‘Would you tackle Junior Paulo?’ asked the NRL in their Facebook post late on Friday night.
Like any sane human being, I answered God no to myself, do I look like an idiot?? I then succumbed to the powers of click bait for a good laugh at poor Jamie Buhrer before I exasperatedly wondered – what is Junior Paulo doing in green?
In this moment Junior Paulo became a big, green, unstoppable symbol of another season lost for my beloved Parramatta Eels. His early release to begin life in the nation’s capital an undeniable raising of the white flag by those at Pirtek Stadium.
How did we find ourselves here?
Although put on notice by the NRL’s suspended 4 point penalty last year, premiership dreams were starting to fill success starved, sleeping eel fan heads as the wins piled up and on field combinations continued to improve. The sky really did look the limit in 2016, little did we know that a banana peel was waiting for us.
The full details aren’t known to us all in the public gallery, but what we do know is that the Parramatta board had spent the last few years devising new and increasingly idiotic ways to circumvent the salary cap. These extra funds seemed to be used for the sole purpose of recruiting players on big money and continuing to pay them long after they stopped wearing blue and gold.
The NRL found that Parramatta significantly breached the salary cap in five out of six seasons. If cheating at this kind of level and being discovered wasn’t incompetent enough, those seasons brought a grand total of zero finals appearances, two wooden spoons and a season that required a last round win to avoid a third. That’s right, Parramatta had to cheat to finish last – twice!
In the wake of such blatant, albeit incompetent breaches, the NRL had no alternative but to come down hard on the club and they did. The board was banned, the club was fined $1mil and stripped of all points won to that point in 2016, effectively ending their season whilst leaving a small, unrealistic glimmer of hope, if they could become salary cap compliant again.
Some have suggested that the penalty was too light and point to the Melbourne Storm’s penalty in 2010 for comparison. Whilst understanding the argument I think it misses a few key points.
The first is that the Storm penalty was heavy handed and unfair. I don’t know what the point penalty should have been, but Melbourne should have been allowed to play for points in 2010.
The second is that whilst Storm’s fans had to endure a 2010 from hell and officially see two premierships stripped, they will always have the memories of seeing their team salute on the game’s most important day and that can never be stripped, nor can the premiership won by the same group a couple of seasons later.
In the wake of the penalties Parramatta fans were confronted with a good news / bad news situation.
The board who created the mess, doing what they could to prolong the saga, declared they were going to fight the penalties and received an injunction from the NSW Supreme Court to stop their bans taking place.
Coach Brad Arthur on the other hand gave the fans hope, declaring that the players were focused on achieving the impossible and winning the 12 out 15 necessary to qualify for the finals. Two losses, heartbreakingly on the siren against the Bunnies and in a wet, slogging, arm wrestle against the Storm followed, and the slight glimmer of hope was extinguished almost as soon as it was spotted.
If watching a potential premiership tilt become a train wreck wasn’t bad enough for Eels fans, they also had to watch the fire sale begin.
It’s for this reason that we can all laugh at Jamie Buhrer attempt to tackle Canberra’s Junior Paulo while Eels’ fans rue another season that slipped away and look forward again to next year.