Next weekend the 16 NRL Clubs will all converge in New Zealand to take part in the Auckland Nines. Where has the time gone? It only seems like yesterday that Corey Norman held aloft the highly-coveted trophy, raising Parramatta fans hopes for a year to remember. Unfortunately, what followed was 12 months they’ll never forget.
After the glory and acclaim that an Auckland Nines victory brings, it was a year of losing for the Eels.
Among other things, the Pride of Parramatta lost $11 million, their biggest signing in a decade – who was also their captain, their five-eighth to a season ending suspension for drug possession, their first-string hooker, their man-mountain prop, an international second rower, a centre, a winger, their former captain who had a ‘life-time’ agreement to play at the club, their chairman, their board, 12 premiership points and with them the chance to play finals, their home ground (temporarily), oh and the Auckland Nines title for good measure too.
There was meme floating around mid-season which had a counter like a workplace incident board, but instead of days between accidents it was counting those between Parramatta scandals.The monotonous regularity with which the Eels kept resetting the clock made this one particularly galling for Parra fans. The club has two players currently before the courts answering domestic violence charges, signed another player who has been convicted of similar charges, Vai Totai became a former Eel after glassing a bikie and going into hiding, and then just this week Peni Terepo was convicted of careless driving and refusing a blood alcohol test. It has truly been death by 100 self-inflicted cuts.
Having to deal with circus like conditions, it is hard to believe that Brad Arthur and his team would have actually qualified for the finals last year, had it not been for the salary cap penalties. How long though can they perform in a vacuum, isolated from the chaos around them? That said, how long do they continue seeing their players as defendants in criminal proceedings before they question their recruiting and player welfare processes?
With that said, lets cast our eyes forward to the footy, or kind of footy, or whatever you want to call the competition taking place next weekend. The Eels have brought a different looking squad to last year’s competition winning team. However, with 2016’s stars Bevan French, Corey Norman and Semi Radradra on board, the Eels will again be a team to beat in the carnival of footy.
Whether they are a chance to win it or not, the fact that it provides a respite from the seeming endless barrage of off-field drama is reason enough for this Eels fan to happily watch the Nines next weekend. You just never know which young player might emerge from the T20 of Rugby League, last year it was Bevan French and he might just have been one of the very few bright spots of a very miserable 2016. I would most definitely welcome another this year.