5 burning questions: Eels
Parramatta begin life after Jarryd Hayne this pre-season, and a replacement will clearly need to be found sooner rather than later. While that's undoubtedly the Eels' biggest challenge to overcome, it's not the only hurdle they face ahead of the 2015 season.
1. What will Eels miss most from Jarryd Hayne?
Brace yourselves, Eels fans. No amount of sugar-coating will sweeten the immediate sour aftermath of the post-Hayne era, the end of what was at times an exhilarating marriage with one of the greatest athletes of the modern age. Not only do you bid adieu to a franchise man, newly-mature leader of men and hero for kids everywhere, but you can kiss goodbye to these irresistible set of numbers from 2014, too: 20 tries (1st in NRL), 23 line breaks (1st), 16 line break assists (8th), 14 try assists (7th), 10 try saves (3rd), 138 tackle breaks (2nd) and 188 metres per game (1st).
2. Who do they replace him with?
Judging from the history-making contract the Eels – with a bit of help from the NRL – were prepared to offer him, Parramatta could just about go all out to sign whoever they want in any code. Whether that's the high-profile names of former leaguies Israel Folau or Kurtley Beale, or current NRL runaways Josh Hoffman and Brett Stewart, there's no name too expensive for the blue-and-golds. Right now they're really limited to just one name – former Rabbitoh Justin Hunt, who filled in for the Hayne plane a couple of times last season. The one game they did win without Hayne, was when Chris Sandow filled in at the back.
3. When is Anthony Watmough heading out west?
If the rumours are to be believed, any day now. Whispers have continued to circulate, with the disgruntled the Manly star reportedly wanting out of Brookvale and, after revelations of him and an equally unhappy Brett Stewart skipping Mad Monday celebrations, expect an announcement at any moment. Eels CEO Scott Seward has already publically opened his arms to Watmough joining Parramatta's somewhat inexperienced back row. It looks like it's just a matter of when, not if.
4. Can their defence improve?
If they consider themselves any chance of a return to the finals next season, then it'll have to. Here are the raw numbers: They ranked 16th in offloads conceded, 13th in line breaks conceded, 13th in points conceded, and 12th missed tackles and tries conceded. There's a reason why coach Brad Arthur yapped on about defence every second week at Eels HQ, and he'll keep doing so until they get the point.
5. Is there a top eight mental hurdle?
If there wasn't before, then there certainly is now. Judging by how they threw away their top eight spot with back-to-back losses to stragglers Newcastle and Canberra in the final fortnight of the regular season, then yes. Their best win of the year – a 22-12 belter against Manly in front of their home fans in Round 24 – put them in prime position to end four straight seasons of abject failure. But when the time came to win, it seemed a once proud club seemed to forget how and they gave up 76 points to teams that finished below them on the ladder.