A third-placed finish and semi-final berth are an indicator of a strong season by any measure but a lacklustre second half of the regular season and straight-sets finals exit won't sit well for Brad Arthur's Eels over summer.
The Eels sat atop the Telstra Premiership ladder from rounds two to nine and lost just two of their first 13 games but suffered defeats in five of their next nine (inclusive of finals) as their early-season energy and aggression seemed to fade.
In particular, points suddenly became very hard to come by - in the first 10 rounds they were ranked fifth for tries but they were 15th for tries scored in the second half of the season, better than only Brisbane and trailing the likes of Canterbury and North Queensland.
There's no real excuses for the Eels, with one of the lowest injury tolls in the NRL in 2020, and despite plenty of personnel changes in their top 30 roster heading into next year, very few of those appear likely to affect Arthur's best 17.
They'll have to largely fix what went wrong in the closing stages of the season with the players who were already there.
Home and Away record
Results-wise the Eels were good home and away in 2020, with just two home losses and only one more loss than that in away fixtures. With 12 regular-season games at Bankwest Stadium (including a couple as the away team) they won nine.
Run metres differential
One of the key planks of the Eels' early-season success was carrying the ball with plenty of vigour from the middle forwards in particular, and dominating possession to sap opposition sides before continuing to batter their line and build pressure.
Even with their late-season fade-out the Eels finished behind only Penrith when it came to earning yardage. They conceded a few more metres than the top teams but still finished up gaining more than 200 metres over their opponents per game.
Try scoring – game time
The Eels scored far more tries in the second 20 minutes of each half than in the opening 20. In their first halves of games it was literally double – from 14 tries in the first quarter of games up to 28 in the second quarter.
The jump was almost as stark through their second halves, with an increase from 13 tries in third quarters to 22 in final quarters.
Tries conceded – game time
Defensively the Eels were pretty sound across all four quarters in 2020, with their 17 leaked in the second quarter of games their worst defensive patch. In terms of differential the first 20 minutes after half-time was their weakest, with only one more try scored than conceded.
They consistently finished games strongly, scoring more than twice as many four-pointers (22) in the final quarter of games to what they conceded (10).
Tries scored from six-agains
The Eels scored the 11th-most tries in 2020 so to finish equal ninth-best for tries earned from six-again is in line with that. They conceded eight tries in the set after giving up a ruck infringement which is again in line with expectations. All up the Eels were pinged for 69 set restarts, placing them seventh-best.
Metres gained from offloads
The Eels were easily the most prolific offloading side of 2020, with several of their ball-playing forwards happy to back themselves to get the ball away in traffic.
Parramatta's 276 offloads was 62 more than the next-most, the Warriors' 214. Junior Paulo's 49 offloads was the most in the NRL with Ryan Matterson, Nathan Brown and Kane Evans all in the NRL's top 10 for most offloads.
Main kicker Mitch Moses maintained a reliable 80% through 2020, and even with back-up Clint Gutherson kicking at a rate of two out of three the team's overall 77% left them mid-table. Goal-kicking made little difference to the Eels' results - a 22-18 four-tries-apiece loss to Manly in round 10 could have gone differently if two missed goals had gone over but that was the only result they could have overturned with goal-kicking.
The blue-and-golds used the equal fewest players of any side as they largely fared well on the injury front. Middle forwards were scarce mid-season when Kane Evans, Ray Stone, Oregon Kaufusi and Peni Terepo were out at once while both halves missed time.
Mitch Moses was only out for two games but was hampered by that calf strain for the rest of the year while Dylan Brown missed the final month with an ankle injury. Losing three quarters of their three-quarter line for the semi-final forced the club into debuting Haze Dunster in the final game of the year as well.
Tries from kicks
As mentioned at the top, the Eels had serious problems scoring points despite their lofty ladder finish, outpointing only Brisbane in a diabolical second half of the season.
One of the most alarming drop-offs was in their ability to score tries from kicks. The Eels led the league for try assists from kicks in 2019, with 23. In 2020 their nine was better only than Brisbane.
It's even more startling given by and large teams scored more tries from kicks in 2020 – despite teams playing four fewer games, seven clubs scored more tries from kicks, two scored the same number and most of the rest scored marginally fewer.
The second biggest drop-off was the five from Manly, who went from 12 last year to seven in 2020 but the Eels scored 14 fewer. Moses alone created 18 tries from kicks in 2019 but just four in 2020.
Average sets per game
One of the things the Eels did consistently well and that underpinned a lot of their success was dominating possession and wearing opponents down.
Clearly they did that better in the first half of the season but it helped them win games they may have otherwise lost in the latter stages as well.
All up the club averaged 42.8 sets of six, behind only Penrith. Half the competition averaged below 41 per match.
The Eels completed fairly well (their 79.1% completion average was sixth-best). A huge part of that was line drop-outs forced – their 48 trailed only Penrith – but forcing errors and turnovers and scoring points also factors into that. Turning that possession into points will be one of the key targets for 2021.
2020 Form Guide
|1||Bulldogs||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 8-2|
|2||Titans||Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast||Won 46-6|
|3||Broncos||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 34-6|
|4||Sea Eagles||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 19-16|
|5||Panthers||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 16-10|
|6||Roosters||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 24-10|
|7||Raiders||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 25-24|
|8||Cowboys||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 42-4|
|9||Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle||Won 10-4|
|10||Sea Eagles||Lottoland, Sydney||Lost 22-18|
|11||Wests Tigers||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 26-16|
|12||Bulldogs||ANZ Stadium, Sydney||Won 18-16|
|13||Sharks||Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney||Won 14-12|
|14||Dragons||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 14-12|
|15||Storm||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 14-0|
|16||Rabbitohs||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 38-0|
|17||Warriors||Central Coast Stadium, Central Coast||Won 24-18|
|18||Panthers||Panthers Stadium, Penrith||Lost 20-2|
|19||Broncos||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 26-12|
|20||Wests Tigers||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Won 28-24|
|Finals Week 1||Storm||Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane||Lost 36-24|
|Finals Week 2||Rabbitohs||Bankwest Stadium, Sydney||Lost 38-24|