Arthur not on the rocks, says new Eels chairman

New Parramatta chairman Sean McElduff, who this week replaced Max Donnelly, delivers his gold-and-blueprint for the Eels to NRL.com chief reporter Michael Chammas.

He discusses the future of the organisation, including Brad Arthur's position as coach, the appointment of a head of football, the results of the club's review and when the Eels will decide on the make-up of their 2019 roster.

Brad Arthur

The board hasn't wavered in its support for Arthur to coach in 2019 despite a nightmare season.

As was evident with Des Hasler at the Bulldogs, the uncertainty surrounding a coach in the final year of his contract can have a negative impact on the organisation.

McElduff is adamant it won't be the case at the Eels as Arthur approaches his final year on contract.

"That's up to the CEO and the board to make sure they manage that situation," he said.

"And we will manage it. We've had plenty of noise this year and I think we've managed that pretty well. I don't know how many times we've been asked the question about Brad’s future and we've been consistent in that.

"Brad feels comfortable with that. We'll manage it. We'll assess it all the way along. On a quarterly basis like you do any business."

Eels coach Brad Arthur.
Eels coach Brad Arthur. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of several NRL coaches in recent months. None more so than Wayne Bennett.

The Eels had been linked with a play at Bennett, however McElduff refuted that claim.

"Brad Arthur is the right man for the job. We knew that before our review and it has only reaffirmed our view," he said.

"And even if he wasn't, I don't believe Bennett is at a stage in his career where he would suit our plans.

"Brad has got the respect of the players. The players have backed him. I know the players feel they are well prepared for game day. There's no noise out of the playing group about Brad. He deserves the opportunity to rectify what has happened this year."

Fans will judge Arthur on results in 2019. And while ultimately it will be the most important indicator for the board, McElduff said Arthur's future didn't solely rest on his ability to lead the Eels back to the finals.

"There's more than one KPI. Obviously on-field performance is a key element of that," he said.

"But the criteria is broader than that. He knows what the criteria is and we know what the criteria is and he will get judged on that.

"Hypothetically he can lose 10 players in the first week which would make that difficult to reach the finals. So there are factors he is in control of, and we'll judge him on the factors he is in control of."

The review

Parramatta are four weeks into the review of the club after a year to forget. It's the first time in a long time they have conducted a review, which McElduff wants to change in the future.

The review is expected to be finalised next month but the results have already started filtering back to the board, reaffirming some of the concerns that had already been raised.

Eels coach Brad Arthur.
Eels coach Brad Arthur. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"We've learnt we have to spend more money on our pathways," McElduff said.

"There's some talent in our junior ranks, we just have to get more of them into NRL. We have to look at the transition from elite juniors all the way into NRL. That's one area we will be focusing on. Every club has a salary cap, but our juniors are our competitive advantage.

"We need to make sure we maximise that competitive advantage. It has probably reinforced we need to spend more money on the football department."

The club was never out to ostracise people in the organisation with the review, rather find ways to improve a program that has clearly failed to fire.

"This is about improvement. It's not a witch hunt," he said.

"No one in the club is happy with where we are in 2018, particularly after a great year in 2017. We all expected to have another good year. There are a number of factors, not one. We just need to fix it by doing what the best sporting teams in Australia are doing well."

McElduff doesn't believe the club has a huge problem when it comes to its culture.

"In any business or team, whether Swans or Storm, they can tell you they can improve their culture," he said.

"Our culture, it's OK. But can it get better? Absolutely."

Head of football

The Eels will next week advertise for the role of head of football, with the aim of having someone in charge on November 1 just before pre-season.

"That is the most important hire we will make in the next 12 months," McElduff said.

"When Max came in we did go down the road of looking at head of football. We had 80 applicants but we just couldn't find the right person. They decided to do without. They thought they could handle it and then Bernie came on board and he picked up some of the responsibilities. Top four last year and we thought we had it covered.

Corey Norman (with ball) and his Eels teammates have had a tough 2018 season.
Corey Norman (with ball) and his Eels teammates have had a tough 2018 season. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

"The reality is the job of GM football is so big, having those responsibilities shared between the CEO and in particularly the coach … the role is too big. In hindsight we probably got that one wrong. The board and management have to own that. It's what we do next now. We'll be getting one and it's a critical leadership position for us."

McElduff said he wouldn’t be afraid to appoint someone from outside of rugby league.

"An NRL background is fantastic but we won’t restrict ourselves to the NRL. Someone who has experience in elite sports with outstanding leadership, management and an ability to build relationships."

Corey Norman and Jarryd Hayne

It's unknown whether either player will be an Eel in 2019. Parramatta have given Corey Norman the green light to look at his options elsewhere, while Jarryd Hayne and Arthur have agreed to wait until after the season to decide if they fit into each other's plans.

Chief executive Bernie Gurr will join Arthur and recruitment manager Peter Sharp at a board meeting in September to outline their plans for the roster in 2019.

"They are managing our future roster strategy and they'll come to the board in September and talk about their plans for 2019 and beyond," McElduff said.

"I wouldn’t take it as read that Corey Norman won't be here next year."

McElduff is a big fan of Hayne and is happy to wait until after the season to look at where he belongs in the club's plans.

Despite Hayne earning a bad rap for most of his career, McElduff hasn't been given any reason to be concerned about his influence on the club.

"From all reports I get, he's great to have around," he said.

"No one has said this is a problem. Everything I hear about Jarryd is positive. The game against the Rabbitohs when he broke into space, I'm not sure anyone in this club would have scored that try. He's a fantastic player.

"What I will say about Jarryd is that the last seven or eight weeks since he's come back he's been great. I'm happy for him because he had a tough run there early with injuries. I'm happy for him, the club and the team." 

Eels winger Jarryd Hayne.
Eels winger Jarryd Hayne. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

The new Western Sydney Stadium

The new stadium, which officials hope will be open in time to host the traditional Eels-Wests Tigers Easter Monday game, has been described as a game changer.

"I'm not sure there will be a better place to watch football," McElduff said.

As part of the move back to Parramatta, the Eels are in the process of finalising a deal that won't require them to take any matches to ANZ Stadium.

"We're finalising how that will work but the intention is to play all our games, bar the match in the Northern Territory, at the new stadium."

Facilities

Parramatta's training facilities leave a lot to be desired.

"What we've got are probably in the bottom 25 per cent," McElduff said.

"We as a board know we need to give them something better. The plan is a centre of excellence, but in the interim there are already plans afoot to get the current facilities into a state that's acceptable. That will be something we action. The review has confirmed that. You can take it that's what we'll do.

"The goal is to have a centre of excellence in five years."