Parramatta Eels Season Review
Home Record: 4 wins, 8 losses, 1 draw
Away Record: 2 wins, 10 losses
Best Winning Streak: 1 (Round 1, 4, 7, 11, 18, 26)
Longest Losing Streak: 7 (Rounds 19-25)
Players Used: 32 (4th most)
Player of the Year: Fuifui Moimoi
Tries Scored: 65 (fewest)
Tries Conceded: 91 (fifth most)
Season 2011 was nothing short of disastrous for the Eels, who recorded an astonishing number of close losses, including three by one point in golden-point extra time, to give new coach Stephen Kearney something of a baptism of fire in his first year as a top-grade coach.
As in 2010 the Eels seemed to spend most of the time waiting for Jarryd Hayne to do it all himself, and when he didn’t there was a notable lack of a ‘Plan B’.
Several key injuries also sorely tested the club’s depth, while the recruitment policy of throwing a lifeline to a number of older journeymen backfired spectacularly, as no fewer than three off-season recruits announced their immediate retirement at various stages of the season – although Casey McGuire and Reni Maitua both repaid the faith shown in them.
With reinforcements on the way in 2012, including a fresh halves pairing in the shape of Chris Sandow and Ben Roberts as well as the Tonga brothers, Willie and Esi, to bolster the backline, Stephen Kearney will have a full season with a side he selected to show why the Parramatta board were right to appoint him in place of Daniel Anderson.
But no matter how you cut it, a 14th-place finish for a side many were tipping to make the finals after a 2009 grand final appearance was simply not good enough.
Where They Excelled: The Eels defended well in the middle of the park for most of the season, maintaining an effective tackle percentage over 87 per cent, a figure bettered only by the Melbourne Storm. Most of the forward pack, led by Nathan Hindmarsh (who finished the regular season as the game’s top tackler), Matt Keating and Tim Mannah, were effective better than nine times out of every 10 tackles, although this was negated somewhat by the ease with which opposition sides created an overlap to score down the Parramatta flanks.
The Eels achieved greater kicking metres per game than any other team in 2011 on the back of the huge boot of Jarryd Hayne, although their running metres were nothing to write home about.
Where They Struggled: There are plenty of areas the Eels will need to improve on for next year, specifically their attack, their fringe defence and their ability to maintain a lead and close out games. The Eels spent much of the year as the worst attacking team, finishing 15th for tries scored after overtaking the Titans in Round 26. The 39 tries they let in down the fringes was worse than any team other than South Sydney, but more than anything it was a startling habit of throwing away a lead late in the game that will have taken the biggest emotional toll on the players.
During a seven-match losing streak late in the season the Eels were in front late in the game in seven of those, and many times throughout the year they led with less than five minutes remaining only to be run down. You have to be able to win the close games and hold on to a lead to make an impression on the finals.
Missing In Action: A number of injuries to key players stretched the Parramatta playing roster, demanding they utilise a quite-high 32 players throughout the year. Representative prop Justin Poore wasn’t sighted until late in the season when the finals were already out of reach due to a knee injury. Centre Joel Reddy, who had already missed game time earlier in the season, was ruled out for the season with a pectoral tear and only played six games. Promising centre Jacob Loko dislocated a kneecap in Round 17 that ended his season. Carl Webb missed much of the first half of the season with a calf complaint before his premature retirement and halfback Jeff Robson’s season finished early when he fractured a cheekbone in Round 22. Winger Jordan Atkins missed the last few games with a neck complaint.
Turning Point: The season never really got off the ground for the Eels. The best they looked was mid-season when they thrashed the Sharks in Round 11 then drew with the Dragons (who at that point were on a nine-game winning streak) in Round 13. With a bye in Round 14 to freshen up they went to Brookvale to take on the red-hot Sea Eagles. They went blow for blow with Manly and led for most of the last quarter, looking likely to hang on until a touch of magic from David Williams in the 77th minute led to a Kieran Foran try that broke blue-and-gold hearts. Psychologically the Eels never looked to completely recover from that and soon followed it up with a series of equally as excruciatingly close losses.
Best Games: The above-mentioned 90-minute draw with the Dragons, and earlier the comprehensive defeat of the Sharks, were among the most impressive. But probably the most complete team performance was saved until last. With the threat of the wooden spoon hanging over them the Eels went up to the Gold Coast in Round 26 and looked like world-beaters. Jarryd Hayne put in probably his best performance of the year, the team defended strongly across the park and completed most of their sets. They started explosively and the Titans were never in it from 12-0 down after as many minutes.
Eels fans will be hoping Hayne and co. will be providing plenty more of that in 2012.
Worst Games: Where to start? The Eels were utterly outplayed by the Storm to the tune of 38-0 in Round 5 and were beaten just as comprehensively by the Dragons, 30-0 in Round 8. But no doubt the loss that will haunt the dreams of Eels fans for the longest will be the unmitigated disaster that was their Round 22 match against South Sydney. The Rabbitohs piled on 10 tries, including five to fullback Nathan Merritt, as they thrashed the sorry Eels 56-6. It’s not even the margin that would have upset fans so much as the nature of the capitulation – the Eels didn’t even look to be trying as Souths ran through for line-break after line-break, scoring any number of tries from inside their own half as the Eels looked completely incapable of making a tackle.
Hold Your Head High: Fuifui Moimoi was exceptional for the Eels all season. Regardless of the state of the game Moimoi continually terrorised opposition defensive lines with his cannonball-style runs. Moimoi seemed to relish the increased responsibility following the retirement of Nathan Cayless and lifted his game even further in 2011.
Moimoi was one of the few players who maintained consistently high standards throughout the year averaged over 133 metres per game to be the best of all the props in the NRL.
Nathan Hindmarsh in his first year as captain seems to have lost some of his attacking mojo but his defensive standards never waiver. Aside from being the NRL’s top tackler ‘Hindy’ was always the last bloke to ever give up on a chase and frequently put himself in a position to make a crucial try-saving play. Fellow old-stager Luke Burt was another who can hold his head high – he excelled when moved back to the custodian’s role when Hayne was given another run in the playmaker’s role, and despite the Eels’ struggle to score points Burt’s accurate boot and 10 tries saw him finish the season as the NRL’s fourth-highest point-scorer.
Coach Stephen Kearney says: “I always enjoyed going to work because I could see the effort, if I didn't see the effort and the commitment from the lads every day… Seeing the guys and the spirit they turn up to training with, trying to improve, trying to get better and trying to get the result that we’re after – for me that was a really encouraging sign for us. It didn’t make the results any easier but the way the lads turned up and their attitude, it was a real credit to them and I was really pleased with how they did that.”
Conclusion: No matter how you cut it 2011 was a season to forget for Parramatta. There will be plenty of fans wondering what might have been had the Eels turned all those narrow losses into victories but the fact is that even if the Eels had somehow scraped into the top eight there is little to suggest they would have worried the top sides in September.
There were some unfortunate injuries while the retirements of so many new recruits will have provided an unwelcome distraction. But with a bit of new blood on the way in 2012 and Kearney’s first season coaching a team he himself had helped build, fans will be hopeful there are greener pastures ahead.