Fair to middling is probably the best way to describe the Eels at the halfway point of season 2010. They aren’t doing quite as bad as last season at this stage of the year when a finals berth appeared as likely as Fuifui Moimoi winning a spot to dance with the Australian ballet but they certainly aren’t playing like the free-flowing superpower we saw fly all the way to the grand final either.
The best factor for the Eels is that despite some pretty average attack and some dismal performances, they are right in the mix around the finals zone and in a good spot to gain momentum when it matters.
But are we being fooled by last year’s miracle run? Does the side even have the ability to do something similar this season, or is this year’s version of the ‘Hayne Train’ heading for a derailment?
Of course, only time will tell – but the reality is the side should play finals football from this position… any less would be a distinct failure.
Are Things Going To Plan? It’s hard to say with the Eels, as coach Daniel Anderson is a pretty cagey character and you get the feeling he definitely has plenty up his sleeve for the games closer to the end of the season.
With this is mind you could argue things are somewhat going to plan, as the side is in eighth and in good shape to push up into the top four if they can string some wins together.
But in saying that, you could easily make a case for the negative, as the Eels’ attack is at times pedestrian, boring and lacks any sort of punch. Twice they have been kept scoreless – and veteran Luke Burt is the leading line-breaker in the team!
While Burt is having a pretty darned good year, the likes of Hayne, Timana Tahu and Joel Reddy should be a little embarrassed by this. Only the Sharks average fewer points scored per game and the Eels’ attack was close to being one of the worst of all time until they dusted up the Roosters in Round 13, so Parramatta certainly needs to find more penetration or risk being blown off the park by the more exciting teams.
There have been glimpses of razzle-dazzle: Joel Reddy scored a cracker last weekend against Melbourne, which involved offloads, shifting one side to the other and a kick, but they have been few and far between.
Defensively the side can hold its head high, leaking the third fewest points in the league to date.
Injury Front… The Eels can’t use injuries as an excuse for their half-year position, with just Shane Shackleton suffering badly. Shackleton’s hamstring was torn off the bone against the Dragons in Round 1 and as such he’s out for the year.
Only winger Eric Grothe, with a few persistent problems in various areas of the body, has missed a few games, while Nathan Hindmarsh was a controversial last-minute withdrawal against the Dragons recently.
The Eels have used the fewest personnel in the NRL this season, with just 22 players suiting up.
If Only… The Eels would be in the top four if they had just managed to beat the lowly Sharks. Cronulla have just four wins this season – with two wins against the Eels! It has seen the boys from Parramatta relegated to a top-eight dogfight, instead of them sitting pretty near the top of the perch.
In Round 4 the Eels lost 11-0 against the Shire boys and then backed it up with a 22-18 loss in Round 11, two games that most certainly got away. The opening five rounds were dismal for Parramatta, losing four and being extremely lucky to win against Manly in controversial circumstances.
Losses against the Dragons and Wests Tigers in that run are acceptable but losing to the Sharks and then dropping a home game against Canberra was pretty awful.
Who’s Flying… There probably isn’t a standout player for the Eels, although prop Tim Mannah is playing some impressive football. Starting the year behind Moimoi, Nathan Cayless and Justin Poore in the pecking order of props, Mannah has been the most consistent and damaging of the quartet, averaging 104 metres from the bench.
Burt deservedly earned a Country Origin spot on the wing this year with his tenacious will to win on show every week.
Nathan Hindmarsh has been brilliant (as always). One wonders if the battered body of the Eels’ second-rower is semi-indestructible… at this rate he’ll push his body till he’s the oldest NRL player of all time, and he’ll still be making 50 tackles a match.
Needs To Lift… After being heralded as a big signing from the Dragons, former Origin prop Poore has been pretty… well… poor. His confidence on the pitch is down and while his metres have lifted a little in recent weeks, he just isn’t bending the line backwards like he was in 2009.
Hayne, as one of the game’s elite, has high expectations placed on his shoulders but quite frankly he hasn’t met them consistently this year. While the unbelievable form he showed in the back half of 2009 might be hard to ever replicate, the representative star should still be cracking the line more than just the four times in 11 games.
The year started with big news surrounding youngster Daniel Mortimer and his contract but for all the hype, and despite a positional switch to no.7, the kid is slipping into the depths of second-year syndrome at the moment, failing to provide the highlights of his rookie year, and struggling to cause headaches for the opposition.
Only four try assists from 11 games isn’t good enough.
Coach Daniel Anderson Tells NRL.com… “We have been a little inconsistent so far. Our good performances have been very good but our poor performances have been below average.
“We need to strive to be on the better side of average more often. We are in better shape than last year, as we needed to be. If we can be more consistent and provide better application to our performances we should be in reasonable shape for the back half.”
Predicted Finish… The Eels will make the finals, most likely between fifth and eighth. We all know from there they can do anything.
Under-20s… Once a powerhouse of junior football, the Eels’ Toyota Cup side has been a massive disappointment. Running last at halfway after winning just one game (in Round 1), the Baby Eels need a miracle akin to the one conjured by last year’s first grade side to make the finals. They have lost 11 straight games – five by seven points or less. A frustrating year.