Having passed the midpoint of the regular season, I wanted to provide a quick update on our Club including a couple comments on the current COVID situation.
As you are aware Greater Sydney is currently in lockdown until the 9th of July, with the NRL putting in place measures to ensure that the competition continues as scheduled during what is hopefully a short disrupted period. At this stage our away game against Penrith this Friday night will take place without fans in attendance.
Our next home game against Canberra is scheduled for Thursday the 22nd of July, by which time we hope the health measures undertaken by the government will have had their desired effect and we can have our members and fans at Bankwest Stadium. We will provide an update closer to the date once the situation becomes clearer.
During what continues to be a difficult and uncertain period for us all, I want to thank the nearly 32,000 Eels supporters who have signed up as members in 2021. We have now broken our membership record for the ninth year in a row, have passed 30,000 for the first time in the Club’s history, and currently have our highest home crowd average in over two decades. We are incredibly grateful for the passion and commitment that you show as members of our Club – your support is always appreciated by our players, coaches and staff and it will certainly be a big advantage to have the Blue and Gold army behind us at the back end of the season.
Led by our Head Coach Brad Arthur and Captain Clint Gutherson, we’ve had a pleasing start to the season so far, with 12 wins from our first 15 games. Our 2nd grade team has also had a strong first half of the season, currently sitting 2nd on the ladder, highlighting the quality of the depth we have in our 2021 squad.
Although we are sitting in the top 4, the coaches and players know that a strong start is only the beginning of our journey. The determination and hard work our players and coaches put in on a daily basis is something we should all be proud of and we are all excited by the challenge and opportunity that lies ahead in the second half of the season.
Our on-field strategy is clear, we want sustained success and through a team built around the talent we develop through our Elite Pathways, complimented with smart external recruitment. This year we have already seen the debut of our Eels juniors Jake Arthur and Sean Russell and great contributions from new recruits Isaiah Papali’i, Tom Opacic, Bryce Cartwright, Keegan Hipgrave, Joey Lussick and Wiremu Greig.
Amongst others, we have extended the tenure of Mitchell Moses, Nathan Brown, Ryan Matterson, Maika Sivo and Tom Opacic in recent months, and we are focused on retaining the nucleus of our squad for the next few years while always looking to add talent to the roster. Our recruitment team has assembled a strong roster and our management of this part of the Club is in very capable hands.
We made the exciting announcement this month that we will have our first elite women’s team in the NRLW competition this year. The decision was based on the importance of representing one of the largest female supporter bases in the NRL, and ensuring our development club philosophy extended to our female pathways players who will now have the opportunity to play in the Blue and Gold in an elite national competition. While there is a lot of work in assembling our NRLW program for this year, it’s important to underline that we have a long term commitment to develop an elite sports program for women that rivals any sport in Western Sydney.
This includes building the largest community rugby league facility in Australia that will provide dedicated community and elite facilities for all of our male and female football programs. Two new playing fields are due for completion in the 2nd half of this year and we are aiming to start building our community centre and match venue in 2022 which will provide us with new state of the art facilities for our elite pathways and NRLW programs. We are also currently finalising plans for our NRL and NRLW Centre of Excellence and I will provide an update on this progress later in the year.
I’d also like to update you on how our Club is tracking financially. Despite the challenges of last year, the Club has seen significant growth and success across the commercial areas of the business. Key to this has been the support of our Members and partners and this has led to us once again heading towards a positive financial result in 2021. As I have mentioned previously our aim as a Club is to be self-sufficient and ensure that we can drive profits back into the development of our football programs and delivering benefits to our community. While the recent lockdown may have an impact as it will on all businesses, I am confident that with your support, we have created a strong foundation that will see our Club continue to head in the right direction.
As always, thank you for your unwavering support and commitment to the Eels, stay safe during the lockdown period, and we look forward to supporting our NRL and NRLW teams together over the months ahead.
Go the Eels!
Chief Executive Officer