2016 probably couldn’t have gotten much worse for Eels’ fans. Here’s the quick summary, loosely in chronological order:
● The Eels win the Auckland 9’s and raise expectations by winning six of their first nine games;
● It is then revealed they seriously breached the salary cap and were docked all their points and were relieved of their 9’s title;
● Key player Nathan Peats was released to the Titans to fit under the cap; Anthony Watmough was forced into retirement with a shoulder injury;
● About this time star recruit and club captain Kieran Foran overdosed on prescription medication and went on indefinite leave;
● Foran then had further scandals when it was revealed that big bets were being made through his TAB account as well as a lot of noise regarding dealings with unsavoury types;
● Foran was released from his contract;
● Star winger Semi Radradra dashed to Fiji with rumours suggesting he would be going to French rugby, Semi would return but the rumours continued to persist and he was then slapped with an assault charge;
● Club legend Jarryd Hayne came back from the NFL and spurned the Eels to sign with the Titans.
That’s pretty much it I think, oh yeah Corey Norman did a sex tape, so there was that too. Eels’ fans have gotten used to disappointment but for 2016 to turn out the way it did after how promising it all looked early in the season was a bitter, bitter blow.
The good news is the Eels were still the 8th best side last season despite all the drama. It wouldn’t necessarily be a surprise to see the Eels be a top four side but on paper it feels like the Eels haven’t gone forward as sides like the Panthers, Bulldogs and Warriors have, while the Rabbits and Roosters will have to be better than they were in 2016. This means the Eels might get caught in the logjam of teams on the fringes of the finals.
Prior to the 2016 Eels three other sides have had seasons ruined following points deductions for salary cap breaches and all three have bounced back strongly in the following season:
● The 2002 Bulldogs would be stripped of all their points from what was a 20 win season. They would win 16 games in 2003 and finish third on the ladder.
● The 2006 Warriors started the year with a -4 point deduction which would end up costing them a finals berth. The following year the Warriors would win 13 games and finish in the top four.
● The 2010 Storm were stripped of all their points in a 14 win season in which they had nothing to play for in half the year. The 2011 Storm would win the minor premiership.
So there’s certainly some precedent to a side losing a play-off season to a salary cap breech coming back to make the finals the following season. Although it doesn’t really feel like the Eels have much in common with those Bulldogs or Storm, they’ll probably still play with a chip on their shoulder in 2017.
There’s a few bits of uncertainty here. Will Josh Hoffman break our hearts by playing fullback? Will Gutherson retain his spot in the halves? Will there be a bench utility? All questions I don’t know the answer to.
2016 Positional Minute Splits
Brad Arthur has used pretty similar minute splits over the past two years with the main change being hooker. In 2015 this was an 80 minute role (15 of 24 games) but it was only sporadically used for 80 minutes in 2016 (6 of 24 games), two of these games were the departed Nathan Peats and the other four were Isaac de Gois.
The Eels have some nice forward pack depth with a mix of veterans and emerging players making up the third and fourth string. Will Smith is an underrated player who can cover the halves and fullback while most of the back cover players have some NRL experience.
Average Fantasy Points Allowed Per Position
The Eels had a lot of trouble containing outside backs with wingers and centres running amok, but they were mostly above average everywhere else. The Eels’ performance against second rowers was pretty impressive and it was built mostly on the defensive side of the ball with the Eels allowing just seven tries to second rowers, six try assists, five line break assists and just 52 tackle breaks.
Key Fantasy Changes
Fullback Michael Gordon is gone to the Roosters and there are probably a few contenders to replace him including fantasy favourite Bevan French, Clinton Gutherson, Will Smith or Josh Hoffman. Hoffman would be the worst option for fantasy but the three others could be interesting.