Set of Six: Five keys to a losing club

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Eels players look dejected after a Bulldogs try during the round 20 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Parramatta Eels. Photo / Getty Images.
Eels players look dejected after a Bulldogs try during the round 20 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Parramatta Eels. Photo / Getty Images.

Justis Kamu looks at five reasons the Eels are struggling, as well as other talking points from the latest round of the NRL.

1. Eels heading for second wooden spoon in two years

Halves pairing

Chris Sandow, Luke Kelly, Ben Roberts, and Api Pewhairangi are hardly names that will get fans excited or shout playoffs football.

Sandow and Kelly started at halfback and standoff respectively in round one for the Eels in their 40-10 win over the Warriors in the opening weekend.

A bright start indeed but that was always going to be a false dawn for a pair who had not played more than five games together in the NRL.

A halves duo requires its six and seven to have the quality, experience and the ability to apply their footballing skills week in week out throughout an enduring 26 round season.

The sides that win regularly have those characteristics in both players, those that struggle will have just one player who carries the burden.

The Eels from the season's outset had none.

Poor top-tier management

The Eels top tier management were sailing smoothly under CEO Denis Fitzgerald who held the post for 30 years.

It all went pear shaped when the leagues club had debts of up to $9m in 2009 and Fitzgerald was ousted from his position.

Since then, there has been enough backroom politics to document into an exceptional b-grade movie with three CEO's in four years and a split in the board and a fallout with a key sponsor.

Junior Development

Current players Kelepi Tanginoa, Peni Terepo, Jacob Loko and Kaysar Prtichard are players who have come through the junior grades to play NRL.

However the problem has been trying to keep the raft of junior talent being processed in the Eels junior development factory.

Salary cap restraints has been a big factor in forcing kids out of the yellow and blue.

Although the Eels recruitment team have been guilty of making poor decisions in releasing players who were a sure thing for NRL success.

Here's a brief list of players who were Eels juniors now plying their trade for rival NRL teams.

Tony Williams (Bulldogs), Krisnan Inu (Bulldogs), David Williams (Sea Eagles), James Maloney (Roosters), Feleti Mateo (Warriors), Kris Keating (Bulldogs), Paul Gallen (Sharks), Jamie Lyon (Sea Eagles), Albert Kelly (Titans), Nathan Gardner (Sharks).

Player recruitment

The Eels have been in the 'rebuilding phase' for far too long and their player signings in the past two seasons have been a mix of journeyman and emerging talent who have failed to make the breakthrough.

Ben Roberts, Nathan Smith, Taulima Tautai, Esikeli Tonga, Willie Tonga, Joseph Paulo, Daniel Penese, Chris Sandow, Cheyse Blair, Jake Mullaney, Casey Mcguire, Jordan Atkins, Reni Maitua, Carl Webb, Brad Murray, Paki Afu, Lee Te Maari and Manase Manukafoa

They have rectified their recent transfer dealings with established names to arrive in 2014 with Will Hopoate, Corey Norman, Nathan Peats, and English duo Lee Massop and Gareth Hock.

Defensive structures

On the field the team this season have flooded points with the Eels conceding 562 points so far - the worst record in the NRL.

The Eels held the same record after their 2012 season finishing the year with 642 points scored against them.

2. Justin Horo knocking on Kiwis selection door

Sea Eagles backrower Justin Horo has been the standout Kiwi backrower in the competition this season.

A place in the Kiwis squad for the end of year RWLC is just the reward he deserves for what has been a breakout year for the Eels discard.

However he will need to convince his former Parrammatta Eels coach, Stephen Kearney, the man who released him from his former club after being deemed surplus to requirements.

Although there is some ill-history between the two, Horo would serve as another Simon Mannering-like option for the Kiwis at secondrow/lock to compliment bigger men Frank Pritchard and Sonny Bill Williams.

On the weekend against the Eels, Horo scored a brilliant try which saw him beat four defenders on the way to the tryline to take his season's tally to nine.

A brief breakdown of his season's stats show that he has run for 1680 metres, completed 411 tackles, made 7 line breaks while playing every match this season averaging 70 minutes per game.

3. How will injuries affect Souths?

The loss of Greg Inglis and John Sutton to injury in the latter part of the season has many questioning whether the Rabbitohs will be able to hop their way to a minor premiership.

The Rabbitohs have been top of the table for a large part of the season and still hold that spot due to points difference with the Roosters in second place.

Inglis and Sutton are two key cogs in the side and the former's absence was no more evident then on the weekend when they were soundly beaten 30-12 by the North Queensland Cowboys.

Sutton's injury will see him out for four weeks with young-gun Luke Keary thrust into the six jumper after impressing in his debut against the Titans.

Although Nathan Merritt and Keary are admirable fill-ins for their respective custodians, the Redfern outfit's run to the playoffs is arguably the toughest in the competition with the Storm, Sea Eagles, Bulldogs and Roosters still play.

Without Inglis and Sutton they will struggle against all these top five sides.

However having seen what the Bunnies are capable of when at full strength, they are most dangerous side in the competition.

If they can get the majority of their wounded troops back in time for September football the Michael Maguire coached side should make this season's Grand Final.

4. Have we seen the last of Chris Sandow?

In 2008 Chris Sandow was celebrated as the next star of the NRL after winning the Dally M Rookie of the Year award in his debut season.

In recognition of his form the diminutive halfback was named in the Indigenous All Stars and the Maroons State of Origin emerging players squad.

His meteoric rise in the NRL is now a distant memory as he now faces the prospect of having to play park football in the new year.

The Gold Coast Titans junior is in the second year of a three year deal reportedly worth $500,000 per season at the Eels.

However his parent club is willing to offload him if they can find a suitable and less expensive option.

He no longer is a threat with the ball in hand with his creative spark absent on many occasions as the Eels crawl to the regular season's end.

Defensively his once potent shoulder charge has been muzzled by the tackling law changes and teams are intensively aiming to expose the physical mismatch they can achieve when they have him in one on one situations (54 missed tackles this season).

For the past 3 weeks he has been playing in the NSW Cup, and on the weekend against the Auckland Vulcans his side were belted 44-10 with Sandow making little impression.

Is Chris Sandow heading for the NRL scrapheap?

5. Flat Warriors to bring back fizz

The Warriors fell flat on the weekend against the Sharks in their round 21 encounter at Mt Smart Stadium going down 18-14.

The side is unchanged this weekend for their clash at Brookvale Oval where they will meet a Manly Sea Eagles who are sitting at third place on the competition ladder.

The 10th placed Warrriors have named an unchanged lineup with Elliott choosing to stick with a bench that consists of Suaia Matagi, Jacob Lillyman, Domnique Peyroux and Todd Lowrie.

The four Warriors players on the bench are under threat with Lowrie, and Matagi the obvious choices to make way.

With Sam Lousi and 10 year veteran Jerome Ropati performing strongly for the Auckland Vulcans on the weekend and Russell Packer back from injury.

For Ropati, 2013 looks to be his final season as a Warrior as he has remained unsigned for the 2014 season.

If that's the case, he would not be wanting to end his testimonial year in the NSW Cup.

Lousi has been in beast mode for the Vulcans in the past month as he has made life difficult for opposing teams to stop him in the tackle or from freeing his arms for the offload.

The first grade side could do with an option like him off the bench.

Packer is a Kiwis international who never takes a step back and was amongst the Warriors better players during the horror run they endured in the first half of the season.

6. Team of the Week - Round 21

1. Fullback: Billy Slater (Storm)
2. Wing: Mahe Fonua (Storm)
3. Centre: Josh Morris (Bulldogs)
4. Centre: Kane Linnett (Cowboys)
5. Wing: Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (Roosters)
6. Five-eighth: James Maloney (Roosters)
7. Halfback: Aidan Sezar (Titans)
8. Prop: Matthew Scott (Cowboys)
9. Hooker: Jake Friend (Roosters)
10. Prop: Sam Kasiano (Bulldogs)
11. Secondrow: Boyd Cordner (Roosters)
12. Secondrow: Tony Williams (Bulldogs)
13. Lock: Paul Gallen (Sharks)

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