2010 SEASON REVIEW: Parramatta Eels

REGULAR SEASON
Wins: 10
Losses: 14
Position: 12th
Home Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (= 12th)
Away Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (= 9th)
Best Winning Streak: 4 (Rounds 6-10, 1 bye) Equal 6th
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 3-5, 15-17, 24- 26) Equal 4th
Players Used: 27
Player of the Year: Yet to be announced.
Tries Scored: 70 (15th)
Tries Conceded: 88 (Equal 7th)

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly where and how it went wrong for the Eels in 2010. After finishing 2009 with a dramatic surge into the finals and a narrow grand final loss to the Storm, Parramatta were the hottest property in the NRL, and started this season as favourites to take out the title.

Yet they commenced as poorly as they started the last, and although a mid-to-late-season burst of form had the Eels threatening to repeat last season’s magical run, those thoughts were quickly snuffed out by heavy back-to-back losses against the Roosters and Titans.

And with a spot in the finals still on offer in the later rounds, Parramatta meekly folded with three losses on the trot to provide a less-than-fitting end to the NRL career of record-breaking captain Nathan Cayless.

There will no doubt be finger pointing and recriminations in the post-season for the Eels but with a virtually identical squad to the one that contested last year’s grand final (plus a couple of big name additions) Parramatta were one of the season’s biggest underachievers.


Where They Excelled: Despite their difficulties on the scoreboard the Eels remained the prolific offloaders of the NRL. The usual suspects of Feleti Mateo, Cayless and Nathan Hindmarsh continued to generate second-phase play and get opposition defensive lines backpedalling; it was just the creative and support play that didn’t match up to what Parramatta were producing last year.

The side’s defence was also sound for the most part. Aside from a couple of blow-outs the losses were mostly narrow and low-scoring, highlighting the fact that if the Eels’ attack had clicked into gear more often they could have been a force in the finals.

Where They Struggled: Put simply ... scoring tries. Only the struggling Sharks scored less than Parramatta’s 70 tries for the season. Daniel Anderson was never able to settle on a halves combination once incumbents Robson and Mortimer failed to fire.

Mortimer came in like a breath of fresh air last season but may have had a target on his head in 2010, while Jarryd Hayne at times looked to be trying too hard to make up for the lack of points being created by the frontline playmakers.

While Mortimer still looks a fantastic prospect and Hayne showed flashes of what he is capable of, the Eels seemed to be lacking an experienced, accomplished playmaker to guide the side around the park.

Parramatta also looked to be missing Kevin Kingston’s incisive contributions off the bench that were such an important factor in 2009.

Missing In Action: Despite getting off to the worst possible start, the Eels certainly can’t blame injuries for their on-field performances.

Prized off-season recruit Shane Shackleton was carried off in Round 1 with a nasty hamstring injury and wasn’t sighted again. Eric Grothe was also a long-term absentee with a knee injury but aside from some other very minor niggles the Eels had close to a full squad all season.

Turning Point: The second-half capitulation against the Titans in Round 22. The Eels had started to look like genuine premiership contenders with consecutive wins against the Cowboys, Panthers and Bulldogs, before being blown off the park by the Roosters in Round 21. But the Eels bounced back strongly the following week against the Titans, grinding their way to a 12-0 half time lead.

A win here would have consigned the Roosters game to the memory bank … a blip on the radar … just one of those things. The Eels would have been four from their past five, with momentum shifting back their way and a comparatively easy run home.

Instead, the Eels were blown away in a 34-0 second-half meltdown, their differential took a 56- point battering over the two weeks, and their momentum was shredded.

While the last rites were officially delivered in a meek Round 25 loss to the Rabbitohs, this was the point where the Eels needed to stand up and be counted if they were to go on with it in 2010.

Best Games: That three-game run from Round 18 to Round 20 was the best it looked for the Eels. The Cowboys' win blew some of the cobwebs out but the belief they showed in reversing a 22-0 deficit against Penrith in Round 19 had the blue-and-gold army dreaming of 2009.

The Eels looked like world-beaters in the opening exchanges of their Round 20 clash against the Bulldogs, shooting out to a 16-0 lead after 10 minutes, the 32-16 win one of their most dominant games of the season.

The 24-10 win over a strong Storm outfit in Round 13 was also a complete performance that showed what the Eels should have been producing every week.

Worst Games: The 48-12 loss to the Roosters in Round 21 was the heaviest loss of the season and arrested a three-game winning run which hurt the Eels’ momentum (although you get the feeling most sides would have been in trouble with the mood the Roosters were in that night).

The 30-0 Round 12 shut-out against the Dragons was probably the Eels’ most comprehensive defeat but again the quality of the opposition needs to be recognised.

The losses that will hurt the most will be two poor defeats at the hands of the Sharks and a horrible away trip to Newcastle.

In Round 4 the Eels were closed down 11-0 at Shark Park and looked completely bereft of ideas, which was followed by an agonising 22-18 defeat at home to the same opposition in Round 11.

But the nadir came in Round 15. In a truly dour match, riddled with handling errors, where completion rates hovered around 50 per cent, the Eels doggedly hung onto a 4-0 lead for much of the game until a Newcastle try in the dying moments and a sideline conversion from Kurt Gidley sealed a 6-4 win to the Knights.

Hold Your Head High: Nathan Hindmarsh was again the pillar of the Eels’ defence, finishing the regular season as the competition’s top tackler, with one of the best effective tackle percentages in the NRL. He was regularly the last man chasing after opposition line-breaks or the last line of defence, always putting himself in the position to make crucial tackles, and was rewarded for his consistency with a recall to the Origin side.

Young prop Tim Mannah was one of the Eels’ best in 2010, his consistent form earning him a call up for Origin III. Mannah averaged more than 100 metres per game coming off the bench, and the only club game he missed was the week he was in Origin camp. Look for Mannah to raise his game further in 2011 in the absence of Nathan Cayless.

The rest of the Eels’ front-row rotation were also strong, while Justin Horo performed well off the bench and will be a key man next year having been signed to a long term deal.

Coach Daniel Anderson says: “Obviously we didn’t achieve what we would’ve liked to have achieved for the season. I guess that internal expectations match the external expectations, so it was disappointing in that regard.

“There were plenty of missed opportunities, and it wasn’t missed opportunities for points. It was missed opportunities to build game pressure – that was probably what we missed. We missed the opportunity to either maintain possession or maintain position … things like that.”

Conclusion: There is no question that the Eels fell a long way short of expectations, failing to make the finals after starting the season as competition favourites. Off-field distractions with board room leaks and questions over the coaching role can’t have helped but it was the on-field performances that will have the fans most concerned.

If there is a positive to take into 2011 it is that the Eels showed they are still capable, it’s just a question of finding that form consistently.