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For and Against: Will Eels finally break title drought?

The glory days of the 1980s are but a distant memory for Parramatta fans but they are daring to dream once again in 2020 after returning to the finals last year and celebrating by blowing Brisbane away.

For a club that raised the trophy four times in six years when Sterling, Kenny, Cronin and co called the shots, the ensuing three decades have been tough to cop but there is light at the end of Parramatta Road.

The talent is there but will the weight of history prove too much for Brad Arthur and his men?

Each week, two experts will debate the game's hottest topics in our For & Against series. This week the spotlight is on the Parramatta Eels and whether they have what it takes to end the NRL's most talked about drought.

Five key match-ups of the Eels' 2020 draw

For senior journalist Martin Lenehan

When Parramatta won their first premiership in 1981 after 34 years of trying, their jubilant fans made a bonfire out of the old Cumberland Oval grandstand and danced around it all night long.

Don't expect anything quite so extreme when the Eels deliver their long-suffering fans a fourth premiership in 2020 but you can guarantee it will be one hell of a party.

Omens don't win you titles but it seems more than fitting that if Clint Gutherson can raise the Provan-Summons Trophy skyward on October 4 it will end a drought that has lasted 34 years, just like the first one.

Apart from that piece of symmetry, the ingredients are all there for the Eels to make a run at the title on the back of one of the game's premier playmakers in Mitchell Moses, tryscoring machine Maika Sivo and a powerful pack led by ex-Panther Reagan Campbell Gillard, ex-Tiger and Ryan Matterson and x-factors like Nathan Brown and Shaun Lane.

The potency Parra can deliver when it all clicks is second to none.

Moses led the NRL in try assists in 2019 and Sivo scored more tries than any other player.

Dylan Brown at No.6 has the speed and vision to pry open even the tightest defences and veteran Michael Jennings still has plenty to offer out wide.

Hooker Reed Mahoney made the most tackles in the NRL last year, plugging holes and cutting bigger forwards down to size with some copybook defence.

This was already a very good team coached by one of the best in the business in Brad Arthur but the addition of Matterson and RCG makes them even more formidable.

They saved their worst for last in a blowout loss to the Storm in last year's finals but that gut-wrenching defeat will have motivated them all summer and the time has come to set the record straight.

A relatively soft draw against the Bulldogs, Titans, Cowboys and Dragons in the opening month will provide the perfect launching pad for a top-four finish and a September charge to evoke memories of that glorious night back in 1986.

Rookie reflections: Dylan Brown

Against reporter Chris Kennedy

Will 2020 be Parramatta's year?

Now let's clear this up right from the start: I think the Eels will be good in 2020. They should improve from last year, they should definitely make the finals and they really should make the top four.

I just don't see them winning the premiership, and this is why.

As a (very) long-suffering Eels fan, I have seen plenty of false dawns. The 2001 grand final feels very fresh in the memory. The 2005 prelim loss to North Queensland hurt almost as much. Ditto the "Paul Carige" prelim of 1998. The Broncos 2000 and Storm 2007 prelims weren't fun either.

Meanwhile 2009 was more about enjoying the very unexpected ride rather than any genuine expectations of a premiership; even once a grand final berth was confirmed it always felt like the might of Melbourne would prove a bridge too far.

Which brings me to the current crop.

I'm one of the few who tipped the 2019 roster changes to bring a return to the finals and with the team looking even stronger this year, expectations are high.

But expectations have not sat well on blue and gold shoulders for as long as I have watched.

The young playmakers will be even better, the forwards look powerful, the backs have skill and speed, Bankwest Stadium will be a fortress again.

But ...

Their last game was a 32-0 semi-final loss to the Storm in Melbourne. They collapsed 64-10 against the same side in Magic Round, went down 42-22 in Cronulla, 32-18 against the Roosters in round three long before they hit their stride, 19-0 in Canberra.

They have just two wins from their last 10 away games.

The Eels haven't won away against a top-eight side since 2017.

So I think the Eels are on a good path and should improve from last year but to win a comp you have to be able to beat the best teams on their terms.

There is such a huge improvement needed against the top sides and away from home that it is too soon to be talking of an end to Parramatta's premiership drought.

But I'd be happy to be wrong.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.


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