Saturday, November 21, 2015

Eels at fork in the road for captaincy choice

Who will lead the Parramatta Eels in 2016?
Parramatta have a wave of new signings joining their ranks for next season, with the likes of Beau Scott, Kieran Foran and Michael Gordon fronting up to pre-season training at the beginning of November. Most notably, Foran and Scott are the two biggest recruits by Head Coach, Brad Arthur, who will be looking to build on the addition of Anthony Watmough in 2015. After losing Jarryd Hayne last off-season, the Eels struggled to find a consistency in their game this year with the fickle Chris Sandow proving a handful for Arthur. In Hayne they lost a superstar, but they also lost a captain, and prop-forward, Tim Mannah, led the team as the sole-captain for the 2015 season. But with the new recruits now settled in amongst the Parramatta group, Brad Arthur will be beginning to think if any of the additions are more suited for the captaincy role than Mannah 
A long-serving club favouriteMannah is an unlikely poster boy for the Eels, having grown up in the west of Sydney and played his junior football in the local area with the Guildford Owls. An ideal example for those playing and growing up across the vast Parramatta Rugby League catchment, and a suitable identity for the Eels to have as their skipper given the rich and diverse demographic of the broad local community. The current Eels captain is also a man of high-standing and of the highest integrity, deeply devoted to his religion and family. He has been there through the highs and lows with the club, on-board for the incredible 2009 run of form that took them to the NRL Grand Final, and there to collect the back-to-back Wooden Spoons in 2012 and 2013. Making his debut in 2009, Mannah has also been there for the change of coaches, having played under Daniel Anderson, Stephen Kearney, Ricky Stuart and now Brad Arthur. It’s hard to argue Mannah’s commitment to, and resolve with, the club over his career.  
But having been through so much with the club, and with some hard seasons leading the group through some disappointing times, is it for the club to go in a new direction and set a new a leader in place? With current New Zealand captain, Kieran Foran, joining the club for potentially the next four years, along with hardened veteran, Beau Scott, coming on board for the next two at least, the time for a change in captain could be now. 
Kieran Foran presents a unique situation. He is an international captain, premiership-winning half, popular and respected amongst his peers, and a commanding and aggressive player. An established half for Manly for the past six years, 25-year-old Foran has cemented his place in the game as one of the best in the business, and his deal with Parramatta shows his worth. Highly sought after by Brad Arthur, his signature, albeit when it eventually came, was considered a club-changing by the Eels. Landing a prized half, the Eels believed they will be able to construct a team around Foran, and his abilities will help attract other players of his stature. Despite this, Foran comes into a team that who standards have been jumped between appalling and thrilling. He also looks set to step into the checkered blue and gold number seven jersey. Those in the media believe the jersey hasn’t been filled appropriately since the departure of Peter Sterling in 1992. So will Kieran Foran be the ideal man to fill the role given he will play 80 minutes and be guiding the team around from his position in halves anyway? Or maybe Beau Scott would be more suited for a new change in leadership? 
Scott has now played 200 first-grade games. He is a tough-nut who is unforgiving on the field. He is an aggressive and brutal back-rower who regularly dominates his opponents. He has played at three club in Cronulla, St. George Illawarra and most recently the Newcastle Knights. The 31-year-old has been one of New South Wales’ best over the last few years and is considered to have developed into one of the best forwards in the game. He has also played under the supercoach, Wayne Bennett. Both have no-bullshit approaches and were well suited to each other. Arthur is a similar style of coach in that he doesn’t bend his approach for nonsense players, it’s his way or the highway. Or in Chris Sandow’s case, the runway of Sydney International Airport. So Scott and Arthur could form a solid combination as Captain and Coach. An 80-minute player, in and around the game in the back-row, and one who will set the standards for others to follow.  
In a nutshell, the Eels have come to a fork in the road with their captaincy. Stick with Mannah and honour his devotion to the club, with Foran and Scott to play leader’s roles on the field anyway; or start afresh on a new path with Scott or Foran to lead the team with a demanding style that could signal a new-era for one of the games most-supported clubs. 
The answer is two-fold. Don’t establish a group of captains like most other coaches do these days, but set a new first-grade captain and gain the feeling of a new start that the club desperately needs. But don’t forget the loyalty of your current skipper, Tim Mannah. Loyalty is something that needs to be rewarded, especially at a club like Parramatta. Mannah is an ideal, Club-Captain. The man who can present himself to the extra commitments the role carries; the sponsorship engagements, the media opportunities, the charity activities. He can be the one to take the pressure off the role for an on-field captain like Scott or Foran.  
The Eels need their team to be void of all distractions, and focused on winning games. They need their on-field leader focussed on what’s in front of them, on leading the team around the park, on winning games. So a Club-Captain in Mannah works, because it allows Foran or Scott to focus on game day.  
But how do you split the two? Foran; the genuine half the Eels have been crying out for, Scott; a mighty forward that exhibits the commitment Brad Arthur seeks. Foran will have enough to deal with if he wears the Parramatta number seven next season, so give it Scott and ‘get on with it’, as Arthur would say.