eels season preview

NRL expert Steve Green has put together his mammoth season preview for 2021. We’re running through every club… today it’s the Eels season preview.

2020 recap

The Eels were my value tip for 2020 and although they looked like a genuine contender for much of the season, they struggled when faced with the big guns later in the season.

A soft early draw and a dream run with injuries saw them explode out of the blocks. But guys like Mahoney and Moses failed to maintain their form later in the season. The injury to Brown also slowed their momentum.

There was still a lot to like about the Eels performances last year. Although they got bundled out in straight sets against the Storm and Souths, they ran into two in-form teams. Even then, they managed to score 24 points in both encounters.

However, the loss of Jennings to illegal drug use was symbolic of their fall from grace. I am intrigued to see how they bounce back in 2021. There has been a lot of player movement in the offseason, with Coach Arthur again showing he has a good eye for talent, in my opinion.

Eels season preview: Losses

Regular first graders in recent years Daniel Alvaro, Kane Evans, David Gower and Peni Terepo have all been moved on. Evans is the one guy I would have kept, but I think the Warriors were willing to pay more. George Jennings, Jai Field and Andrew Davey are other guys that would have been handy to have for depth. But overall they have not lost anyone that is not easily replaceable.

Eels season preview: Gains

Bryce Cartwright, Isaiah Papali’i and Keegan Hipgrave will be good bench options for the Eels forward pack in 2021. Michael Oldfield and Tom Opacic put pressure on the Eels centres pairing, where they are very vulnerable. I am keen to see what Nathaniel Roache can do off the bench. In my opinion, Mahoney should not be playing 80 minutes, as he needs to run the ball more in 2021. Roache is a great bench option to come on at 9.

Eels season preview: Rookie radar

Haze Dunster was given a debut due to the suspension of Michael Jennings last year. This call up was on the morning of the game and he came up against a red-hot Souths line up. While he did not do anything amazing in that game, the 21-year-old has been training the house down and with the Eels a bit short in the centres, Dunster could end up a permanent feature in the backline.

Eels season preview: Players to watch

Dylan Brown has been great ever since joining the top grade. He is tough and mature for his age, and he outplayed Moses throughout 2020 when he was fit. For the Eels to be contenders in 2021, he must continue to improve his form and look to replicate the dominance that Nathan Cleary showed in 2020. If he can dominate the organising, this will free up Moses to pop up and offer some ad lib attack.

Maika Sivo came back to earth in 2020. While he still scored a ton of tries, he also made some poor errors and did not make the metres needed of him. While Ferguson was even more of a letdown, the Eels desperately need their back three to fire if they are to make the Top 4 again in 2021.

Ryan Matterson is an amazing talent. I do not mean to sound disrespectful, but there is still a big question mark around his ability to withstand a head knock. Some guys are simply more prone to concussion issues and Matterson’s talent is tempered at times by the concussions he suffers. The Eels, with Matterson, Lane and Brown, have potentially the best back row in the competition. But with Davey gone, Matterson needs to play 80 minutes on a regular basis if the Eels are going to get the job done in 2021.

Eels season preview: Weaknesses

The Eels centres are where they struggled in 2020 and nothing has really improved overall. While Opacic is a solid defender and Oldfield is an experienced option, neither guy has proven themselves to be a top notch NRL quality centre. Waqa Blake is probably the number 1 centre at the club, but on his day he can be exposed massively with his defence.

Eels season preview: Strengths

With Paulo, Campbell-Gillard, Brown, Matterson and Lane, the Eels starting forward pack is awesome. With guys like Hipgrave, Stone, Kaufusi, Cartwright, Papali’I and Niukore, the Eels have plenty of depth and versatility. This will ensure the Eels can continue to play their offload-heavy style of footy.

Eels season preview: Ladder prediction

8th

NRL season previews

Manly
Dragons
Bulldogs
Broncos
Knights

Storm
Souths
Sharks
Warriors

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