The Eels nearly put the longest premiership drought in NRL history to bed, but ultimately paid for their inconsistency during the regular season to fall agonisingly short of the title.
The harsh reality facing the Eels is that with five of their grand final 17 leaving and a sixth in Nathan Brown possibly to follow, they may have closed their own premiership window.
Read on for the Eels’ 2022 season review.
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When picking Waqa Blake goes wrong | 01:20
2022 Record: W18 L10 – 64.29% win rate
What went right: Given the Eels hadn’t made a grand final in 13 years and hadn’t won one in 36, the 2022 Parramatta side can be incredibly proud of their season. The Eels were able to time their run to near perfection and peak at the right time of year and beat some of the best teams in the competition along the way. The fact they beat the two best teams of the past few seasons in the Panthers and the Storm twice just shows how good this team was. Clint Gutherson had his best year in the NRL to lead his side to within 80 minutes of a drought-breaking title. Mitchell Moses also had his best year in first grade and proved the doubters wrong that he could lead a side to the last game of the season and break the Eels’ recent finals curse. Dylan Brown was arguably the Eels’ best player all season, but went missing in two post season matches against the Panthers. Reed Mahoney was one of the best hookers in the competition in a hot field. Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo were the cornerstones of the Eels’ much hyped power game and were the keys to their blueprint for success. Shaun Lane and Isaiah Papali’i were one of the best second row partnerships in the NRL and complimented each other’s games on the edges for the Eels. Ryan Matterson cemented his place as the starting lock, despite being used off the bench at times and earned a long-term contract extension. Will Pensisini had a breakout season at centre and gave the Eels real strike on the edge. He will be a priority re-signing for Brad Arthur. Penisini was well supported by Tom Opacic and Bailey Simonsson in the centres. Maika Sivo returned from injury to score 13 tries in just 16 games on the flank. Waqa Blake had a tough season under the high ball, particularly after being exploited by Nathan Cleary in the finals series, but he still managed 12 tries in 22 games in a strong season with ball in hand. Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi provided real spark off the bench as did Makahesi Makatoa, who played 24 games in a consistent season off the pine, before he was inexplicably dropped two games short of a grand final. Jakob Arthur had limited opportunities, but provided cover for Moses and he will be better for the experience of a tough season amid some heavy criticism. This Eels squad should hold their head high after going further than any Parramatta side since 2009.
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What went wrong: The Eels had an excellent year to break their finals curse and reach a first grand final in 13 years, but they still lost 10 games in an up and down season as consistency eluded them. Too often the Eels backed up an excellent performance with a confounding no show in a loss and history says inconsistency in the regular season rarely sets you up for title success. The Eels failed to build consistent winning habits in the regular season, which cost them in two convincing finals losses to their arch rivals the Panthers, including the grand final. Defence was a huge issue for the Eels in 2022 as they conceded the most points of any side in the top eight during the regular season with 489, despite finishing in the top four. The loss of genuine utility Ray Stone to a season-ending injury saw them use Jakob Arthur as their bench option to cover the halves and dummyhalf. Arthur is a genuine No.7 and if he can’t make the team as a starting half then he shouldn’t be in the team, it is as simple as that. Carrying a player on the pine who might not get on the field creates an unbalanced bench and puts too much pressure on the forwards rotation, especially against the top sides. Giving Reed Mahoney a tactical spell could have given him even more spark and creativity out of dummyhalf. Waqa Blake’s struggles under the high ball were well documented and his best position is clearly centre, despite his defensive struggles in the position in the past. The tactic of trying to hide him from kicks was brutally exposed in the grand final and just left Gutherson with too much ground to cover. Dylan Brown struggled to get involved in the big end of season games and while he is still young and will only get better, the Eels need more from him if they are to make a heavy investment with his next contract. Mitchell Moses had a great season, but he too went missing in the finals series and there are still doubts he can step up in September and lead a team all the way, especially as he will be without Mahoney next season. The Eels need to be careful to not invest too large a chunk of their salary cap in Moses and Brown, if they are not the pair to win them a title. Nathan Brown falling out of favour was an interesting decision and he looked short of top flight rugby league in his stunning grand final recall after three months out. If they are not going to pick him the Eels need to get Brown off their books, so that they can use his salary to improve their roster elsewhere. The biggest issue the Eels have is how to fill the voids left by their departures next year and their ability to build consistent winning habits over the course of the regular season. The Panthers are the benchmark and it remains to be seen how the current squad can reach that level next season, given that their roster gets worse on paper in 2023.
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What they need: Despite their successful season there is a number of unknowns hanging over the Eels heading into 2023, with a number of key departures from their squad ahead of next season. Reed Mahoney will be the biggest void to fill after his move to the Bulldogs, with doubts around former Raiders skipper Josh Hodgson’s ability to bounce back from a number of long-term injuries in recent seasons. Hodgson is in the twilight of his career, while Mahoney is entering his peak years and was a focal point of the Eels’ attack. Even if Hodgson can wind back the clock and that is a big if, the Eels will still be looking to go to market for a hooker they can build their future around. Isaiah Papali’i is also a massive loss from the forward pack, given the Eels based their power game over the last couple of seasons around his devastating running game and work rate on the edge. The Eels will be on the lookout for a strike back-rower, particularly given Nathan Brown looks likely to leave after falling out of favour with Brad Arthur, despite being recalled for the grand final. Marata Niukore (Warriors) and Oregon Kaufusi (Sharks) will also leave a massive void on the Eels’ bench in 2023, so they will need reinforcements to stabilise their pack. The Eels have signed J’maine Hopgood (Panthers) and Jirah Momoisea (Knights), but both players still have a lot to prove in first grade. Tom Opacic will join Hull KR in the Super League, which will test their depth at centre, despite the emergence of Bailey Simonsson as a genuine option in the position. The Eels need to boost their depth at hooker, second row, prop and in the outside backs if they want to return to the grand final next season, let alone win it.
Going: Marata Niukore (Warriors), Isaiah Papali’i (Wests Tigers), Oregon Kaufusi (Sharks), Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs), Ray Stone (Dolphins), Tom Opacic (Hull KR), Hayze Perham (released), David Hollis (released).
Coming: Josh Hodgson (Raiders), J’maine Hopgood (Panthers), Jirah Momoisea (Knights).
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