The NRL has been shocked with the recent form of the Parramatta Eels. A team that Sportsbet was paying $1.45 to record the most losses for the season at the beginning of July have now beaten two of the biggest clubs in the past week. The Melbourne Storm and Brisbane Broncos have tumbled consecutively as the Eels charge onwards, leaving in their dust the Cronulla Sharks and Manly Sea Eagles – all top 8 teams. So the question, delivered with more than a pinch of disbelief, has shot around the rugby league community – ‘The Eels have won?! And beaten the Storm and Broncos?!’
The games against the Storm and Broncos has provided promise for what the Eels can achieve, as did their second half performance against Manly where they scored 24 unanswered points. Even so, in that particular match, Manly still scored 40 points to win. This is an all too familiar problem for Parramatta, as evidenced by the Broncos scoring two tries in the first five minutes of the second half. During a season where points from byes have made up almost a third of competition points, the Eels still look like battling. Fixtures ahead include tough sides, as well as teams like the Dragons who are always able to put up a fight. Parramatta has not beaten any of their upcoming opponents in their past encounters this season, but recent form will hopefully indicate a change in the road.
Interim coach, Brad Arthur, could be the key to Parramatta’s success. Beating the Broncos has been the caretaker’s second win since taking over from sacked Stephen Kearney, the coach who arrived out West with so much promise, but couldn’t deliver in two years what Arthur has done in two weeks – consecutive wins. The new coach has had experience of coaching troubled teams, in 1997 as captain-coach of the winless Bateman’s Bay Tigers, where the next year he turned things around, leading the team to the finals. This was again achieved in the same role for the Cairns Brothers Football team.
The final four games he is in charge of the Eels won’t provide Arthur with the opportunity for such a swift turnaround, but based on the team’s current form, he does hold the key to a formula that in the not too distant future will leave Arthur as hot property of the coaching world.
Arthur has only been signed until the end of the year, when current NSW Origin Coach, Ricky Stuart will take over the reigns in Paramatta. This development put smiles on many Eels fans, and a glimmer of hope has emerged.
Even though the Eels have finally shown their fans that they can play winning football, and given them belief for next season, the season still lays in front of them. They have only won five games so far and could be facing their first wooden spoon since 1972. With a few tough fixtures in store, the Eels could continue on the disastrous path its been following for the majority of the season, and the fans might just have to wait for next year. After recently signing supercoach Stuart, and with the biggest flop of 2012, Chris Sandow, beginning to show he might be worth the $500 000 plus contract he is on, next year might just be the year for the Parramatta Eels. Watch this space.