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'Sense of identity': Why Sterling predicts bright future for Eels

Parramatta great Peter Sterling believes the future is bright for the Eels regardless of how far they progress in the finals due to the number of young players given a taste of first grade at the club.

The Eels finished sixth and play Newcastle in Sunday’s elimination final after losing 40-6 to Penrith last weekend but Sterling liked the fact that Brad Arthur fielded eight players whose NRL debuts were with Parramatta.

However, Arthur rested nine members of his top side against the Panthers, and the Eels have one of the lowest representations among finals teams of players who debuted at the club they are playing for this weekend.

NRL.com revealed this week that the 1999 Storm (3) and 2016 Sharks (7) were the only grand final-winning teams of the NRL era with less than nine players who had played their first top-grade match with the club.

It is an ingredient that Sterling, who played halfback in the Eels’ 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1986 premiership-winning teams, believes is important to the long-term success of a club and has espoused in his commentary role on Channel Nine.

“When players debut at club they develop a sense of identity,” Sterling told NRL.com. “They understand the standards, the culture of the club and what is required of them.

“The perfect example is Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and those guys at Penrith. They had success at junior level so they understand about winning and those type of things, but they also understand about the club and they understand the standards that are required at Penrith.

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“That to me is the most important thing. If you can establish that early on with players who have been given a debut with a club, they realise that they owe the club as well for the opportunity.

“I think you are held to account more when you have got that relationship. You don’t want to disappoint the people that you built a bond with.

“That is why you can understand to a degree what they are doing at the Dragons, with Jayden Sullivan, Tyrell Sloan and Talatau Amone, who were all part of the 2019 SG Ball winning side for the Dragons. You can see that they have a relationship and an understanding with the club.”

However, Sterling believes that Parramatta are moving in the right direction with Haze Dunster, Jake Arthur, Oregon Kaufusi, Makahesi Makatoa, Ray Stone, Samuel Loizou, Ky Rodwell and Sean Russell in the team which played Penrith and all having debuted for the Eels.

Dunster, Stone and Makatoa have been named to play Newcastle, along with Junior Paulo, Dylan Brown, Marata Niukore and Will Penisini, who also played their first NRL match with Parramatta.

“I look at my own club, Parramatta, and the thing that I liked about last weekend, while it might have been 40-6, was to see some of these young guys coming through,” Sterling said.

“Will Penisini is going to be a really good player and I think defensively when Parramatta have played their best footy in recent weeks he has been there.

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"To see him come through with Dunster and these other guys is an investment in the future and I think we are going in the right direction.

“You have obviously got to bring the right people in around them from other clubs and I think our recruitment has been really good.

"I look at a guy like Isaiah Papali’i, and he has had an amazing effect, but for every Papali’i coming in you need a Niukore or a Kaufusi.”

Sterling said it was important that clubs recruited the right players to compliment the talent they had developed, and suggested that may be a downfall of Wests Tigers, who are conducting an internal review after failing to make the finals for the 10th consecutive season.

The Tigers have recruited young talent like Adam Doueihi, Daine Laurie, Stefano Utoikamanu, Jake Simpkin and Shawn Blore under Michael Maguire but have struggled to attract a big name player who could influence the culture of the club.

“I would have opened the purse strings as much as possible to get a Dale Finucane,” Sterling said. “That is the type of player you need at your club to bring young players through.

“When you are bringing in young guys you have developed it’s important that you have the right players around them and with all due respect I don’t think that the Wests Tigers have recruited the right players.

“When Craig Bellamy talks about the type of players the Storm bring in, they recruit character. He will look at players reactions to situations on the field, he will look at their body language, what their reaction is like if a team-mate makes a mistake, how they react if they make a mistake and all of those tell-tale signs of character.

“When Jack Gibson was looking for players the question he asked himself was ‘can I win with him’. To Jack, it was all about character and those sorts of things. Talent or ability is never enough, and I don’t think the Tigers have got that right as yet.”

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