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CEO Update | June

Dear Members,

As we head into our first bye for the season and the Origin period, I would like to provide an update on our football programs.

NRL Update  

The first 12 Rounds of the competition have seen our team get off to a good start to the season as we build nicely heading into the second half of the year. There have been some strong performances and great wins against tough opponents, but one of the key positives of this period has been the ability of the squad to perform at such a high level while withstanding some key injuries.  

Thankfully as we head into the second half of the season, we have now seen the return of Waqa Blake, Marata Niukore, Sean Russell and Maika Sivo, which provides the squad with much needed depth as we head into the most important part of the season.  

Origin Representatives  

In a major positive for our Club, we have had three players – Junior Paulo, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Ryan Matterson, named for the NSW State of Origin team with all three on track to play in Origin 1.

In addition to Junior, who already has 7 games under his belt, we are especially pleased to see Reagan return to the Origin arena on the back of some great form so far this year. It is also exciting to see the NSW debut of Ryan Matterson – Ryan has previously been included in an extended NSW squad during his career but this year he has earned himself a well-deserved place in the final 17. These selections are a tremendous achievement for the individuals and also a testament to our Club’s ability to develop players to representative quality.

NRL Squad Update

The Club this week announced the signing of J'maine Hopgood and the extension of Mitch Rein which continues our build towards the 2023 season. J’maine is a good up and coming player who had interest from a number of NRL Clubs and we are pleased that he will be joining us in 2023. We now have 24 of our NRL Top 30 squad committed for next season.

Ryan Matterson’s form so far this season has been very impressive and whilst he has attracted interest from other clubs, we have made a strong offer for him to continue at the Eels for another four seasons beyond 2022.

Salary Cap Management

I wanted to make some brief comments on how we as a Club approach recruitment and retention.

As a development club, our recruitment strategy is underpinned by producing local talent whilst also building a roster to compete for premierships every year. Inherent in our strategy is responsible salary cap management to ensure funds are appropriately spent to maximise our chances of success.

We have demonstrated our ability for improving players through our coaching, performance and supporting programs. Since 2019, 7 players have played Origin for NSW with 5 of those having made their debut resulting from strong performances for the Eels. We also expect there will be further Eels representation in the mid-season test matches. 

Our junior development system has seen many players progress through the ranks, and we continue to apply a dedicated focus towards this area. Currently, we have 15 players in our NRL squad who have come through our elite pathways program and proudly identify as an Eel. Additionally, there are a number of players who join our Club knowing that we can improve their careers.

Whilst we make every endeavour to retain all of our elite talent, a player’s value increases as they develop and perform at a higher level. The upshot being that a salary cap limit makes it challenging to retain everyone.

NRLW Update

Preparations for the new 2022 NRLW season are now in full swing with Dean Widders returning as Head Coach and 22 players have agreed to terms for the upcoming competition. Tiana Penitani will be one of our new Marquee players for 2022 and 2023 seasons. Tiana is an outstanding athlete and will be a valuable addition to our NRLW program for the next couple of years.

We have re-signed a number of key inaugural squad Members including Kennedy Cherrington, Filomina Hanisi, Abbi Church, Rikeya Horne and Christian Pio. Pleasingly, we have retained a number of our key younger players that we hope to build our program around over the years to come.

In addition, we have looked to strengthen our squad through the signing of some talented cross-code athletes to help boost our elite sports experience in our squad. This includes Brooke Walker who is a former Australian Rugby Union representative and current AFLW player, Gayle Broughton a gold medalist with NZ Rugby 7’s at the Tokyo Olympics, and Brooke Anderson who is a former Australian Rugby 7’s representative.

The development Club philosophy also applies to our NRLW program and that’s why the signing of Ruby-Jean Kennard is so important for us as a Club. Ruby-Jean has come through each element of our rugby league programs – played junior league for Toongabbie Tigers, selected for our Tarsha Gale junior rep team, is playing for Wentworthville in the Harvey Norman Premiership, and will now join our Eels NRLW program. We see this pathway as key to our NRLW program going forward and we look forward to seeing Ruby-Jean and other local juniors progress in the years to come.    

Junior Reps  

The NSW Rugby League Junior Representative season has now concluded, and I’d like to thank all our players, coaches, volunteers and parents who have been involved.   Both our Harold Mathews (U17) and Tarsha Gale (U19) teams were eliminated in the finals with our Tarsha Gale team just missing out on making the Grand Final. Our SG Ball squad missed the finals however a number of those players are continuing their development through progression to our Jersey Flegg team.

The Club continues to have good representation in each of the end of year representative squads with two Eels players selected in each of the U16 and U18’s City teams including Ethan Sanders who had the honor of captaining the U18 City side to a big win over Country. There were six players from our Tarsha Gale team who made their respective state teams for the U18 national championships.

The Club will also have at least 25 players from its development system playing at the Australian Schoolboy Championships across the various teams in early July in Queensland with the possibility of more as squads get finalised across this month.

Shortly, we will be commencing our development squad programs for the Under 14’s, Under 16s and Under 18’s across our boys and girls programs which is an important part of our elite pathways systems.  We also have our Junior Elite Talent Squad (JETS) which takes our best junior talent across all our programs and exposes them to the very best coaching and development within our Club, so they have the best possible chance to reach the elite level.

The ongoing investment our Club makes in these programs is vital in ensuring that we have strong squads at NRL and NRLW level.

Junior League & Participation

Our Club has commenced a review into rugby league participation and our junior league to identify opportunities for the Club to grow the game of Rugby League in Western Sydney.

We are one of the few major national sporting Clubs in Australia across any code that is actively involved in running all levels of its sport from grassroots through to the elite levels and in both male and female competitions.

The Eels have engaged an external consulting firm, Gemba who we will be supporting the Club in seeking feedback through surveys and interviews targeted at key stakeholder groups both within and outside the Junior League. Gemba has a strong history of working in rugby league and have led similar projects with other major sporting bodies.

One of the key drivers in this review is to look at the impact of the changing participation model, especially the positive influence non-contact versions of the game can have in growing the game. Touch and Tag are growing significantly both in our catchment and across the country. Research is showing that these versions of the game have some of the highest participation rates of any sport in key areas of our catchment. This represents a significant opportunity for the Eels and our Junior League Clubs in the coming years.  

This review is going to be a positive step for our game, and we look forward to sharing the findings and working together to implement changes that will drive a stronger Parramatta Junior League and grow our participation into the future.

Season Ahead

As you can see there are a lot of different elements to the football programs that we undertake across the year. The NRL, NSW Cup, and Jersey Flegg competitions will be moving into their most important stages, and we have a new NRLW season kicking off in August. 

I would like to again thank you for the support you have provided the Club so far this season and I am sure this support will only grow as we head into the 2nd half of the season and a run of important games, including 6 of our last 8 games in the run into the finals at home at CommBank Stadium.

We wish our representative players the best of luck during the Origin period, and we look forward to seeing you at our next home game against the Roosters on Saturday 18th June at 7:30 pm.

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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