BA interview in DT

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.

I thought we chased improvement in defence (in 2020) and we ended up being a top four team defensively. But the thing that probably let us down was that in the two big games (in the finals against Melbourne and Souths), even though we had some circumstances around it with positional changes and injuries, defensively we got caught out. We scored four tries in both games which should be enough to win a final.
 

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.

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        • It's funny the injury thing because the season previous we lost Dylan Brown for what 12 weeks and still made the 2nd week of the semi's.Same this year we lost Moses for a bit of time and basically lost Fergo Sivo and Jennings all at once.

          I mean you can't make excuses I guess and BA never did but when you lose experience and strike in key spots for a significant amount time I don't care what team your talking about there is an effect.You just have to hang on in those periods and find ways to win.

      • I have to disagree with you Adam

        Injury plays a massive part in how a team goes.

        Yes every team has them but are they the same position and do they have a quality replacement.

        When we lost Moses we didn't have a quality replacement hence the reason he was rushed back in when it was obvious his Injury hadn't fully healed. 

        You take any teams top flight halfback out and replace them with guys like Field or Smith and you aren't going to travel to well.

        • I don't think you are grasping what it is that I am saying. Of course injuries affect a teams success or otherwise. Like I said "a reason for suboptimal performance".

          Like Tad and Super have both elluded to it's the mental side of things, how you respond to adversity. The successful sporting organisations in the world just find a way of getting it done more often than not. And that is part of their culture and why they are so successful. They don't roll out a whole host of excuses for why they didn't win. 

          The storm have been mentioned numerous times in this blog. It isn't like Munster didn't have his injury problems (knee) during the season. Does that make sense?

          • I do grasp what you are saying Adam but I still stand by what I said.

            Yes Munster had his knee problems but Melbourne had far superior back up players than we did.

            I do agree to a point that the mental side of things is a part of it but if the talent isn't there to begin with then no amount of mental preparation will overcome a talentless players short commings.  

        • At one point in the season Storm had 11 (or possibly 13) of their top 30 OUT injured at the same time.

          Eels basically played a second tier Storm team when we beat them.

          That is all I have to say BEM.

      • In 15 the Roosters were minor premiers, in 17 finished 2nd but the year between came 15th. Injury  and a lack of depth decimated their year. Injury most definitely is an excuse 

    • BEM, are we talking "hate" as you put it, or are we talking the truth that Moses has not shown he is the man to run the team, therefore instilling a high degree of mistrust in his ablities?

      On that note I certainly do not "hate" Brad Arthur, but I do have an exceedingly high degree of doubt he can take the Eels all the way to the top and ever be anything more than an also ran along with Brian Smith.

      Both scenarios are based on historical evidence over the past few years.

      Ben Roberts was arguably one of the best halves we have ever seen, but only showed his talent about 5 games per year.

      Tim's Myth is another who had it all but gave us very little.

      Moses has shown he belongs in that sort of company, not up with the Cronks, Thurstons or Lockyers.

      All the potential in the world plus $5.50 still only gets you a coffee at a Cafe, nothing more.

  • With respect to Moses, he may not be the best halfback in the comp but is comfortably in the top 5 and is a damned good player. Whenever we get blogs such as these which either bag Moses, bag Arthur or both, very rarely do we hear an alternative, viable solution. In the many Sack BA blogs, there's never really been a sensible alternative coach proposed who is available right now and who would do a much better job than BA.

    Similarly, with respect to Moses, most teams cling to their halfbacks for grim death and it is very hard to extract a halfback from a team when in the prime of their playing career. Again, I come back to the fact that we have on of the top 5 halfbacks in Moses so unless you can pull Cleary out of Penrith, DCE out of Manly or George Williams out of Canberra, I don't see the viable alternative.

    Plus, we also know it takes several years for halfbacks to fully mature so getting a rookie well just set us back years. 

    We do have a young gun in Dylan Brown who is improving all the time and will hopefully have a big year this year.

    Moses isn't the problem!

    • I think the basis of a premiership winning side is there. I think it needs a better approach from the mental side of the game, I think we need an appropriate replacement for Jennings and we obviously need some of our new recruits to perform.

      • Good points, Super. 

        We lost games in 10-20minute intervals, critical moments, where we lost our way, in different ways.

        BA mentioned the importance of 'owning the big moments', suggesting that would come down to "more trust", drilling, as well as the natural evolution of our relatively young spine. 

        Lombardi also talked about the half a dozen 'big moments', being the difference between winning and losing, and believed and that the mental side made the difference, assuming players were in peak physical condition. 

        Trust and confidence in each other, for the team to be one, is arguably more mental than physical, IMO.

        What kind of mental coaches or sports psychologists do we have on board, anyone know?

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