Eels Mid-Season Review
It seems destined to be a season of 'what ifs' for a Parramatta side that has been competitive in most of their games and managed to lose from winning positions more times than coach Brad Arthur would like to count. In a season where they had to first look to life after star fullback Jarryd Hayne then deal with a mounting injury and suspension toll, those close losses have them at equal last on the ladder and fans already casting a wistful eye towards 2016 and the arrivals of Kieran Foran and Beau Scott.
The run home: The Eels are one of just two sides along with the Rabbitohs not to get their first bye until Round 15. Before that they get to face an Origin-hit Storm side in Melbourne. After that they get five of their last 10 games at home, including winnable clashes against the Sharks, Raiders and Panthers. However their finals hopes will likely be over before then given tough road trips to Townsville and Allianz Stadium, as well as ANZ Stadium clashes against bogey sides the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers.
Game to remember: In a forgettable year the games Arthur's men will want to remember for the right reasons are the first up 42-12 home win against Manly and, arguably their most impressive effort this year, a 29-16 win in Round 4 against a high-flying Rabbitohs side that, at that stage, hadn't tasted defeat in any format of the game for nigh on six months. At that point bookies were taking bets on whether Souths would go through the season undefeated after disposing of the Broncos, Roosters and Wests Tigers. Both wingers – rookie John Folau and Reece Robinson – bagged doubles and halves Chris Sandow and Corey Norman controlled proceedings well and laid on a try apiece.
The one that got away: Take your pick. We could point to the game at ANZ against the Rabbitohs in Round 11, when they were leading 12-8 with six minutes to go, or the week before against the Warriors where the Eels outscored their opponents three tries to two across 80 minutes but 0/3 goal-kicking took the game to golden point. But surely the 24-point capitulation at home to the Cowboys in Round 13 takes the cake. Up 30-6 with 20 minutes to play, a stunning momentum reversal and five tries in 10 minutes to the visitors – all converted by Maroons ace Johnathan Thurston – consigned the Eels to a loss in a seemingly unlosable game.
MVP: Five-eighth Corey Norman has been close to the Eels' best every week. His eight try assists are an equal team-high with left centre Brad Takairangi (who has also been impressive, and is making a habit of sending Semi Radradra over the tryline) while Norman also has a team-high nine line break assists. Radradra himself has been the other shining light; his 173 metres per game, nine tries and 10 line breaks are all comfortably team-highs at the midway point of the season.
Stats that matter: 42 – only James Maloney and Mitchell Moses have missed more tackles than the 42 Chris Sandow has accumulated this year. The club's 369 missed tackles trails only the Gold Coast and their 314 points conceded is the most by any club.
Fantasy stud: Hooker Nathan Peats ($435,000) is the team's most expensive player and as such boasts their best average (52.0) and most overall points (676). An avalanche of attacking stats has Radradra ($362,000, 50.9) second in terms of price and average.
Injury report: the Eels lost back-rower Kenny Edwards and reserve hooker Kaysa Pritchard for the season before the NRL season proper had even started. A nine-game suspension to prop Junior Paulo in Round 1 didn't help and they lost centre Beau Champion (wrist) for the year in Round 2, where they also lost Radradra (knee) for six weeks. Bench hooker Isaac De Gois suffered a fractured cheek in Round 9 that is still keeping him out and Peni Terepo tore a pec after eight games and is unliekly to play again this season. Centre Brad Takairangi and forwards Tepai Moeroa, Pauli Pauli, David Gower and Darcy Lussick have all had shorter stints in the casualty ward.
What they are saying: "Our forward pack's been doing a great job, it's just been a few individual errors and missed tackles here and there that have been costing us," David Gower said.
"We've been competitive in 95 per cent of our games this year. It's just little one per cent errors that have cost us, it's cost us wins and that's the reason why we're coming where we are on the table but we're looking forward to building on our last month of football and really trying to slingshot and get our season started again."
Predicted finish: As mentioned above, some of those 'what ifs' are really hurting the Eels. Throw in six more competition points from those three winnable games and we'd be saying they're in with a real shake of playing finals footy. As is, the luckless blue and golds need eight or nine wins from their last 11 games to get there but more realistically will do well to finish better than bottom four.