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The premiers that never were: 2001 Parramatta Eels

As part of a series on some of the best individual teams who never to went on to win the Premiership, takes a look at the 2001 Parramatta Eels, who broke all sorts of records on their way to the decider but came up short in the big one...

When it comes to running riot in the regular season, teams don’t come much more dominant than the 2001 Parramatta Eels.

With Jason Taylor scoring points for fun and Nathan Hindmarsh putting the steel in a blue and gold wall that conceded less than three tries per game, the Eels cleared out to win the minor premiership by five points courtesy of 20 wins, four losses and two draws.

After losing three of their first six games to the Sharks, Knights and Raiders, Brian Smith’s men tasted defeat just once more in their next 22 matches on the way to the decider.

Included in that remarkable streak were a 66-12 demolition of Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, a 54-28 romp over the Panthers in front of a rapturous home crowd at Parramatta, a 50-22 carve up of Canberra courtesy of a Scott Donald hat-trick and a 62-0 whitewash of the Cowboys two weeks later with Donald bagging three more.

The tryscoring potency of the Eels put them in a class of their own in 2001

League historian David Middleton

By the time the Eels brought the curtain down on the home and away season with a thrilling 27-26 win over the Roosters at the SFS, they had amassed 839 points in 26 matches, the most ever in the regular season, and their differential was a mammoth +433.

Not only could the Eels rack up points but they could restrict them as well, giving up 406 points at a tick over 15 per game, well clear of the next best defensive side Brisbane (511 points at 19.6 per game).

The longer the year went on, the more invincible the Eels appeared, an end to their 15-year premiership drought looking as close to a sure thing as you can get in rugby league.

“The try-scoring potency of the Eels put them in a class of their own,” says league historian David Middleton.

“They broke records for most tries (142) and most points (839) in a regular season and most tries (159) and most points (943) in a full premiership season.

Jason Taylor's haul of 265 points in 2001 was the third highest for a season in Eels history.
Jason Taylor's haul of 265 points in 2001 was the third highest for a season in Eels history.

“The Eels were undefeated in 12 successive matches at Parramatta Stadium and home crowds swelled to their highest numbers since the last premiership-winning year of 1986.

“They were the highest of any Sydney-based club and were beaten only by one-town teams Brisbane and Newcastle.”

As fate would have it, the Broncos and Knights would be the last two sides Parramatta played in 2001 – a 24-16 win over defending champs Brisbane in the preliminary final catapulting them into a grand final against the Andrew Johns-inspired Newcastle outfit.

Halfback Jason Taylor and fullback Brett Hodgson were prolific for Parra in 2001.
Halfback Jason Taylor and fullback Brett Hodgson were prolific for Parra in 2001.

The ledger for the season stood at 1-1, both sides winning by large margins on their home patch, but the big dance was expected to be the coronation of a powerhouse Parra season – a maiden premiership for coach Smith after two grand final defeats with St George and a return to the glory days of the 80s for the club.

Just as he had done countless times throughout his career, Johns commanded the stage as the men from the Hunter ran in four tries in the opening half hour to put one hand firmly on the Knights’ second premiership.

The Eels, meanwhile, were battling a horrible case of stage fright.

After rattling up 155 tries across 28 matches prior to grand final night, they took 57 minutes to post their first through Brett Hodgson but Timana Tahu answered back for Newcastle shortly after to make it 30-6.

Bobcat clears the way for Hodgson

To Parramatta’s credit they managed three tries in the last 15 minutes of the match but the damage had been done.

The chilled out Knights had ambushed the stressed out Eels, Johns had cemented his legacy and coach Michael Hagan had delivered a premiership in his first year at the helm.

“Their focus, and the fact that they have been so relaxed, was reinforced by how they played,” Hagan told Rugby League Week post-match.

“The occasion didn’t get the better of them.”

For proud Eels skipper Nathan Cayless, who would go on to serve the blue and golds in 259 games across 14 seasons, the loss proved a bitter pill to swallow.

"Newcastle played out of their skins. They were just way too good in the first half and had an excellent game plan," he told in 2018.

"It was disappointing for us, and it took a long time to get into another grand final [2009]. We'd had a good season, and just wanted to stick to what we had done, and what worked for us so well. We didn’t change too much and just looked at it as if it were another game of football.”

Looking back at the 2001 Grand Final

Sadly for Cayless and his teammates, it took just 80 minutes for a season of milestones to become a millstone around the neck - one that is still to be lifted some 21 years later as the Eels prepare to embark on a fourth consecutive finals series.


Real glory awaits this NRL Telstra Premiership finals series. Visit to be there for it all.

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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