Darwin theory dictates only the strongest survive – Arthur on the rocks at Eels after embarrassing capitulation


Gold Coast don’t get credit for doing too many things right but when it comes to sacking a coach mid-season they are the gold standard. 

Probably because they have had a lot of practice over all the many iterations of league teams that have been in place on the holiday strip. 

There is no nice way to tell a coach that their time is up and Justin Holbrook was definitely blindsided when he was punted last July with Des Hasler announced as his replacement in the same early morning bombshell. 

But it’s a better method of “parting of the ways”, as per the modern PR spin, than the drawn-out process which is currently playing out for Jason Demetriou and Brad Arthur. 

Souths looked to be further down the well-worn path than Parramatta when all sorts of leaks emerged in the lead-up to their most recent loss to Cronulla about Demetriou. 

But he was given a stay of execution by the various decision makers at the club who don’t seem to be on the same page after the already depleted Rabbitohs put a gallant performance despite suffering more injuries during the game. 

Demetriou is a long way from being out of the woods and if the Bunnies toss up another stinker in Melbourne this Friday night, the speculation about his future will kick back into overdrive and then it will be a matter of when, not if, the proverbial axe falls. 

Arthur’s situation at Parramatta is in danger of overtaking Demetriou in the unwanted race to be the first coach punted for 2024. 

Losses like the one Parramatta dished up in Darwin can be death warrants for coaching careers. 

They led 8-4 at half-time and then conceded eight tries in 25 minutes. That’s hard to do. 

It was an epic surrender for a team that was missing its halfback but still had a star-studded line-up compared to the Dolphins’ decimated side sans Herbie Farnworth, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, Tom Flegler, Felise Kaufusi and Tom Gilbert, arguably their five most important players alongside skipper Jesse Bromwich. 

(Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

If Arthur was a first-year coach rebuilding a roster, this kind of result could happen from time to time. 

But this is a veteran squad that has been together for several years and is either unwilling or incapable of coping with adversity. 

Arthur rolled the dice in the post-match media conference by ripping into his players by saying they were as a “part-time footy team”.

The players will either respond with vigour and remain in the playoff hunt or this could backfire dramatically and Parramatta could be making a coaching change for the first time in a decade sooner rather than later.

Mitchell Moses is an elite halfback and vital to Parramatta’s premiership prospects – he was brilliant in their charge to the 2022 Grand Final – but his absence alone does not make the Eels a basket case. 

The issues run much deeper. A lot of their problems stem from the choices they made a couple of years ago to throw big dollars at some players while letting others leave. 

Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Junior Paulo and Ryan Matterson chew up plenty of salary cap space but Reed Mahoney, Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore would have arguably been better options to keep at the club based on the value they offer. 

Isaiah Papali’i. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

The Eels have thrown a significant deal at Zac Lomax to get him on board for 2025 and if he brings his current form with him, it will give them a much-needed attacking strike weapon out wide. But it could be way too late by then to save Arthur’s bacon. 

And with Wayne Bennett on the market, there is never a worse time for a coach to be facing the sack. 

There is no easier way for a boardroom or chief executive to cover their collective arses after punting a coach than by saying they have signed the seven-time premiership winner who is still conjuring magic tricks with the Dolphins after nearly taking Brisbane and Souths to title glory in his previous stints. 

Nervous clubs make rash decisions and if the Bunnies or Eels are worried about each other getting in first to land Bennett’s signature, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see movement at either station in the next few weeks. 

It won’t be as clandestine as Gold Coast’s Holbrook cull but both teams consider themselves top-four material even though their results this year have them in the bottom quartet. 

Both clubs are in a tricky predicament in that they think they’re a few years away from a rebuild and could, if all things go right, challenge for the trophy. 

But that only happens if they have the right coach getting buy-in from the players and everything clicks on the field, as was the case for the Rabbitohs in 2021 and the Eels a year later, and they still weren’t quite good enough to get past the Panthers on Grand Final night. 

For the Eels and Rabbitohs powers that be, their decision should boil down to whether they think their current coach is the right person to take them back to another GF. 

If the answer is no, then they are merely delaying the inevitable. 

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