Arthur chance: Blue and golden opportunity for besieged Eels coach to prove his worth without star duo


Every sacked NRL coach can point to a string of injuries precipitating the form slump which eventually cost them their job. 

While he took an unusually high level of accountability for a coach after getting punted, Jason Demetriou pointed to the many unavailable stars that hampered South Sydney’s prospects as they tumbled from first spot midway through last season to this year being stone motherless last. 

You know which coaches don’t tell a sorry tale of how injuries cost them their job? The ones who manage to soldier on when they invariably go through a period where their a bunch of their first-choice players are out with injuries or suspensions. 

That’s where a coach’s true value lies. 

Every NRL club can field a game-day line-up that would make the finals. Yes, even the Titans although their slim playoff prospects went snap the moment the ACL in the right knee of Tino Fa’asuamaleaui did likewise in Round 2. 

Souths were definitely in that category heading into the season, then Campbell Graham needed surgery, Jai Arrow busted his shoulder, Latrell Mitchell got suspended (again), Alex Johnson tore his hamstring, Tevita Tatola’s knee flared up and so on. 

Parramatta don’t have a long list of injuries but the quality of talent currently sidelined definitely outweighs the quantity. 

Mitchell Moses has been out with a ligament problem in his foot for the past six weeks. 

They’ve won just once in the five games while their halfback has been out. It’s tough to win without your most important player but that kind of record is bleak, borderline inexcusable, particularly the 44-16 capitulation to the Dolphins in Darwin when he labelled them “a part-time footy team” afterwards. 

Jack Bostock celebrates after scoring a try in Darwin. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

And now the next most influential Eel, captain Clint Gutherson will miss at least a month due to minor knee surgery. 

With Arthur heading into the coaching twilight zone that is the final year of his contract next season, the next few weeks will be make or break time, starting with Friday’s CommBank Stadium clash with Brisbane, who coincidentally are now without their on-field general after Adam Reynolds ruptures his bicep last week. 

After more than a decade in the role, Arthur needs to show that his voice is still resonating in the blue and gold dressing room. 

Irrespective of the phantom menace of Snoke lookalike Wayne Bennett (true Star Wars fans will appreciate that reference), Arthur cannot afford another middling campaign after the team slumped to 10th last year following their breakthrough run or the 2022 Grand Final. 

The Broncos are down to their third-choice halfback against the Eels with journeyman John Rogers parachuted into the No.7 jersey with Reynolds’ regular back-up Jock Madden nursing a pectoral problem. 

Arthur is persisting with Dylan Brown at halfback while giving Ethan Sanders his second NRL run at five-eighth after they showed some encouraging signs in their 32-18 loss to Manly prior to last week’s bye. 

Brown’s switch to halfback seems like a case of weakening one position to strengthen another and there will be no happier Eel when Moses gets back than the Kiwi five-eighth who has been made co-captain by Arthur as he doubles down on his trust in a player who left his team in the lurch when he was copped a hefty ban last year for an off-field incident.

Another newbie, Blaize Talagi, gets his chance at his preferred position of fullback but relying on rookies in key positions is fraught with danger for someone with a tenuous grip on their employment like Arthur. 

They have a trip to Melbourne on the schedule next week, then after what should be a win over Souths, Parra face the first-placed Sharks, improving Bulldogs and high-flying Roosters. 

Moses could make an early return, potentially for the Storm showdown, in another sign that there’s an air of desperation at Parra considering he was initially ruled out until June.

Arthur is savvy enough to concede he’s coaching for his job but the 49-year-old claimed on Thursday that he doesn’t have to make rash decisions because he knows he has the backing of the club. 

“I’ve been coaching here 11 years and at some stage (speculation) has been a question. It doesn’t bother me,” he said.

Brad Arthur. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

“I’m not coaching with one eye in the back of my head, worrying about what the club’s thinking because I know exactly where they’re at. I know I’ve got their support and I 100 per cent mean that. 

“I’m grateful for it because it allows me still to be able to coach and not coach scared and put people in the team like Blaize at fullback this week, knowing that’s what’s best for the club moving forward.”

If they duplicate their recent form and win just one of their next five, that could trigger the Parramatta board to finally lose patience with their coach after sticking through him through thick and thin. 

Their premiership window has narrowed since they lost several stars after the GF defeat to Penrith in Reed Mahoney, Isaiah Papali’i, Oregon Kaufusi and Marata Niukore. 

But they are not a roster that needs a rebuild. Not for a couple of years at least. 

A change in who calls the shots could be the catalyst for the Eels making the leap from wannabes to genuine title contenders, coupled with the arrival of a strike weapon out wide in Zac Lomax. 

The Eels have been loyal to Arthur for 262 games, their longest-tenured coach in history ahead of Brian Smith’s 243, and yet, like Smith’s epic yet ultimately fruitless reign, their premiership drought is still yet to be broken. 

He needs to show that faith was justified by getting a depleted team through a rough stretch of the season otherwise he will become the latest coach whose tenure was put out of its misery by a few key injuries hammering the final nail in the coffin. 

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