Dyldam Parramatta Eels Under 20s Head Coach Steve Hales has given his thoughts on the opening seven rounds of the Holden Cup, and the while Hales knows his Blue and Gold side can match it with the competition’s best, he admits his charges have been hurting themselves with ‘patchy’ performances early in the season.
The Eels Under 20s side holds a 3-4 record from the opening rounds of the Holden Cup, with victories over the Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Newcastle Knights, and whilst there have been plenty of positives, Hales is looking for a more consistent performance from his group of talented youngsters.
“We have had some really positive moments in games and some not so positive moments. We are not accepting that at the club, because we talk about consistency and not settling for mediocrity,” Hales said.
“For us it’s about going out there and producing the same sort of effort we had last week, each and every week for every minute of each game.”
“Our best effort at the moment proved we can compete with the top teams in the competition but we are hurting ourselves in patches of the game.”
Whilst they have showed positives, the Eels currently sit 11th place on the table, and Hales knows that the side needs to improve when they take on the outright competition leaders the Brisbane Broncos this weekend.
The Head Coach knows the tough will be clash and he will be looking for his side to remain competitive for the for the full 80 minutes.
“We have identified the last 20 minutes of games as an area that has hurt us and it has been a real focus for us to make sure we are training hard so when we are in those pressure moments in a game, we are playing our best footy and not falling away” Hales said.
“It’s a massive challenge for us this weekend against Brisbane. It will be a great test for us and one that we are looking forward to and one that I believe we are up for.”
Hales has named a reshuffled line-up week in week out throughout the season, and whilst partially strategic, his side has a healthy competition for spots with players stepping up when others have been ruled out through injury.
“The changing line up has been a bit of everything,” Hales said.
“We were hurt at the start of the year losing our two captains (Josh Aloiai and Jeff Markus) in the first half of the game of Round 1 which was pretty tough, and we have had players go to NSW Cup.”
“You see that a lot in the Under 20’s, there is a lot of rotation, but with that being said, it has been an opportunity for other boys to come in and take that opportunity,”
The opportunity Hales speaks about was evident in forward Alex Twal and the rest of the forward pack.
The forward has led from the front taking on the captaincy in Aloiai and Markus’s absence, and Hales has been impressed with the sides performances after losing two vital players.
“Losing Josh and Jeff early was a big loss,” Hales said of the Round One injuries.
“It is very hard to replace players of their calibre but it hasn’t been an excuse for us. We are sending 17 players out on the park and we expect 17 to go out and represent Parramatta the absolute best that they can.”
“It’s no excuse but we are obviously looking forward to having them back this week because they will be a big help to our team” Hales added.
One of the standout players for the Blue and Gold in 2015 has been 19 year old Bevan French, who made his debut in the Holden Cup this year, starting the season in the halves before being shifted into fullback.
“Bevan French is an exciting player and someone that is definitely improving week to week and that has come down to his hard work,” Hales said of his fullback.
“He is a pretty diligent boy, he gets to training, really eager to learn and for him it’s just about being used to this environment. He has come down from the country, so for him this is all new and exciting, and I think he is starting to get himself right off the field and it is paying dividends for him on the field.”
“He is a big asset to our team, he is playing some good footy I am sure there is plenty of improvement for him to come,” Hales added.
Along with the youth and exuberance that French brings, Hales has also had the luxury of bringing experience and leadership to his side through halfback Zach Dockar-Clay after his stint in the NSW Cup.
“Zach is great for the boys. The big thing with Zach is not only his experience but the energy he brings to our team,” Hales said of his halfback.
“He came back last week and he loves and embraces a leadership role and I know the boys love playing next to him and that’s a big asset to a player. The boys really admire him on and off the field and he really great to have with our team.”
Hales will look to improve on his 3-4 record this weekend when his side takes on the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, however the Head Coach is confident looking into the near future, with the squad soon to be boosted with more talented youngsters from the Eels SG Ball side.
“It is exciting for our team knowing that we have some really good 18 year olds coming through,” Hales said.
“It is disappointing that they [SG Ball] had a heartbreaking loss on the weekend but for our team they will definitely bring some energy and enthusiasm and they are a talented young group so we are looking forward to having them.”
The Eels Holden Cup side take on the competition leaders on Saturday April 25 with kick-off at 5:45pm.