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Parramatta fell agonisingly short of breaking the longest premiership drought in the NRL but will turn up again in 2023 with a squad capable of going one better. 

There's been plenty of chat around some of the departures at the Eels next season, particularly the losses of Reed Mahoney and Isaiah Papali'i, but Brad Arthur has also been busy on the recruitment front with a bunch of potential signings.

The Eels have a tough draw early so will want to hit the ground running. In their advantage they'll field the most experienced spine in the competition and a relatively familiar core side.

Predicted Round 1 team

  1. Clint Gutherson
  2. Maika Sivo
  3. Will Penisini
  4. Waqa Blake
  5. Sean Russell 
  6. Dylan Brown
  7. Mitchell Moses
  8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard
  9. Josh Hodgson
  10. Junior Paulo
  11. Matt Doorey
  12. Jack Murchie
  13. J'maine Hopgood
  14. Jakob Arthur
  15. Nathan Brown
  16. Bryce Cartwright
  17. Makahesi Makatoa

Other: Ryan Matterson (suspended), Shaun Lane (injured), Bailey Simonsson, Jirah Momoisea, Haze Dunster, Ky Rodwell, Daejarn Asi (injured), Mitch Rein, Ofahiki Ogden, Sam Loizou, Wiremu Greig.

The best NRL tries from the Eels in 2022

Squad watch

  • Squad spots filled: 28/30

Parramatta have a well-balanced squad filled with experienced depth so far for 2023 with two spots also left in their top 30 to fill before the mid-season cut-off date in August.

The Eels have been hit hardest with the departures of several forwards but in return have done well to recruit the likes of J'maine Hopgood, Jack Murchie and Jirah Momoisea in return.

The trio have all played a handful of NRL games respectively, and like when Isaiah Papali'i arrived at Parramatta, there's every chance Brad Arthur can turn those players into household names with more game time next season.

Hopgood in particular showed his potential when he started for Penrith in Round 25 last season and looms as a starting lock option.

Eels forward Ryan Matterson will be unavailable for the opening three rounds of the season due to suspension.

Former Panther J'maine Hopgood arrives at the Eels in 2023 looking for a permanent spot in the 17.
Former Panther J'maine Hopgood arrives at the Eels in 2023 looking for a permanent spot in the 17. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

Health watch

Shaun Lane looks set to miss at least the opening round after suffering a jaw fracture in the club's second Pre-season Challenge clash.

There have been a few other bumps for the Eels in the pre-season too with Daejarn Asi (knee), Bryce Cartwright (broken jaw), Waqa Blake (broken arm) and Nathan Brown (hamstring) all picking up injuries.

Cartwright, Blake and Brown are on track to play in Round 1 but the trio were left out of the final Pre-season Challenge match against Newcastle. 

Haze Dunster is also on track from making a return to the field after a nasty leg injury in the pre-season trials last year that ruled him out for the entire 2022 campaign.

Bailey Simonsson (shoulder) underwent a reconstruction following his injury in the NRL grand final and will be touch-and-go for the season opener.

Most contentious position 

The lock position and bench make-up loom as the biggest area that Brad Arthur will need to settle on.

Reed Mahoney's switch to the Bulldogs is a tricky one because the former Eel used to regularly churn out close to 80 minutes each week.

Josh Hodgson did similar prior to his injury in 2022, so it will be one to watch as to whether he is eased back into the game with an extra dummy half or utility on the bench.

Jakob Arthur has often played that role to back up the halves while Mitch Rein is also around for another season. 

Nathan Brown remains an option to replace Isaiah Papali'i in the starting forward pack via lock (Ryan Matterson to the back row) but there are question marks over his future at the club after being given permission to explore his options last year.

Nathan Brown could get back into the Eels 17 in 2023 if he remains at the club.
Nathan Brown could get back into the Eels 17 in 2023 if he remains at the club. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

Biggest strength

Parramatta's biggest strength is their starting side regardless of some of the small teething issues that will make up their 1-13.

With one of the best spine combinations in the competition and a forward pack that includes World Cup reps Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo, the in-form Shaun Lane, plus a stable lot of outside backs, Eels fans should feel confident they've got the players left to keep pushing forward.

Biggest question mark 

How quickly can Josh Hodgson settle in and help spearhead this Eels team to the level that helped them get to the 2022 decider?

Hodgson shouldn't feel too much pressure early but his injury at the Raiders has raised question marks around how long left he has in the game and whether he can get back to career-best form.

One of the best dummy halves England has ever produced, the Eels will be hoping their investment in Hodgson late in his career pays quick dividends.

Overall, the Eels will have pressure on them to go one better in 2023 and that alone will be the biggest question - can they overcome the loss of a few departures and reach another grand final?

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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