Shades of ‘86: Why Parra’s 34-year wait is over
JOHN Monie had Peter Sterling calling the shots. Brad Arthur has Mitchell Moses.
What was once Brett Kenny's No.6 jersey, now belongs to Dylan Brown. The place of Mr Perpetual Motion, Ray Price, has been taken by the unstoppable motion of Nathan Brown. Eric Grothe's devastating runs have been replaced by, well, Maika Sivo's equally devastating runs.
Just days after Waqa Blake's match-winning display against Penrith evoked memories of the great Steve Ella's heroics, Monie, the last man to coach Parramatta to a premiership 34 years ago, is convinced this can be the season the drought ends.
"We're in this with a real chance," said Monie, now 75 and living on Queensland's Sunshine Coast.
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Unbeaten Parramatta are the first Eels side to start 5-0 since Monie's incredible 1986 champions, a side which included superstars Kenny, Sterling, Price, Grothe, Ella, Mick Cronin and Peter Wynn.
While Monie boasted an international halves pairing in Kenny and Sterling, the 2020 Eels have 19-year-old rising star Brown and Moses in career-best form.
"You have to be solid and consistent and they have that nailed down," Monie said.
"Then when the real big stage comes about, you need a couple of gamebreakers, a couple of players like Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling and Steve Ella."
Trailing 10-0 against Penrith last weekend, the Eels showed they had just that when Blake broke open the game with two spectacular plays.
First he fended off Panthers centre Stephen Crichton to streak away and score. And the very next set he got the better of rookie Crichton again, this time stepping past his opposite number before setting up captain Clint Gutherson for a try.
A barnstorming run from lock Nathan Brown in the next set took the Eels into Panthers territory again before Ryan Matterson scored the match-winner.
That's where this Eels team has a clear edge over the 1986 team.
Monie's workmanlike forward pack included props Geoff Bugden and Terry Leabeater, back-rowers Mark Laurie and John Muggleton and retiring 33-year-old captain Price.
Brown, Matterson, Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard are, at their best, all representative-quality forwards who are able to dominate opposition packs.
"We used to just say to our forwards, you don't need to beat them up, we just needed them not to back off and to hold their own," Monie said.
"If the forwards held their own, we had the backs that could get the job done. There was a fair bit of belief back then in the system that we had and what we were doing."
The TAB has installed Parramatta as premiership second favourites at $4.50 behind two-time defending premiers the Sydney Roosters ($4), who the Eels face on Saturday at Bankwest Stadium.
There have been many false dawns at Parramatta but Monie, who took over as Eels coach from the legendary Jack Gibson in 1984, believes they look the real deal this time.
"We have as good a chance as anybody else. There's certainly hope there," Monie said.
"It's been a long time between drinks but the blue and gold army have hope. Parramatta seem to have the balance right.
"You've got to get there first but I will be hanging out to watch them on grand final day if they make it.
"Whenever Parramatta are going good then the league is going good, seeing the stands filled up with the blue and gold army and the flags are flying."
The Eels also won the pre-season and midweeks cups in 1986 as well as the prestigious NSWRL club championship.
It was an era when Parramatta and Canterbury consistently played in physical and torrid end-of-season games.
While Monie is full of belief about the 2020 Eels, he's having trouble getting his children to share his enthusiasm.
"My kids don't want (the Eels) to win," joked Monie.
"They like the idea of me winning the last grand final at Parramatta. They like that side of it."
While their loyalty to dad is understandable, Monie reckons he and Eels fans have suffered enough.
"The blue and gold army has been starved for too long."
"They have been on rations."
Parramatta were more recently considered premiership favourites in 2010, a year after they lost a grand final to a Melbourne Storm side that was cheating the salary cap.
"Parramatta are equal favourites to win the title for the first time in 10 years," TAB spokesman Matt Jenkins said.
"TAB punters love a winning Eels team and they have jumped on this year.
"They were installed equal favourites with the Sydney Roosters after their come-from-behind win against the Panthers.
"The winner between the Roosters and Eels will determine a new outright premiership favourite."
Monie's Eels finished runners-up in 1984 and reached the preliminary final the following year.
Parramatta's gritty 4-2 grand final win over Canterbury in 1986 was the final match in Australia for the great Price and Cronin.