Arthur and Moses feeling the heat as jury is out on position that needs filling: Eels best 17
Mark St John
January 25, 2021 7:58am
Mark St John
Source: FOX SPORTS
The Eels have been one of the more consistent teams in the NRL over the last two seasons, but their tendency to fade during the championship rounds is a worrying trend.
Parramatta have finished fifth and third the last two years, but they have saved some of their worst form for the pointy end of the season.
The big issue for the Eels is how to plug their notoriously weak defence on Waqa Blake’s side of the field.
The loss of Michael Jennings as he fights to clear his name over the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs is a massive blow to the Eels’ attack and defence.
Jennings was not only their best attacking threat over the last couple of seasons, but his defence helped make up for the deficiencies of Blake on the other side of the field.
Arthur needs to get the best out of his new centre pairing of Blake and Oldfield or it could be a long year for the Eels’ faithful.
The Eels have been quite active in the player market though it remains to be seen if the pieces they have added can take them to the next level.
Isaiah Papali’i from the Warriors and Keegan Hipgrave from the Titans should improve their bench rotation although the jury is out on new signing Bryce Cartwright, who left the Titans last season.
Tom Opacic from the Cowboys and Oldfield will fight it out to partner Blake in the centres and Joey Lussick as well as Nathaniel Roache provide good back-up for Reed Mahoney.
Of the players the Eels let go Stefano Utoikamanu (Tigers) could prove to be a loss down the track, but Brad Takairangi (Hull KR) and Kane Evans (Warriors) are past their best.
Daniel Alvaro (Dragons) and George Jennings (Storm) still have plenty to offer so time will tell if letting them go was the right call.
The Eels need to improve their backline defence and create more try-scoring opportunities for their wingers out wide or it could be a season where they slide down the ladder.THE STRENGTH
Settled spine. If you are looking at the ingredients that make up successful teams in the NRL a settled No.9, No.6, No.7 and No.1 would be right at the top of the list.
In skipper Clint Gutherson, halves Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses and hooker Reed Mahoney the Eels have one of the better spines in the competition on paper.
The Eels led the competition for much of the early part of the 2020 season on the back of some excellent work by their key playmakers.
The challenge for these four stars is to maintain that sort of form for the duration of a long season, especially as the NRL will return to 25 Rounds in 2021.
Reigning Dally M Fullback of the Year Gutherson and Eels No.7 Moses are entering the prime of their careers and need to find the sort of consistency that the best players in the game maintain on a weekly basis.
Mahoney has been mentioned as a future Queensland representative player and Brown is an exciting livewire who could be anything as he matures.
If their spine can click and deliver on their promise on paper then this Eels team can challenge most sides in the competition.THE PRESSURE IS ON
Brad Arthur. Now entering his eighth season as full-time coach at Parramatta the time has come for the 46-year-old to turn around his poor record in the finals.
Twice in the last four seasons in 2017 and 2020 the Eels were bundled out of the finals in straight sets despite finishing fourth and third on the ladder.
Their only win of note in the finals was a 58-0 demolition of the Broncos in 2019 when they finished fifth, but they were thrashed 32-0 by the Storm the very next week.
Arthur’s tenure at the Eels has been similar to Paul McGregor’s reign at the Dragons where he had some early struggles, before a couple of successful seasons and then a steady decline.
There are signs that the Eels have reached their peak under Arthur and the decline could be coming in the next few seasons.
It is up to Arthur to secure a top four finish in 2021 and win some games in September or it could be time for the Eels to go in another direction after eight years with Arthur and little success.
THE RISING STAR
Dylan Brown. After two seasons in the top grade it is fair to say Dylan Brown is already a star, but there is still scary room for improvement for the young five-eighth.
Still only 20 years of age, Brown has only scratched the surface of his enormous potential in rugby league and he will only get better with every new season.
In Mitchell Moses Brown has the perfect halves partner to take the pressure off him and allow him to play his game and test the defence with his devastating running game and silky passing skills.
After a frustrating period during the coronavirus pandemic, halves coach Andrew Johns should hopefully be able to spend more time in a hands on role with the Eels in 2021.
In Johns Brown has the perfect teacher to take his game to the next level and make him a more consistent and well-rounded playmaker.
Brown has scored nine tries in 33 games to date and if the Eels forwards can set the platform up front then look for Brown to score and set up plenty more in 2021.
Haas embarrassed & ashamed after arrest
Haas embarrassed & ashamed after arrest1:49THE UNLUCKY ONES
Marata Niukore, Ray Stone, Will Smith and Jordan Rankin. The strength of the Eels halves and forward pack is set to cost some players some game time in 2021.
At 24 Niukore has played 56 games and will feature prominently throughout the season, but he may have to bide his time while the Eels find out what recruit Bryce Cartwright has left to offer. Cartwright is a special talent with ball in hand, but his defensive game needs a lot of work and time will tell if Arthur can get the best out of him.
At 23, Ray Stone has provided strong back-up to the pack and Mahoney at hooker in his 19 games to date, but may have to wait until injuries strike and the Origin period to come around to get his opportunity.
Smith at 28 is a reliable back-up half having scored 10 tries in 58 games and he provides strong utility value, but will struggle for minutes behind Moses, Brown and Mahoney.
Rankin’s career has taken a different route having played just 40 games in the NRL, but the 29-year-old has scored 37 tries in 120 games in the Super League and provides experience should injury strike in the halves.IT'S A BIG YEAR FOR
Mitchell Moses. Rightly or wrongly the Eels’ success always seems to be linked to the No.7 jersey given their last premiership winning halfback was Peter Sterling back in 1986.
Until a halfback can lead the Eels to a drought-breaking premiership then that scrutiny of the main playmaker is just par for the course.
At his best Moses is one of the most dangerous halfbacks in the competition, particularly with his kicking game that can create try-scoring opportunities at will as it did in 2019.
However Moses’ kicking and running games deserted him last year after a mid-season injury disrupted his and the teams’ rhythm.
Moses need to shorten the gap between his best game and his worst and become a more consistent and reliable main playmaker for the Eels.
The 26-year-old is coming into the best years for a playmaker and with Johns as his teacher he should be able to realise his potential if he is focused and injury-free.
After 25 tries and 712 points in 150 games, Moses has the experience to lead a team deep into the finals, but time will tell if he is good enough to inspire this Eels team to greater heights.EELS BEST 17
1 Clint Gutherson
2 Maika Sivo
3 Waqa Blake
4 Michael Oldfield
5 Blake Ferguson
6 Dylan Brown
7 Mitchell Moses
8 Junior Paulo
9 Reed Mahoney
10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11 Shaun Lane
12 Ryan Matterson
13 Nathan Brown
14 Bryce Cartwright
15 Isaiah Papali’i
16 Keegan Hipgrave
17 Oregon Kaufusi2021 squad
: Waqa Blake (2023), Dylan Brown (2023), Nathan Brown (2021), Reagan Campbell-Gillard (2022, PO 23, CO 24), Bryce Cartwright (2021), Blake Ferguson (2021), Clint Gutherson (2022), Keegan Hipgrave (2021 PO 22), Michael Jennings (2022), Oregon Kaufusi (2022), Shaun Lane (2023), Joey Lussick (2021), Reed Mahoney (2022), Ryan Matterson (2021, PO 22), Mitchell Moses (2021, PO 22), Marata Niukore (2022), Michael Oldfield (2022), Tom Opacic (2021), Isaiah Papali’i (2022), Junior Paulo (2022), Jordan Rankin (2021), Nathaniel Roache (2021), Maika Sivo (2021), Will Smith (2021), Ray Stone (2021)2021 gains
: Joey Lussick (Salford), Tom Opacic (Cowboys), Isaiah Papali’i (Warriors), Michael Oldfield (Raiders), Keegan Hipgrave (Titans), Nathaniel Roache (Warriors), Bryce Cartwright (Titans)2021 losses
: Stefano Utoikamanu (Tigers), Kane Evans (Warriors), Andrew Davey (Sea Eagles), George Jennings (Storm), David Gower (retired), Jai Field (Wigan), Daniel Alvaro (Dragons), Brad Takairangi (Hull KR), Peni Terepo (retired), Rhys Davies (unsigned), Jaeman Salmon (Panthers)https://www.foxsports.com.au/nrl/nrl-premiership/nrl-2021-eels-best-17-mitchell-moses-brad-arthur-michael-jennings-replacement-waqa-blake-clint-gutherson/news-story/060e18653dc909849b73143f558bd168