By David Riccio

A number of influential figures walked out on the Eels after the grand final loss. So, who steps up? Coach Brad Arthur opens up exclusively on 2023. Plus, their likely Round 1 team.

Eels coach Brad Arthur believes the club’s proven football factory will unearth a new batch of stars to keep their premiership window open.
In his first interview since Parramatta’s 28-12 grand final loss to Penrith eight weeks ago, Arthur has identified the “no names” he says can replace the departures of influential figures Isaiah Papali’i, Reed Mahoney, Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi.

“Our record shows that when a player comes to our club, they improve. And if they do leave, they leave a better person and a better player,” Arthur said.

“Nobody knew Reed Mahoney when we signed him, when Isaiah came to the Eels, no one really knew much about him, and Marata was in that same boat as well.

“So now we have a new group with an opportunity to do the same.”

Pack mainstays in 2022, Papalii, Mahoney, Niukore and Kaufusi played 103 games for the Eels out of a possible 112.

In essence, their impact was immense through their consistency and therefore key to the Eels’ grand final charge. With the quartet moving on to rival clubs in 2023, Arthur has holes to fill – and that has led to anxiety among Eels fans.

However, the head coach pinpointed forward recruit from the Knights Jirah Momoisea (eight NRL games), ex-Raider and Warrior Jack Murchie (40), former Bulldog Matt Doorey (18) and NSW Cup talent Toni Mataele, were at training with the lure of a starting back-row position.

“I told them I need them to be 80-minute players.

“I think they’re off the pace physically at the moment, compared to what our requirements are for a backrower. But that’s a good sign for our club because most players that come to our club don’t match our standards.

“So they’ve been told they need to be fitter.

“With our training, they’ll improve naturally.

“It’s no different to Isaiah and Marata and Shaun Lane, they all had to work when they arrived.’’

POMMY EEL

Veteran hooker Josh Hodgson, the club’s biggest signing, will be fit for round one after missing last season with a torn ACL.

Arthur said his back-up options were Mitch Rein and rookie Brendan Hands.

“In one week, I’ve seen the leadership of Josh and how he rubs off on his teammates,” Arthur said.

“He’s been terrific and he has a playing style that is suited to Parramatta.

“Every year we’ve had blokes leave and I’ve only ever worried about what was next, which is the next blokes who have come to work with us.”
OH NO, MATTO

Lock-forward Ryan Matterson confused the majority of the competition by his decision to accept a three-game suspension for a crusher tackle from the grand final instead of accepting a $4000 fine.

He will miss the Eels’ first three games against the Storm, Sharks and Sea Eagles.

Arthur said he’s got an idea who will cover Matterson’s early-season unavailability.

“We signed J’maine Hopgood from Penrith – he hasn’t joined us (at training) yet, but we’re looking forward to seeing him,” Arthur said.

“He was probably the best player in the entire NSW Cup, he just couldn’t get a run with Isaah Yeo in front of him.

“Like the other guys we’ve brought in, we’re more than happy to bring these guys in and coach them up and get the best out of them.’’

MOSES AND BROWN

The more it drags on, the playing futures of the Eels’ most influential playmakers threatens to develop into the biggest story over summer.

Both Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown are off-contract at the end of 2023, with rival clubs – including the Wests Tigers, Bulldogs and Dolphins – preparing major money plays.

The Eels coach shares a tight relationship with both players and without waxing lyrical, said he hoped both chose to stay.

“Both players are obviously a big part of this team and club, and I would love nothing more for them to stay,” Arthur said.

“They know exactly what I think of them and what we can do together – that’s all that matters.’’

POST-GRAND FINAL

In the aftermath of the Eels’ grand final loss, Arthur took an annual end-of-season holiday to Bali, where he reflected on the season while mapping a plan to go one step further in 2023.

“I’ve now moved on,” he said of the 28-12 defeat. “I’m worried about what is ahead of us.

“(Penrith) were too good for us. And they’ve been too good for the entire competition for the past three years now.

“I was gutted and disappointed in the result. But they played their best, we didn’t.

“I’m proud we got there, but I’m not satisfied.

“I know we’ve got plenty of drive left in us and I’m enjoying the opportunity to have our next wave of players come through.’’

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  • He sounds confident 

    that's good I guess, and no mention of nepo 👍

    • I think those new forwards will do a good job. My only concern is if/when Hodgson gets injured. Don't rate our back up hooker Mitch Rein at all. 

      • I think Rein was terribly unlucky thus seaon.  He didn't get enough minutes to be able to judge if his capable of stepping up or not , age isn't his freind , that's for sure and he obviously isn't as talented as Hodgson if he's fit. 

        Rein actually had a couple of good darts and looked threatening , but had the ball stripped twice and that was it , BA pretty much red penned him . Which would be fair enough if he hadn't let Waqa get away with his ridiculous amount of ball security errors.  

        Id have rathered Rein in DH than JA . He showed he could still add value if he fixes his ball security . Both examples were actually quite unlucky to be fair. 

        • BA definitely should have persisted with Rein longer than he did - he looked threatening like you said but looked frantic at the same time which suprised me given  his experience. 

        • Rein should have been given more chances in my view too; he's experienced and could have been useful.

        • I agree with Wiz, I think Rein got a short shift as well and can't believe he wanted to stay. Between him and Hands for the 14 is going to be locked in by the sound of that.....subject to further recruitment.

          • I think poor Mitch paid the price for El Niño in 2022 . I think BA just got sick of the Rein.

            • One of tyour best Wiz

          • You can add Cartwright to that list of getting low minutes. when he first joined he got more minutes but for some reason lucky to get 10minutes a game this year

          • That's BS  from BA, JA is clearly his preferred reserver hooker.

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