Parramatta fell agonizingly short of breaking the longest premiership drought in the NRL but will turn up again in 2023 with a squad capable of going one better.
There’s been plenty of chat around some of the departures at the Eels next season, particularly the losses of Reed Mahoney and Isaiah Papali’i, but Brad Arthur has also been busy on the recruitment front with a bunch of quality signings.
The Eels have a tough draw early so they will want to hit the ground running. In their advantage they’ll field the most experienced spine in the competition and a relatively familiar core side.
Predicted Round 1 team
- Clint Gutherson
- Maika Sivo
- Will Penisini
- Waqa Blake
- Bailey Simonsson
- Dylan Brown
- Mitchell Moses
- Reagan Campbell-Gillard
- Josh Hodgson
- Junior Paulo
- Shaun Lane
- Ryan Matterson
- J’Maine Hopgood
- Jacob Arthur
- Nathan Brown
- Jack Murchie
- Bryce Cartwright
Others: Jirah Momoisea, Haze Dunster, Sean Russell, Ky Rodwell, Makahesi Makatoa, Matt Doorey, Mitch Rein, Ofahiki Ogden, Sam Loizou, Wiremu Greig.
The best NRL tries from the Eels in 2022
- Squad spots filled: 27/30
Parramatta have a well-balanced squad filled with experienced depth so far for 2023 with three spots also left in their top 30 to fill before the mid-season cut-off date in August.
The Eels have been hit hardest with the departures of several forwards but in return have done well to recruit the likes of J’Maine Hopgood, Jack Murchie and Jirah Momoisea in return.
The trio have all played a handful of NRL games respectively, and like when Isaiah Papali’i arrived at Parramatta, there’s every chance Brad Arthur can turn those players into household names with more game time next season.
Hopgood in particular showed his potential when he started for Penrith in Round 25 last season and looms as a starting lock option.
New recruit Josh Hodgson (knee) is tracking well and in line to play his first post-ACL game back in the trials in February.
Haze Dunster is also on track from making a return to the field after a nasty leg injury in the pre-season trials that ruled him out for the entire 2022 campaign.
Bailey Simonsson (shoulder) underwent a reconstruction following his injury in the NRL grand final and will be touch-and-go for the season opener.
Most contentious position
The lock position and bench make-up loom as the biggest area that Brad Arthur will need to settle on. Reed Mahoney’s switch to the Bulldogs is a tricky one because the former Eel used to regularly churn out close to 80 minutes each week.
Josh Hodgson did similar prior to his injury in 2022, so it will be one to watch as to whether he is eased back into the game with an extra dummy half or utility on the bench.
Jakob Arthur has often played that role to back up the halves. To also note, Nathan Brown remains an option to replace Isaiah Papali’i in the starting forward pack via lock (Ryan Matterson to the back row) with J’Maine Hopgood also a genuine option to start in the No.13 jersey with Brown’s future still in question at the club.
Parramatta’s biggest strength is their starting side regardless of some of the small teething issues that will make up their 1-13.
With one of the best spine combinations in the competition and a forward pack that includes World Cup reps Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo, the in-form Shaun Lane, plus a stable lot of outside backs, Eels fans should feel confident they’ve got the players left to keep pushing forward.
Biggest question mark
How quickly can Josh Hodgson settle in and help spearhead this Eels team to the level that helped them get to the 2022 decider?
Hodgson shouldn’t feel too much pressure early but his injury at the Raiders has raised question marks around how long left he has in the game and whether he can get back to career-best form.
One of the best dummy halves England has ever produced, the Eels will be hoping their investment in Hodgson late in his career pays quick dividends.
- February 11: Eels v Panthers at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
- February 17: Eels v Knights at Industry Group Stadium, Central Coast