It was one of the great grand final charges… only to fall heartbreakingly short.
The Eels’ 2009 team went on a seven-game winning streak before being brought back down to earth with a 37-nil thumping by the Dragons in the final round of the season.
But it didn’t matter. They had clawed their way into the top eight and were locked in to play finals… And they got revenge anyway the next week when they stunned the Eels 25-10.
A comprehensive win over the Titans in the semi-final followed by a victory over fierce rivals, the Bulldogs had the Eels do the unexpected — book a spot in the grand final.
“No one gave us a chance,” Eels legend Nathan Hindmarsh told the Fox League podcast this week.
“I think we got there off the back of offloading, being unpredictable and support play.”
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Tim Mannah, the young forward who was in his debut season, told foxsports.com.au: “I remember the feeling after we beat the Bulldogs in the prelim, how surreal it was that we were going to a grand final.”
The Eels were the entertainers and carried this swagger and confidence that was almost infectious.
But it all came crashing down pretty quickly and the Storm won the battle 23-16.
“I think we changed that (playing style). I think we actually sh*t ourselves in the grand final,” Hindmarsh said.
“We panicked because we realised we had Melbourne — I can’t speak for everyone else — but I did.
“I tightened up and tensed up instead of playing that style of footy that got us there, which was just ‘let’s go out there and play footy boys’. That’s what really got us there.
“I think we all tensed up a bit knowing it was a grand final and knowing it was the Melbourne Storm.
“Straight away you go ‘well, sh*t how are we going to beat the Storm’ because it’s very similar to Penrith now — they’re the side that if you think you’ve got them rattled, the next set they’ll just go back into their formation, do whatever they do and regain ascendancy that way. They can just switch on like that.”
Mannah said the week leading up to the big day is “a bit of a blur” and he doesn’t’ know if that’s because it was just so busy, or if he “kind of blocked it out of my memory.”
But he agreed with Hindmarsh.
“I reckon we kind of treated it a bit differently. We always had music playing and we were confident going into every game, but this was the first time that we were nervous and had gone away from what worked for us — which was out relaxed, carefree style of play,” he said.
“We got taught a lesson. It was my first grand final and I think it was Melbourne’s third in a row, they just handled it so much better than we did. Those 20 minutes they just blew us off the park.”
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Being at the very beginning of his career, Mannah conceded he was “heartbroken,” but honestly thought he’d get another opportunity in a grand final.
“Looking back I probably took it for granted,” he said.
“It was my first season in first grade and coming through junior system we always made grand finals and won them so it wasn’t anything new to us. At the time I thought ‘we lost this year but we’ll be back here soon’.”
How wrong he was. This year is the first time Eels have reached the grand final since 2009.
No doubt all of the members of the ‘09 squad will be either at Accor Stadium or glued to their TV screens — after all, 12 of the 17 are still involved in rugby league.
Some are coaching, others work in welfare with NRL clubs and a couple are still playing.
Then there’s the guys who have carried on with life away from the game like Joel Reddy, who is in the medical device industry, or Eric Grothe Jr, who runs an events hire business.
Here’s what the ‘09 Eels square are up to now.
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1. JARRYD HAYNE
Jarryd Hayne’s 2009 season was one of the greatest in the modern era but he has had a horrific fall from grace since. The 34-year-old was found guilty of sexual assault last year and was sentenced to five years and nine months in jail. However, in February the Court of appeal quashed the conviction and he walked free. A month later the Director of Public Prosecutions announced they would try Hayne a third time. He was most recently spotted celebrating the Eels’ preliminary final win over the Cowboys.
2. LUKE BURT
The goalkicking winger and Eels favourite hung up his boots after the 2012 season and now works as a partnerships manager for the Titans. Straight after retirement though, Burt spent five more years with the Eels progressing from an education and welfare officer to a development and skills coach and finally coach of the NYC team. He then made the move to the Gold Coast to be an assistant to NRL coach Garth Brennan, but after the 2019 season he transitioned away from the field and into the commercial team.
3. KRISNAN INU
At 35-years old Krisnan Inu is still going strong, playing for the Leigh Centurions in the UK’s second-tier competition. He finished up with the Eels in 2010 to join the Warriors for two seasons and then spent three seasons with the Bulldogs, where he featured in the 2012 Grand Final — once again losing to the Storm.
4. JOEL REDDY
Joel Reddy finished up at the club in 2011 and joined the Tigers for two seasons before finishing his career at the Rabbitohs. But away from the field he also busy completing a Bachelor of Exercise Physiology which allowed him to go from an NRL player to an exercise physiologist and personal trainer once he hung up the boots. He now works in the medical device industry as an associate territory manager.
5. ERIC GROTHE JR
Like many members of this team, Eric Grothe Jr retired not long after the 2009 season. He played one more year with the Eels, although an injury kept him sidelined for most of the 2010 season, before calling time on his career… Or so we thought. The explosive winger came out of retirement and signed a one-year deal with the Sharks for the 2014 season but another injury stopped him from playing a game. These days, Grothe Jr owns and operates an events hire company called Marquee Hire Sydney along with his Parramatta legend father and a couple of other investors. It’s a busy gig but Grothe Jr said “we love it as it keeps us active and moving our bodies all day with the lifting and carrying.”
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6. DANIEL MORTIMER
He didn’t get to experience premiership euphoria in 2009, but three years later Daniel Mortimer lifted the trophy in his first season with the Roosters. Mortimer moved north of the border mid-2014 to join the Titans before finishing his NRL career with the Sharks. He had a short stint with Leigh in the Super League and then hung the boots up. Mortimer has a Bachelor of Education under his belt but is working as a sales executive and cellar door manager with Mortimer Wines in Orange — the well-known family’s winery which has been operating since 1995.
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7. JEFF ROBSON
Robson enjoyed a breakout season in 2009 and went on to play in the NRL for nine more years before retiring. He left the Eels after the 2010 season to join the Sharks for four season. He moved to the Warriors in 2016 but returned to the Eels after a mid-season release and finished his career in the blue and gold, scoring a try in his only NRL game in 2017. The 40-year-old now lives a settled life in the Shire, but is still very much involved with the game, working as a welfare and education manager at the Sharks.
8. NATHAN CAYLESS
The club legend retired at the end of 2010 with 259 first grade games to his name as well as 39 Tests for New Zealand. He is now an NRL assistant coach at the Tigers, but interestingly didn’t dive straight into coaching straight after he hung up the boots. Cayless worked in real estate for a year before joining the Eels’ sales corporate sales team. He moved closer to the action as an elite player program manager with the club and then departed to take up his first coaching gig with the Warriors’ NSW Cup side. Cayless joined the Roosters’ coaching staff ahead of the 2020 season and then joined the Tigers this season but was told his services are no longer needed.
9. MATTHEW KEATING
Keating was the unsung hero in the Eels’ charge to the grand final, but his time with the club finished in 2013. He fell into the ‘maybe’ pile in Ricky Stuart’s infamous overhead projector session, but he decided to head up to Queensland and join Queensland Cup side Burleigh Bears. He’s now involved with Tweed Seagulls’ coaching staff.
10. FUIFUI MOIMOI
The fierce forward that captivated fans is still playing in his 40s, albeit in the UK’s third-tier competition. Moimoi, who played 201 NRL games before making the move overseas, celebrated his 43rd birthday this week, a day after starting at prop in the Rochdale Hornets’ preliminary final loss.
11. NATHAN HINDMARSH
The Eels legend is one half of Fox League’s comical duo ‘Fletch and Hindy’ that always seem to get up to mischief. He notched up 330 NRL games with the Eels and achieved just about everything from representing New South Wales and Australia to being named Dally M Second-rower of the Year five times. But he never won a premiership — and Fletch never misses his chance to remind him.
12. BEN SMITH
Smith arrived at the Eels as a young centre and grew up to be a reliable forward, transitioning to the second row and then prop. After 152 NRL games, he retired in 2014 as a one-club man. In 2019 he pulled the blue and gold jersey back on to play for the Eels in the Legends of League tournament alongside Hindmarsh, Robson and Todd Lowrie. Smith now lives in Lake Macquarie with his family and does some work with the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
13. TODD LOWRIE
This was the Scone Thoroughbreds junior’s final game for the Eels. He joined the Storm ahead of the 2010 season and played lock in their 2012 grand final win over the Bulldogs. He joined the Warriors for one season before finishing up his career with the Broncos. Lowrie now coaches Western Suburbs Rosellas in Newcastle’s first grade competition. In June he completed a 150km walk from Sydney to Newcastle, as organised by The Big Three Trek, to raise money for the Mark Hughes Foundation.
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14. KEVIN KINGSTON
The bench utility spent just the one season with the Eels after joining from the Sharks and then headed further west to the Panthers for the remainder of his career. He captained Penrith for 18 months but then spent majority of 2014 in reserve grade before retiring at the end of the season. He is still involved with the Panthers, working as their wellbeing and education manager.
15. FELETI MATEO
The versatile forward left the Eels in 2011 for a four-year stint with the Warriors where he suffered grand final heartbreak once again when he came off the bench in their 24-10 loss to Manly in 2022. He then joined Manly for two seasons before a year with Salford in the UK. Fast forward to 2022, Mateo was on the Wests Tigers’ coaching staff this season, assisting with the Jersey Flegg side.
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16. JOE GALUVAO
Galuvao finished up with the Eels in 2009 to join Manly for his final four seasons — whom he won a the 2011 premiership with. All up the 44-year-old played 240 NRL games and represented both Samoa and New Zealand. He’s still heavily involved with rugby league, working for the NRL as a community engagement officer — a role he is very passionate. He delivers a program that helps students celebrate cultural diversity and helps them deal with social issues. Galuvao also facilitates a mental health program, as well as an educational program to prevent violence against women and their children.
17. TIM MANNAH
At 21-years old, Mannah was the baby of the side in his rookie season. He went on to captain the Eels and notch up 233 NRL games before retiring at the end of 2019. Besides doing some commentary for Fox League, the 34-year-old is the head of strategic partnerships at one of the largest financial services companies in Australia.