderson can’t explain it; regardless, the club is buzzing due to their miraculous run from the cellar to become unlikely grand finalists.<br><br>The biggest difference between 2009 and the new season, however, is that their miraculous run was undertaken without the pressure of expectation. But in 2010, with three hot new recruits (Justin Poore, Shane Shackleton and Timana Tahu), the expectation from fans, experts, and their NRL opponents, is that the Eels will be the pacesetters. <br><br>How Parramatta handle that expectation will go a long way to determining their success in 2010.<br><br><b>Their Keys To Success...</b> Daniel Anderson must get the balance right in the halves. Currently last year’s incumbents Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer are vying with up-and-comer Kris Keating for the no.6 and no.7 jerseys. That will push the immensely talented Feleti Mateo back to his favoured position at lock, and give Parramatta an attacking structure that will come at oppositions from anywhere on the field.<br><br>Though grateful for the ‘x-factor’ Jarryd Hayne brings to the side, Parramatta are also keen to prove they are not a one-man team. Sure, they expect opposition defences to concentrate on limiting Hayne’s opportunities with the ball. With Hayne’s 14 tries, 32 line-breaks and 14 try assists last season though, you couldn’t blame them. <br><br>Their pack will need to muscle up again this season, but with a player like Fuifui Moimoi hitting his peak, that shouldn’t prove difficult. The addition of NSW Origin rep Justin Poore will further strengthen the Eels’ front row – he averaged 110 metres a game last year.<br><br><b>Expect Plenty From...</b> Feleti Mateo. He missed much of last year’s golden run and has completed a pre-season without the niggling injuries of past years. He looked good in the trials and is still one of the most prolific off-loaders in the game, passing off 52 in just 16 games last year. <br><br>He is primed for a big one and his combination with Hayne will prove deadly, considering he created 10 line-breaks in 2009.<br><b><br>They’re Really Going To Miss...</b> Their fringe/support players. Late last year, unheralded individuals such as Todd Lowrie (now with the Storm) and Kevin Kingston (now Panthers) were thrust into the limelight – and rightly so. For every Hayne, Hindmarsh and Mateo, they were the toilers doing just as much hard work, without even half the accolades. They may have been ‘nobodies’, but much of what Parramatta achieved last season was on the back of their lowest-paid players performing well above their worth.<br><br><b>Time To Stand Up...</b> Krisnan Inu. Once labelled with the same talent and potential as Hayne, Inu was solid last year without being the outstanding prospect everyone knows he can be. <br><br>Off contract at the end of the year, Inu may be battling for a place in the top squad, with Timana Tahu now at the club. Spots in the backline are tight; Inu can’t afford another average season.<br><b><br>Coach Watch...</b> In his first season Daniel Anderson took the club to the grand final, so he has few worries this year. There will, though, be plenty of scrutiny in September should the team not live up to the considerable expectations heaped on them.<br><b><br>They’re All The Better For...</b> All three of their new recruits. In the forwards, Justin Poore brings leadership and representative experience. <br><br>But the surprise packet may be Roosters recruit Shane Shackleton. The red-headed forward has excelled in pre-season training and is expected to push himself even further this season after gaining selection for City in 2009. <br><br>The biggest signing for the Eels is the return of rugby convert Timana Tahu. Back at the Eels after a relatively unsuccessful stint with the Waratahs, Tahu is hoping to put his past injury troubles behind him and perform as well as he was when he left back in 2007.<br><br><b>Predicted Finish...</b> A very realistic chance of breaking their long drought and taking out that much-awaited fifth premiership. <br><br>Now is as good a time as any for the Eels; they have a strong roster and there’s a positive vibe in the cub. However, every club will be gunning for them – and especially their strike weapon Hayne. They must learn to play at their top level each week, not just when in dire straits. <br><br>Anything other than a top-four finish will be disappointing.<br><br><b>Toyota Cup…</b> Back under the control of noted juniors coach Matt Cameron, Parramatta are working hard to improve on their poor result last season, and have assembled a solid squad with much of the local talent the Eels are renowned for. Watch out for Auckland-born TK Amosa in the halves.<br>