Parramatta Eels 2014 Season Preview
Whether it's the sacked coaches, humiliated CEOs, boardroom dysfunctions or inflated player contracts, it's difficult to know where to begin to describe how one of the proudest clubs in the competition arrived at this mess.
So we'll just imitate what the Parramatta Eels have done over the past five years: start all over again.
Us media folk are just as tired writing about it as the players are talking about it. Every year a new suit waltzes in, promises Tim Mannah and his mates a brand spankin' new start, only for it to end, time after time, in unmitigated disaster.
And still, yet again, here we are. Entering a brand spankin' new season with a brand spankin' new CEO, a brand spankin' new coach, and a brand spankin' new hope.
It would've taken a brave man to walk into the chaos out in Western Sydney. But sharp young mind Scott Seward willingly put his hand up to be elevated within the ranks, undaunted by the task ahead.
If dealing with Chris Sandow's very public gambling problems wasn't going to be tricky enough for him, then Ricky Stuart's walkout last October would've sent him scurrying out the door.
The draw didn't exactly roll out the welcome mat either. Along with the Tigers, the Eels drew the toughest campaign of the competition with six repeat games against last year's top eight teams, including three of their first six against grand finalists Manly and the Roosters (twice).
But as the start of the season draws closer, Seward - together with some help from an old friend in Daniel Anderson - has gotten the 2014 Parramatta Eels about as prepared as they can be for a season everyone suspects could end with a third consecutive wooden spoon.
New coach Brad Arthur is as honest a bloke you can find with a clipboard these days. For the entire summer, he's preached just two messages straight out of the Craig Bellamy and Geoff Toovey handbook: hard work, and discipline.
There's star fullback Jarryd Hayne, who's coming off his best patch of form since that fairytale run in 2009. Skipper Tim Mannah is as focused and loyal as he is celibate. And then there's the spine of Corey Norman, Luke Kelly and Nathan Peats, who have more to prove than Australia's winter Olympics team.
It doesn't exactly scream premiership-winner, but let's just take it for what it is: a brand spankin' new start.
Gains: Evander Cummins (Dragons), Liam Foran (Salford), David Gower (Sea Eagles), Will Hopoate (Mormon mission), Justin Hunt (Rabbitohs), Lee Mossop (Wigan), Corey Norman (Broncos), Nathan Peats (Rabbitohs), Brenden Santi (Tigers), Toby Evans (Panthers), Ben Jones (Newtown).
Losses: Cheyse Blair (Sea Eagles), Matt Keating (Burleigh Bears), Reni Maitua (Bulldogs), Jake Mullaney (Salford), Pat O'Hanlon (Bulldogs), Matt Ryan (Wakefield), Taulima Tautai (Wakefield).
How They'll Play It
You'd like to think former Manly assistant coach Arthur will bring success of the northern beaches to Parramatta, but you know that's wishful thinking. Luke Kelly is set to get the first shot at halfback in front of Chris Sandow, and he and Corey Norman will probably be tasked with keeping things simple. Charge it up the middle with your old warhorses (think Fuifui Moimoi and Mannah) and then let Hayne, Kelly, Norman and Joseph Paulo find some willing hole-runners (think Kelepi Tanginoa, Peni Terepo and Will Hopoate) at the end of the sets. And hopefully you improve enough down the other end of the field to make a game of it.
Expect HUGE Things From...
World Cup champion Jarryd Hayne, for obvious reasons. But new dummy-half Nathan Peats is a kid who took every opportunity that came his way at the Rabbitohs, and now he's got the full time gig he's craved. With only a teenaged Kaysa Pritchard as his threat, the No.9 jumper is Peats' to keep. It's a bit like when Sandow first arrived in 2012: here's your shot, young fella. The world is your oyster.
The Question Marks
Where do we begin? An oft-injured fullback, two centres that have barely played over the past 12 months, two halves that finished last year in reserve grade and a forward pack that is either really green or severely out of form.
But after seeing Parramatta's league-worst defence conceded more than 30 points a game last season, Arthur will probably start with that.
Who Needs to Lift
Norman and Sandow. The Eels' defence was non-existent in 2013, but the attack wasn't much better, averaging 14 points a game. We know Norman wasn't around, but the heir to Darren Lockyer's throne didn't exactly make it hard for the Broncos to let him go either. And Sandow has a long way to go towards making the most of his obvious talent. The attack-minded duo love getting into the attacking zone. How about some points to go with it?
How's Their Depth?
Justin Hunt, Semi Radradra and Ben Smith are first grade quality, while Sandow and Kelly are set to battle for the halfback spot. David Gower comes from a grand final team, while Tigers recruit Brenden Santi is an absolute steal, a Shaun Fensom-style lock in the making. Youngsters Pauli Pauli and Junior Paulo are still developing, while the Justin Holbrook-coached Holden Cup still boasts John Folau and Pritchard.
Arthur's a home-grown product, a hit with the players and, with stints under Bellamy and Toovey, arrives with a strong resume. His forte is discipline, which should be priority number one at Parramatta this year, making him an almost a perfect fit. You would've liked a bit more experience - and candidate Jason Taylor would've given them that - but the players love him and at this level, that's half the battle.
NRL Fantasy Bankers
With an asking price of $343,400, Hayne reigns supreme in Fantasyland for Parramatta although his injury history makes him a risk. For instant money-makers, you can't go past the cheap $125,000 Nathan Peats and $192,600 Will Hopoate. Other than Mannah and Lussick, the rest of the forwards are a mystery and Arthur is likely to test the combinations early in the year.
Let's be honest: for a team that's gotten more cutlery in its trophy cabinet than George Rose's kitchen over the past decade, almost anything above 16th spot by September will be a glorious achievement. Seventh will be this year's ceiling, and that'd be bordering on miraculous. For now, we'll predict that Arthur will simply keep his job.
Baby steps people, baby steps.
1. Jarryd Hayne, 2. Ryan Morgan, 3. Will Hopoate, 4. Willie Tonga, 5. Ken Sio, 6. Corey Norman, 7. Luke Kelly/Chris Sandow, 8. Tim Mannah, 9. Nathan Peats, 10. Fuifui Moimoi, 11. Lee Mossop, 12. Peni Terepo, 13. Joseph Paulo. Interchange: 14. Darcy Lussick, 15. Kenny Edwards, 16. Mitchell Allgood, 17. Kelepi Tanginoa