As part of an NRL.com series on players aiming for a bounce-back year, Chris Kennedy examines whether Blake Ferguson can recapture his magic on the wing.
Coming off his first season in 10 years without a double-digit try tally, questions were bound to be asked about whether 30-year-old Eels winger Blake Ferguson was over the hill.
Ferguson was arguably the best winger in the game as recently as 2018 at the Roosters as he racked up more than 5000 run metres with 18 tries and finished with a premiership ring.
He proved a better recruit than almost anyone anticipated in his move to wooden spooners Parramatta, playing a huge role in helping return them to the finals, providing the early-set punch they'd been lacking and finishing with 10 tries in 2019.
When he started 2020 struggling to find a four-pointer, it mattered little as the flying Eels sat in the top two through the first half of the season.
But as Parramatta lost their mojo and Ferguson's try drought stretched into months, many wondered if they were getting value from one of their marquee players.
The Eels bounced out of the finals in straight sets and Ferguson lost the hard-won Origin berth he'd reclaimed the previous year. Reports emerged that the off-contract flyer would be unlikely to be receive new deal once his current one expired at the end of the season.
Turning 31 in March, is Ferguson's career at a crossroads or nearly over?
Fergo breaks his try-scoring drought
A quiet 2020
It must be noted Ferguson battled several injuries through 2020. Nothing that would suggest a quick career decline but enough to hamper him throughout the season, with his knee giving him the greatest trouble.
Despite that, Ferguson soldiered on and missed only two games all year, producing just the third season since his 2009 debut in which he averaged more than 150 metres per game.
And those metres were badly missed in the two games he didn't play – an upset round-10 loss to Manly and the semi-final defeat to the Bunnies.
While his four tries was his lowest tally in a season, it should also be noted Ferguson scored them in his last five games so once he broke his duck (after plenty of near-misses) the floodgates started to open.
On the downside, he registered just 50 tackle busts. Apart from the full season he missed in 2014, it was his lowest figure since playing 11 games in 2013.
And while not usually a prolific creator of tries, last year was the least productive of his career with just a single try assist in 20 games, level with the one try assist in his debut season.
Ferguson can't stop scoring now
A key part of the Eels puzzle
Despite the pronounced drop-off in some attacking stats last year, Ferguson's input was crucial to the Eels' early-season momentum and with opposite flanker Maiko Sivo more of a finisher than a yardage man, Ferguson will remain vital to the team's chances until - or unless - those tough early-set carries are replaced.
The seven-Test, nine-Origin flanker showed more than enough last year to demonstrate that, when fully fit, he can still make a huge impact for his side and in a contract year you'd be brave to bet against him making a strong case for his next deal.
Whether that is at Parramatta or elsewhere remains to be seen.
Eels in 2021
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