Parramatta Eels issue club statement regarding future of off-contract stars

Generally, the relationship between clubs and media during NRL silly season is pretty straightforward. Leaks and murmurs come out about a certain individual’s playing future, and his current team flat bats any questions about it.

That’s what makes Parramatta’s club statement on Friday afternoon so peculiar.

No, not the announcement that they’d signed Michael Ennis and Paul McGregor to their coaching staff as consultants for Season 2022 – one sent an hour beforehand, addressing the future of key players for next season and beyond.

On face value, it says nothing surprising. It’s a terse four paragraphs encouraging fans to drown out media speculation, to trust the club, and to be hopeful for the future.

“Our approach is not to engage publicly in speculation regarding player negotiations,” was one line that the club used.

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“It is disrespectful to the players involved, is unhelpful in building a team that is set up for success, and most importantly, goes against how we aim to operate as a club.”

Eels fans and officials are no doubt frustrated at how much of their attempted retention is playing out publicly, but it’s very rare for official channels to come out publicly and whack down rumours in such a way.

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Reagan Campbell-Gillard’s manager was openly courting Wayne Bennett’s Dolphins last month, and confirmed that his client would not be signing an extension with Parramatta.

Then you’ve got key men like Junior Paulo, Clint Gutherson, Isaiah Papali’i and Reed Mahoney, who are also going into their final year under contract. Papali’i, reportedly, already has one foot out the door.

And just this morning, The Sydney Morning Herald said that contracts with most of these players were at a standstill.

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The Eels said today that these contract talks had been “robust, professional, and constructive” and that exciting news was coming soon. Which begs the question – why make any statement at all?

Perhaps it’s an attempt to curtail future airing of what the club hoped would be private matters between administrators and players – and if that’s the case, then fair enough.

It’s also potentially a way for the club to subtly reassure fans that favourites like Paulo and Gutherson would be sticking around.

Either way, after several years of treading water in the ‘good but not quite good enough’ part of the pool, the next two years are shaping as seismic ones for Parramatta.

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