Parramatta produced an almighty turnaround after a disappointing 2018 wooden spoon season, proving near-unbeatable at home and returning to the finals on the back of a few smart pieces of recruitment.
The loss of Semi Radradra from 2017 was comfortably offset by hulking wingers Blake Ferguson and Maika Sivo, Junior Paulo and Shaun Lane added some needed size to the pack and the misfiring halves combo was split up following Corey Norman's departure with Mitch Moses given the keys to the side.
The difference was almost instantaneous; Moses evolved into the player Lebanon coach Brad Fittler thought he could be after a whirlwind 2017 World Cup with a league-high 24 try assists in the 2019 season, the back three were arguably the most effective set-starting trio in the NRL and the club won its first finals clash since 2009 with a record-swamping demolition of Brisbane.
Home & Away record
9-3 at home, 5-7 away
The new Bankwest Stadium was basically Parramatta's 18th man during home games as a parochial crowd cheered the blue-and-golds to a stunning 9-3 home record – the equal-best in the NRL alongside minor premiers Melbourne and premiers the Roosters.
Their away woes weren't as bad as the horror 0-12 result from last year but five wins and seven losses left them with the equal-worst road record of the top eight sides and the club's ongoing Jekyll-and-Hyde efforts remain a hurdle if they want to emerge as a genuine premiership force.
Post-contact metres aren't the be-all and end-all but the ability punch a defensive line and drive a few more metres can be extremely handy, particularly in yardage sets. It's telling the four clubs that conceded the fewest finished in the top four.
In this category the Eels were middling at best; no Parramatta players figured in the NRL top 10 for most PCM per carry or per game with Maika Sivo's 45.1m per game and Waqa Blake's 3.56m per carry the club's best.
The Eels were seventh and eighth respectively for PCM per game and per run on a club-by-club basis and fifth- and sixth-best respectively in both categories when it came to limiting opposition PCM.
Tries scored by channel
With left-side winger Maika Sivo nabbing 20 tries to top the season scorers' list it's no surprise the left flank was Parramatta's most profitable channel, with 26 of their 90 four-pointers.
The far right edge was next best with 24 as Blake Ferguson (nine tries) along with the likes of Brad Takairangi and Josh Hoffman enjoyed that channel, while there were 20 more tries straight up the middle with the likes of Reed Mahoney and Clint Gutherson sniffing around the ruck.
Tries conceded by channel
The Eels' left flank and middle channel were almost as busy in defence as attack, conceding the bulk of the Blue & Golds' tries with 19 apiece.
However given the left centre channel was fairly tight (eight tries conceded) it was the right side that was flimsier overall with 16 coming through the centre channel and 17 on the flank for 33 total, compared to 27 total on the left.
Tries conceded from penalties
The ability to respond well to adversity was not a strength for the Eels in 2018 but they made strides in 2019, conceding just 21 tries in the set following a penalty – just one off a trio of league-leaders.
That was precisely half their previous year's tally of 42 when they were equal-worst in the competition.
All up tries after penalties made up just 27% of their tries conceded. It also helped that the Eels were relatively well behaved with 140 penalties against ranking them equal fourth-best in that department.
Metres gained from offloads
You can debate the merit of the oft high-risk strategy of offloading in a tackle given minor premiers Melbourne made less ground from offloads than any other side, but five of the eight most prolific offloading teams made the finals in 2019 and none offloaded more, nor profited more, than Parramatta.
For whatever reason, the Eels seem to be one of the teams that struggles to get results playing percentage footy compared to a more enterprising style and that free-flowing confidence was certainly a hallmark of their 2019 turnaround.
All up the Blue & Golds gained more than 100 metres per game from offloading at 8.2m per pass, from 302 offloads – well clear of the Bulldogs (299 offloads for 86.4m per game). Only the Roosters (8.5m per offload) got a better result per offload and they were certainly judicious, making the second-fewest offloads (191) and just the fifth most metres per game at 67.5m.
Skipper Clint Gutherson in support was easily the main benefactor, gaining 426 metres across the season from receiving offloads while unsurprisingly it was the likes of Junior Paulo (423 metres for the season), Manu Ma'u (404m) and Shaun Lane (254m) throwing the offloads that caused the damage.
The Eels finished mid-table for goal-kicking, as the seventh-best of the seven teams to finish at 80% of higher (80.4%). Mitch Moses had his radar working early in the season but tailed off a bit in the latter rounds but it ended up not being significant.
The Eels are the only club that used just one goal-kicker all season with Moses playing every minute of the season for the Eels (the Raiders via Jarrod Croker would have been the second but for an 80th-minute conversion given to Sia Soliola in round 20).
Had Moses kicked every single goal in 2019 it would have made little difference in the end; only a one-point loss to Brisbane in round 24 would have been reversed but the extra two points would not have elevated the Eels higher than their fifth-place ladder finish, though it would have demoted Brisbane to ninth meaning the Eels would have played Wests Tigers in the home elimination final. Given the way that one panned out the Eels would be happy to leave things as is.
Opposition seven tackle sets
Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown had the ball on a string in attacking range in 2019, conceding just 12 20-metre restarts all year (from seven kicks travelling dead and five caught in-goal). That is three fewer than the next-best Sharks and less than half what the league-worst Broncos and Dragons (25 each) gave up.
While there is growing support for the contentious rule to be altered, currently a seven-tackle set from an attacking kick is one of the biggest momentum-changing plays in the game as a team goes from a try-scoring situation with momentum to potentially being forced into defending an attacking kick seven plays later, and the Eels were better than anyone at avoiding that problem in 2019.
For a deeper dive into Parramatta's success with short range kicking, click here.
Run metre differential
As discussed above the Eels weren't dominant in terms of post-contact metres but their total metres figure was excellent, trailing just the year's two standout teams, the Storm and Roosters. Their metres conceded per game was also comfortably inside the top half of the competition, giving them a net result better than any side other than the above-mentioned powerhouses.
The Eels' third-best 1651 metres per game was married to their sixth-best 1545 conceded for a net per game of +106 metres per game better than their opposition. The Storm (+283m) lapped all comers while the Roosters were also dominant at +124m.
Underlining the significance of this metric is that seven of the best eight teams for run metre differential finished in the top eight (the Panthers and Broncos are the two teams that would swap places). With big backs starting sets well and an underrated forward pack doing its job around the ruck the Eels were able to stay in – or win – the arm-wrestle more often than not.
Dummy half runs
Young Eels hooker Reed Mahoney had a breakout season, finishing with the second-most tackles effective of any player with 1138, behind only Cam McInnes (1146), putting himself in the Origin conversation and ending the year with a green and gold jersey in the Australia under-23s team against France.
A feature of his game was a lack of hesitation from dummy-half whether passing, running or kicking. He was certainly selective when running, with the Eels registering the second-lowest dummy-half runs (7.7 per game) and third-lowest dummy-half run metres (71m per game).
Kangaroos hooker Damien Cook is a unique talent in this department with 110 scoots from dummy-half but with the next three most prolific dummy-half runners being Cameron McInnes (77), Cameron Smith (73) and Josh Hodgson (61), there is an argument the four best hookers in the game are the four most prolific runners from dummy-half which could be an area for the Junior Kangaroo to work on next season.