The 2019 Eels are an exciting but massively inconsistent team and while some people want to point to contract uncertainty as an explanation, there are much simpler reasons for their Jekyll-and-Hyde form this year.
It boils down to two key factors: firstly, the huge lift they get from a parochial home ground and fantastic new home ground; secondly, they are a young and inexperienced side who are still learning how to be up every week and how to respond to adversity.
Part of that is learning how to win away from home – so far the Eels have won every game they've played in Sydney this year other than round three against the Roosters (which they led after 60 minutes) and lost all three games outside Sydney.
Let's look at their past five weeks; they had a poor loss in Canberra, being held to nil, than a huge high with the opening of their new home ground, Bankwest Stadium, and absolutely thrashed Wests Tigers. They went up to Newcastle to face a team that had lost five straight games and completely missed the jump, before a passionate home crowd helped them rally after a slow start against the Dragons. Then they met Melbourne in Magic Round, and that was just a complete disaster for them.
Match Highlights: Storm v Eels
Because they're such a young team they lack experience in a few areas and those last three road trips they've found themselves under some adversity early on and haven't been able to respond well. Their players will get better in those situations the more experience they get. It looks like they drop their heads when things go against them early, or in the case of the Storm game, they lost their heads altogether.
Things that might seem like a big deal to a younger bloke often won't seem like a big problem to an older bloke. Melbourne have Cameron Smith, the Rabbitohs have John Sutton and Sam Burgess, the Roosters have guys like Cooper Cronk, Boyd Cordner and even Luke Keary who has won two grand finals, who are all guys who have more perspective, know how to respond in those situations and get their teammates back on track. For young guys it's easier to get carried away with short term success and start to believe your own publicity.
The Eels have shown this year when they're on they can mix it with the best of them but it's about being able to do that every week and do it away from home.
At home they have this great new venue which is a huge boost and Parramatta is a big like its own little city and they're the kings of it.
It's hard to maintain that consistency every week, especially on the road, and I think you'll start to hear that become a bit of a catch cry for Parramatta now. This weekend's trip to Townsville is a huge test for them and a chance to show they've learned something from those past three losses.
One thing I don't buy into is the argument that contract uncertainty is playing on their minds.
Usually we talk about players lifting their games in a contract year as they try and push to earn a new deal because you're only as good as your last game. Even if it was starting to play on their minds it wouldn't explain the sort of performance we saw against the Storm.
Match Highlights: Eels v Wests Tigers
Sometimes player managers who don't know what they're doing put pressure on the player which can be an issue but across the board – and especially for the coach – that shouldn't be an issue.
Frankly, blaming the contract stuff is an easy out. If you're in the right team environment it doesn't matter if you're signed or not, you're confident knowing the rest of the stuff will take care of itself.
And Parramatta have been winning games so it really should be a happy environment at training this year. I'm sure they're enjoying themselves which will mean the players aren't feeling much contract stress because as a player you know if you can put in some good performances that stuff will take care of itself.
As a whole, the Eels are still a work in progress. They look a lot better than last year but these things take time. They are still learning every week. Look at the Roosters game – they went hard for 60 minutes but took their foot off the pedal at the end of the game and the Roosters took advantage. The Eels learned from that and played for 80 minutes the next week against Cronulla.
It will keep bouncing around like until they all get enough experience under their belts to have those experiences to draw on when things get tough on the field. And as long as they keep improving those contracts will get sorted out.