Parramatta came into the 2012 NRL competition as top four contenders. Well, at least in the eyes of the media, and club officials.
Kearney was billed as a future coaching superstar, and they’d acquired the talents of Chris Sandow – compared to the mighty Alan Langer as a youngster – from Souths. Big signings of Ben Roberts at halfback/five-eight and Willie Tonga in the centers also added a bit of weight to the argument that the Eels would end up at the opposite end of the table to 2011 when they were only one win off the taking the wooden spoon.
But despite the new faces Parramatta cant say they’ve been short of quality players. Luke Burt, Nathan Hindmash and Fuifui Moi Moi come to mind from the 2011 season. So far in 2012 they’ve got only 6 points on the competition table to show for their big spending. Two of which came from the bye. Just 2 wins to go with 10 losses has pretty much eliminated their chances of playing in the finals.
But the numbers don’t quite tell the whole story (they do give a good indication though!).
The Eels have lost by less the six points eight times. They’ve also rallied late in their recent games to go close after giving away big leads. One small spark of hope for Parra faithfuls is the players undying will to keep trying. On their day the Parramatta forward pack could roll any set of forwards in the comp. And when Sandow finally matches his skill set with effort he’d easily hold a place with the likes of Thurston, or Cronk in terms of an attacking threat. They do have the stock, experience, and willingness.
So what’s the problem?
Well, using the benefit of hindsight, it’s the same factors that we just listed. Sandow, a remarkable talent, can also be a virtual spectator. In some games this year the guy carrying the water will have run more meters . Ben Roberts puts his all in each time he plays. But he’s always been an erratic player crying out for a top level coach to help him fine tune the natural talent that he does have. Known for kicking out on the full, and at times weak decision making when at the helm, he is a much better player when he is complimenting another attack oriented half. Tonga was never going to be a game winner unless his halves and forwards were dominant. At times in his career Tonga has been shut down by larger defenders, and aggressive tactics. He’s a great player when he’s in a great team.
None of this has just come to light now that these three have made the move to the Eels. And nor is it their fault that the team has struggled to put up points this year. The team and a whole can take the blame for that. Included, and highlighted above everyone else has to be coach Kearney.
The NRL season is long, and plenty of teams have played their way into the finals despite poor starts. So while making the top-eight is unlikely, Kearney still has time to prove his coaching abilities, and the clubs faith in him during 2012. But while the signs are there with their win last weekend over the Sharks and the string of near-misses, they (the signs) still don’t look too convincing…yet.
Despite having plenty of success at international level with the Kiwis, Kearney is, in truth, still very much a newby. His world cup success had a huge amount to do with the input of the most experienced coach in the business Wayne Bennet. Without the mighty Queenslander by his side in the coaching booth he, and his teams have struggled.
The way that Parramatta have come from behind shows that they have more then enough quality on the field. But the fact that they take 60 minutes to play their way into a match shows that the team are not properly gelling. That they lack focus and direction early i a sure sign that the coaching isn’t setting them up to hit the field running. A squad with experience and skill such as this one will eventually start to click after enough time together. But against well drilled, well lead teams, it’s ineffective, park style football. All of it comes down to the coach.
Whether or not Kearney will be a good coach remains to be seen. If he does turn out to be one it’ll be a result of building up his experience and being fortunate enough have club officials back him for long enough to develop skill. The pity of it all is that the Parramatta management who have backed Kearney and have even looked at extending his contract with the club could well be investing in another club’s future success.
If Kearney is given the opportunity to learn from his mistakes and successes at the Eels, with the way coaches and clubs switch places it’s unlikely Kearney will be around long enough to repay the investment.
On paper and at times, on the field, Parramatta have what it takes to own a spot at the top of the premiership ladder. It’s in the changing sheds and on the training pitch that they seem to be suffering.