Eels only had to perform to avoid axe

Much has been said about the way Ricky Stuart informed 12 of his Parramatta Eels that they won’t be needed next year but the bottom line is, if they had been performing it wouldn’t have happened. An NRL club isn’t Centrelink. You can’t just turn up every week to collect a pay cheque. The Eels have underperformed for years and Stuart’s job, like the coaches before him, is on the line if they don’t improve.

I’ve heard different rumours about how he told the players, some say he took a few players aside, others say it was all done in front of the whole playing group. NRL coaches live and die by their team’s on-field results. Stuart has been at the Eels long enough to know which players are going to produce success for the club and which players simply aren’t pulling their weight. It was something he had to do and time will tell whether he can turn the club around. It doesn’t get any easier for them this week up against Paul Gallen’s Cronulla at Sharks Stadium.

The Sharks will be fired up after being thumped by Melbourne last week. The Storm look like they are finding their form again. This week they host Newcastle, a team I just can’t work out at the moment. A couple of weeks back the Knights hammered the Bulldogs at home and I was in awe of the way they played. Since then they have been a rabble in losing to the Warriors and Dragons.

Craig Gower has arrived at Newcastle from England where a mate of mine tells me he was in top form. I think Wayne Bennett will throw him on the bench this weekend and he will come on at some stage in the halfback role. If he can stay fit he will turn out to be a great buy for the Knights and could be just the player they need to bring consistency to their game.

The Dragons are another team that have struggled to put together a string of good performances. They weren’t too flash last week and only beat an ordinary Newcastle through the brilliance of Josh Dugan. Dugan should step straight into the New South Wales team if Jarryd Hayne is ruled out. Hayne’s game is built around his power and speed off the mark, which is exactly what your hamstrings are about. He won’t play if he thinks there is any chance he’ll let the Blues down.

Dugan is in such good form that even if Hayne plays, I’d consider including him on the bench instead of Josh Reynolds. I know Laurie Daley promised Reynolds another chance, but Dugan could cover for Hayne and having the pair of them on the field at the same time at some point in the game could really worry the Queensland defence.

One player who is starting to worry defences again is Bulldogs forward Tony Williams. Williams struggled early in the year to fit in at Canterbury, but last week he really started to look like he belonged. He is working up a good combination with Reynolds on the fringe of the ruck where he can be isolated on the opposition’s small men. He comes up against his old club Manly this Friday night in what should be a great game.

Manly will be hurt by the narrow loss to New Zealand last week and will lift in front of a full house at Brookvale. The Bulldogs are just about back to full strength and are starting to look and play like the grand finalists from last season. The battle in the forwards alone will be well worth watching.
Is Ricky Stuart doing the right thing at the Eels?
Will Craig Gower make a positive impact at the Knights?
Who should replace Jarryd Hayne at fullback for the Blues?

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