Contract capers prove a blessing for Eels
When 15 Parramatta players entered the season off contract and with their futures clouded, it could have gone either way.
The pressure to perform could have proven stifling or it could have brought out the best in them. Thankfully, for the majority, it has proven to be the latter.
Parramatta has rebounded after a dismal 2018 season to be in contention for finals in 2019.CREDIT:AAP
Key players Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses have earned themselves new contracts, several long-serving players such as Tepai Moeroa (Waratahs) and Manu Ma’u (Hull FC) will leave on their terms, while the remainder are in the process of determining where they end up.
"In hindsight, having a lot of players off contract has been of benefit this season," Eels forward David Gower said. "For me, it’s just another year [being off contract], I’ve lived on that and it’s never been a problem, I’m happy to sing for my supper.
"But it was a new experience for a lot of our guys. We were under no illusions that if we didn’t perform we were going to be out of a job. Two [bad] years in a row, is there going to be another NRL club for you? Maybe not.
"Do you want to go overseas? Maybe, maybe not. There were a few guys who needed to take a long, hard look at themselves and re-evaluate where they were at as a player and a person, whether this life is for them.
"Luckily for us, the whole squad came back on November 1 very hungry and eager to work hard."
Such was the salary cap squeeze last summer that the Eels, in trying to retain Jarryd Hayne, were knocked back at the time because they only had $200,000 to offer. However, the departure of Corey Norman to St George Illawarra - Parramatta’s opponent for Sunday’s clash at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium - coupled with the huge list of free agents leaves the club as one of the few with cash to splash for the 2020 season. They have already snared former Panther Waqa Blake before the June 30 transfer window closed and are looking to bolster their pack with two props and a back-rower.
Parramatta had a three-year deal in front of Storm forward Christian Welch, although the terms will be altered - or the contract pulled altogether - now that the prop's 2019 season is over after he suffered a serious knee injury on Friday night. The Eels could also be in a position to accommodate Penrith’s Regan Campbell-Gillard or a player of similar quality.
While Bevan French (Wigan) is leaving and Daniel Alvaro has triggered an option to stay put, it remains to be seen where fellow free agents Michael Jennings, Brad Takairangi, Josh Hoffman, Tim Mannah, Greg Leleisiuao, Ray Stone, Matt McIlwrick and Andrew Davey end up.
Gower, who is himself off contract but close to re-signing for a further season, said the players needed to perform after the Eels finished last in 2018.
"I saw it through the pre-season last year, I felt we were a bit complacent," Gower said. "I felt that at times we were resting a little bit on finishing fourth and you can’t do that.
"We got a little bit embarrassed, we got humbled as a group. We’re all proud footy players here, no one likes losing, particularly when you know what sort of a side we are and what we’re capable of.
"Everyone just rolled into training on November 1, there were no complaints. We knew it was going to be hard, it was going to be hot, it was going to be tough, it was going to be long. Everyone ripped in with the right attitude."
The Eels currently sit in sixth spot and can cement their spot in the top eight with a win against the Dragons. During their victory over the Warriors, they injected captain Clint Gutherson into dummy half to give hooker Reed Mahoney a brief rest.
Mahoney backed the move but is hoping to again become an 80-minute player.
"Brad spoke to me about what happened on the weekend," Mahoney said. "Obviously I don’t want to come off but it’s about what is best for the team and myself.
"I probably had a better second stint coming on, I was more energetic and played pretty well in my second stint.
"I want to play 80 minutes but at the moment I just need to get the rest while I can. When we go into the back end of the season and the finals, I’ll be putting 80 minutes in."