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Shades of old Eels in confident new crop

It's only two rounds in but the extreme confidence on show in a very youthful Parramatta side reminds me of the one that started emerging around 1999-2000.

After two impressive wins, Parramatta's spine – the youngest in the NRL this year – is brimming with confidence.

The real pressure test for Dylan Brown, Reed Mahoney, Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses will come when the blowtorch is applied by the better teams, and that starts this Friday night against the premiers.

It's important to note that both of Parramatta's opponents so far have played poorly so it's too early to get carried away.

But what's also getting a bit overlooked in how well the young playmakers and Blake Ferguson are playing is just how good the forwards have been. With Shaun Lane and Marata Niukore on the edges and all the middle forwards like Junior Paulo, Dan Alvaro and Tim Mannah laying a good platform, it's really giving those young guys an opportunity to do their thing.

Match Highlights: Bulldogs v Eels

It reminds me a bit of the Eels sides of around 1999-2000 when they had players like Nathan Hindmarsh, Nathan Cayless and Mick Vella pushing their way into first grade.

I remember playing against the Eels at the end of 1999 in the Rabbitohs' final game before being kicked out of the comp and the last ever game of Mark Carroll's career.

Everyone looked up to Mark – he was our enforcer and had done everything in the game with his memorable performances in Origin and his running battles with Paul Harragon.

And the Eels were just lining up to take turns bashing him. Unfortunately he didn't have a lot of back-up and all these young blokes were just putting the biggest shots on him. They had a heap of these new young guys coming through in both the forwards and the backs with guys like Eric Grothe jnr, Jamie Lyon and Luke Burt who just had so much energy and enthusiasm and I can see a bit of that in the Eels this year.

Young guys with confidence get harder and harder to stop.

The question now for 2019 Eels is what happens when they come up against a team like the Roosters or Storm who do all the little one-percenters right and are so well drilled; that's when you can start to run into trouble and the inexperience can start to show.

They'll win a lot of games this year if they maintain this confidence but they should be looking forward to playing the big teams coming up. They might lose those games but they have so much they can gain out of the experience provided they can keep their heads.

If the Roosters get a couple of early tries on Friday, do you throw the game plan out the window and start to play ad-lib footy, which is what a lot of young blokes tend to do once the pressure is applied? Or do you maintain confidence in your game plan and focus on your execution because that's the biggest test for a young half like Dylan Brown or even for someone like Moses who is now trying to really establish himself as the senior playmaker for the first time.

Nathan Hindmarsh in 2000.
Nathan Hindmarsh in 2000. ©NRL Photos

The big problem if you throw the game plan out the window and start ad-libbing is that you can't build from there. You don't get to go into video on Monday morning and see what went wrong and how to make improvements to your game plan if you didn't stick to that plan.

It also comes down to coaching. If the players know their role, and right now it looks like they do, it comes down to the coach giving them the confidence to know if you have a few hiccups it's OK and you can just get back onto the task at hand which is a tremendous weight off your shoulders.

Getting a few wins under your belt early reaffirms to the playing group that you are on the right track, then as the confidence grows you can start to bring your own interpretation of your role and what your position is, adding nuance to the game plan and that's when those combinations really start to go to the next level.

Once you're really on top of your game that's when the no-look passes and those sorts of plays start to stick, you know where each other is going to be and that breeds even more confidence in your game plan.

It all starts in the forwards – if they're getting dominated there's not a lot the spine can do to pull it back but if they are creating time and space for the playmakers it makes their jobs a million times easier.

The Eels look like a team that is playing in harmony at the moment so I can't wait to see what they produce on Friday night.

Acknowledgement of Country

Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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