NRL 2021: Q&A with Parramatta Eels coach Brad Arthur - talking Mitch Moses, Bryce Cartwright and Andrew Johns
In an exclusive interview, Brad Arthur speaks candidly about under-fire Mitchell Moses and why he has placed extra trust in Andrew Johns.
Brad Arthur is convinced there is not a behind-the-scenes push to oust him from the Parramatta Eels despite ongoing speculation that his position is under mounting pressure heading into the new NRL season.
In a wide-ranging interview, Arthur also spoke candidly about his under fire star halfback Mitchell Moses, declaring: “I am right behind him 100 per cent”.
But he also explained why he has put extra trust in Andrew Johns to help take Moses’s game to the next level in 2021.
Arthur also makes no secret Blake Ferguson “wants to be better”, and explains the reason the Eels have gambled on Bryce Cartwright who “has had enough of treading water”.
Q: 2021 is the 40th anniversary of Parramatta’s first premiership in 1981 and it will be 35 years since the last in 1986. From your perspective, does that sense of history ever weigh on you as coach of the team with the NRL’s longest premiership drought?
BA: No, every year we have the same ambitions as every other club and we feel like we are getting closer. But we know that we still have a lot of improvement in us moving into the 2021 season. And there is no point hiding from it, everyone is desperate for this club to be successful and we have shown signs of it. But premierships is what it is all about.
Q: This will be your eighth season in charge. I saw where you came from and the mess the club was in, and you’ve done an outstanding job rebuilding it. But looking ahead, now that you have established yourself as a top four side where does the improvement come from?
Obviously experience and time spent together. You know, Dylan Brown is 30 (NRL) games. Reed Mahoney’s 50 games. Our captain, Clint Gutherson, 114 games. So it is just that evolvement of the spine. The extra tutelage of Andrew Johns, that he continues to work with those guys. Us learning how to own big moments of big games. That is where the improvement has got to come.
Q: What about Mitch Moses. How do you break down his season and were you disappointed with the way he finished the year or do people expect too much of him?
Well, the expectations are real and the expectations he has to accept, and he does. But this last year Dylan Brown evolved and got more involvement, so that sort of takes away a bit of possession from Mitchell. (And) our left side was pretty dominant early with Gutho there.
But since Mitchell has come to our club, and I am right behind him 100 per cent, but since Mitchell has come to our club he came as just a free-running footballer. But he now has learned how to control and manage games. He knows how to kick teams to death. His kicking game is excellent. He is still working on his defence in the system. He is getting better and better at that. He knows how to play tough. But what he has got to do now is he has to put all those ingredients into one season.
At times I thought maybe through the extra pressure from us of managing the team he forgot about his own game. Now we have just got to get the balance right and that is part of what Andrew is going to help him with as well.
Q: I was going to ask you about that because in that final game against Souths I think he ran for 34m and Dylan was 133m. But I’ve been wondering, if you would consider flipping their roles going forward, to give Dylan that extra responsibility and maybe give Mitchell a bit more freedom?
Yeah, but then that would take away from Dylan’s game. Mitchell wants that role. He wants to do that.
Q: To own the team?
Well, not so much own the team, but he likes to be controlling. Now, he just has to get the balance right and trust everyone else in the team, that they know what they need to do and they’ve got to do their job to allow him to do his job. And what he is really good at is his running game. So it is getting the balance right.
He has gone from being a real off-the-cuff type player to (now) he is controlling the team. You know, he got knocked (in 2019) because we would win by 30 or we got beat by 30 and that was his fault. This year he has managed to have us in every contest and we have won games on the back of his kicking game. We have won games on the back of his goal kicking. We have won tight games that we lost last year and for mine we didn’t win one week big and get beat the next week big. We were in every game.
Q: I might be wrong but it seems when he runs the ball you are a better side?
Definitely. We know that, he knows that. But there is lots of things that go with that too. You need possession. You need your forwards to be doing a good job. And if you have a look at the games where he did run it was mainly when he had Dylan there. The last 12 games I think they played together six times.
Q: Dylan really seems to have that calm demeanour where it looks like he would relish extra responsibility?
Well that might be your opinion, but we don’t see that. He is more of a free-willed player who likes to take his opportunities. And he is getting better and better with extra responsibility but he is not ready yet to step up and run the team. It allows Dylan to play what he sees and run the footy because he is very powerful and strong. I think they complement each other well. It is just we have to get the balance right.
Q: What about Reed Mahoney. How’s he tracking in your opinion?
He is training really well. At the moment he has just got past 50 games as well. Hopefully now he has got some more help around him and there is more depth to take a bit of pressure off him. His initiation in the NRL was playing 80 minutes each week and racking up 50 or 60 tackles, all the effort areas. So it is a long, gruelling season. Hookers get targeted. He is no different.
Q: Of course Gutho had a great year. Like you said he’s just cracked 100 games and he is such an inspiration to the team. But what are his goals moving forward?
Well, we sat down at the start of the year and we had a talk about a few things that he needed to do which he did do. Moving forward I am sure he wants to replicate that consistency he played with. And I am sure the next part of it is that he wants to take a lot of accountability and responsibility around our performances every week. He is a winner and he wants to win every week, and he was disappointed that we couldn’t win one of those games when we probably put ourselves in a position in both of those games in the finals to win.
Q: You certainly did because you led both games. Just going back to the morning of that semi-final against Souths when you found out about Michael Jennings. You handled that so well publicly that day. You were so upbeat. You said the players were upbeat. They started really well in that game. But I’d imagine when it first happened you would have been shattered?
Yeah, I was disappointed. I was concerned for Michael. It would have been tough for him. I didn’t know all the circumstances. There was a lot of unknowns. But I had to not worry about that. I had to worry about what was going to happen and how we got our heads around it. And when I spoke to a few senior players and I spoke to Haze (Dunster) and I spoke to Waqa Blake about partnering Haze, the excitement in all the boys was, ‘we will get it on and we will be right’. Then when they bounced into the dressing sheds they were upbeat and they were ready to go and our start was a reflection of that. We just lost our way a bit in the second half.
Q: If Jennings doesn’t return what are your best options to fill that centre spot?
Don’t know. That’s a good question. I don’t really have any options at the minute. The club is still waiting or don’t know where it is all at.
Q: Physically where is Blake Ferguson at with his knee and how much did that hold him back?
He is still rehabbing that at the moment. Him and Waqa had some clean-outs.
Q: Do you think that held him back this last season?
Look, Fergo knows himself he wants to be better this year.
Q: Defensively you had some dramas on the edges.
We just lost a bit of trust at times, that’s all.
Q: How do you fix it?
We just have to keep practising and drilling it at training and make sure everyone is buying into our systems. At times we lost our way with some trust there. But overall it was an area we wanted to improve and we finished in the top four or top three of points against so it was a big improvement for us. But we know for us to take the next step we have to be better again. We need to be able to do it in the big moments and the big occasions and when it counts.
Q: You’ve signed Keegan Hipgrave and Bryce Cartwright to add to what’s already an impressive pack. Everyone knows at his best Bryce is a real X-factor. But did he say anything that convinced you to give him a shot and that he could turn around his career?
I just like where he is at in his career. He is 26. He hasn’t reached the potential that he should and probably made the progress (expected) when he initially started. The fact that he knows, not that it is his last opportunity, but he knows that he needs to make something of his career because he is a talented player. So we just have to put him in the right environment. He is a great trainer. He is training hard and doing a lot of work in the pre-season. So I have just seen the determination and I have seen a real willingness and honesty about himself. He wants to make something out of his career. He has had enough of treading water.
Q: Where do you play him because you have a pretty fair back row as it is?
Yeah, well, it is good. It is nice healthy competition. Obviously back row is his best spot. He is a back-rower and I think he needs to learn to play like a back-rower and not a five-eighth.
Q: Ain't that the truth. What about the next generation coming through. Who is impressing you so far during pre-season and what names would you throw up as the ones to watch?
I am very reluctant to throw names. But we have maybe eight or nine kids in the 18 to 20 age group that are training with us at the moment in full-time. They have been nice and energetic and they are hanging in. It is tough for them but they have a real sense of gratitude about how lucky they are to be here and they are making the most of their opportunity.
Q: Just on your own position. Even though you have a contract until the end of 2022 and you finished third this last season, there has been so much said that you’re under the pump because the finals record hasn’t been flash in recent years. My question, has there been any internal conversations relating to your future?
No. The club is right behind me. I just as much, if not more than anyone else, want to win finals games. And that is what we are here for. But we have got a big job to do for 25 weeks before we worry about that. But definitely we have to win finals games.
Q: You sound really excited. You’re in an upbeat mood?
I am pumped and ready to go. I am happy with our squad. I was proud of our boys. I thought we played some really tough games last season. We finished third. It is the highest the club has finished in a long, long time. I know in the two finals we went back-to-back losses. But I can’t remember the last time this club ever went through a season without back-to-back losses in normal fixtures. The boys made a real point of making sure week-to-week we backed up our performances.
Q: So every indication is the team will improve further?
We have to make sure it does but there is no reason why it can’t.
Q: Good luck.