History of the Parramatta Eels
The history of the Parramatta Eels dates back to their formation as the Parramatta District Rugby League Football Club in 1947 to the present day.
The roots of the playing of rugby football in Parramatta lie in the 19th century with the formation of the Parramatta Rugby Club (now known as Parramatta Two Blues) originally founded in 1879. With the advent of a Sydney Rugby union District competition in 1900, the Parramatta club merged with the Western Suburbs club, with the club playing some of its matches at Cumberland Oval.
When the NSWRL Premiership was formed in 1908, a club made up of Western Suburbs Rugby Union “defectors” formed the Central Cumberland club which participated in the first year of competition before the club was absorbed into the Western Suburbs DRLFC, also formed in 1908. Rugby league began to be played in the Parramatta district in 1909 with local teams, such as Iona and Endeavours, forming a district competition. Many other clubs within the Parramatta district also emerged with clubs being established in suburbs across the district over the ensuing decades and a Western Districts side representing the area in the President's Cup.
Agitation in the area for a local club to participate in the NSWRL Premiership began in the mid-1930s with a formal proposal put to the NSWRL in 1936 by local Rugby League identities such as Jack Argent and Jack Scullin. The proposal was rejected by all clubs except Western Suburbs.
The advent of World War II put the establishment of the club on hold and a Parramatta district club was not proposed again until 1946 when the club was successfully admitted into the Premiership.
In the 1947 NSWRFL season, Parramatta's first, they finished at the bottom of the table, with one less win than fellow premiership debutants, Manly-Warringah. In 1948, Parramatta were winless in their first eleven matches but the signing of former Western Suburbs and Leeds five-eighth Vic Hey as captain-coach helped them to eighth with five wins and a draw. In 1949, with popular former Balmain winger Mitchell Wallace setting tryscoring records beaten only during their golden age of the 1980s, the “Fruitpickers” as the club was popularly known, finished fifth with eight wins and four draws. The club also saw utility back Ian Johnston win its first Australian guernsey.
The promise of 1949 was not fulfilled during the 1950s. Hey had been plagued by injury in his first two years at the club and retired as a player after 1949, and Parramatta fell back to ninth in 1950 before winning nine matches in 1951.
In their first five years Parramatta had won 28 and drawn eight of their ninety matches for a not disrespectful 35.56 percent winning rate, but the period from 1952 to 1961 was to prove the most disastrous of any NSWRFL club since University won only fifteen matches in nine seasons between 1929 and 1937. In these seasons Parramatta won only 35 and drew two of 180 matches and claimed the wooden spoon on no fewer than eight occasions, including six in succession from 1956 to 1961. After Hey moved on at the end of 1953 Parramatta went on a merry-go-round with coaches: they had five in as many years from 1954 to 1958, and even former Rabbitoh premiership coach Jack Rayner could not lift them off the bottom between 1958 and 1960.
Apart from the recruitment of prized Yass hooker Bill Rayner in 1956, Parramatta was almost completely reliant upon local juniors and not nearly enough quality players could be found for competitiveness; however, there were some notable players like hardman prop Roy Fisher, who played a record 170 consecutive grade games between 1954 and 1962.
1960 was to prove the most disastrous season in Parramatta's history, with the club, despite the recruitment of Toowoomba centre Ron Boden, finishing last in all three grades. 1961 saw the acquisition of international back-rowers Ron Lynch from Forbes in country NSW and Brian Hambly from South Sydney, but the blue and golds, despite a promising start under captain-coach Boden with two early victories, won only one more game and returned to their familiar place at the foot of the ladder.
Under coach Ken Kearney, Parramatta ended their run of six consecutive wooden spoons by finishing the 1962 NSWRFL season in fourth place, making the play-offs for the first time and emulating this feat in the lower grades. With new recruits Ken Thornett (who became known as “The Mayor”) from English club Leeds and talented half-back Bob Bugden from St George, Parramatta had their most successful season since their inception before being eliminated from the finals in the first round by Western Suburbs.
Ultimate success would continue to elude Parramatta with the side being knocked out of the 1963 finals by St George. Finishing second in 1964 Parramatta were thrashed 42 - 0 by the Dragons in a non-elimination final, before being knocked out by Balmain. In the 1965 season, with Ken Thornett as coach, the side had finished in third position. However, Grand Final qualification would continue to elude them and Parramatta would again bow out of the finals, this time defeated by South Sydney. Parramatta completed the rest of the 1960s in the middle of the ladder, without any further play-offs appearances, finishing seventh in 1966, ninth in 1967, and sixth in 1968 and 1969.
Parramatta finished with wooden spoon, the club's tenth, in 1970, but with Ken Thornett returning finished fourth and again qualified for the play-offs in 1971. However, Parramatta again failed to progress in the play-off finals being defeated by St George, and fell back to last position again in 1972 despite having such players as Bob O'Reilly, Denis Fitzgerald, and Keith Campbell. They luckily avoided the wooden spoon in 1973 and 1974, but began the 1975 season by winning its first-ever trophy when they defeated Manly in their first-ever Pre-Season Cup (Wills Cup) final.
In the Premiership, Parramatta after a promising start fell off, losing seven and drawing one of nine games mid-season. A rush in the last six weeks saw them easily win five games to finished equal fifth (sixth on percentages) with Balmain and Western Suburbs[a] and were forced into a play-off for fifth position. Parramatta, on a roll, achieved a string of elimination play-off victories, defeating Western Suburbs (18 - 13) and then narrowly defeating Balmain (19 - 18) to qualify for the play-off finals in 5th position. Parramatta played Canterbury-Bankstown in the preliminary final, achieving another narrow victory 6 - 5. However, Parramatta again failed to qualify for a Grand Final through a defeat by Manly, losing 22 - 12 in the Semi-Final.
In 1976 a new coach, Terry Fearnley, joined the Eels. In the same year some of Parramatta's most notable players also joined the club. These included Rugby union recruit and 1975 Wallaby tourist, Ray Price who would go on to represent both NSW and Australia in Rugby league. Another new recruit was five-eighth John Peard. Nicknamed “the Bomber”, Peard was encouraged by Terry Fearnley to develop his tactical kicking game (the “bomb”) as an attacking technique. As the 1976 season progressed Parramatta emerged as one of the best performing sides, finishing 2nd in the competition. In the play-off finals Parramatta decisively defeated St George 31 - 6 and met Manly in the major semi final. In a close match Parramatta narrowly defated the Sea-Eagles with a late try to winger Graeme Atkins (who scored from a Peard bomb) and qualified for the club's first Grand Final. In the Grand Final, against the same Manly side they had defeated two weeks before, Parramatta were trailing 13 - 10 after 71 minute. Receiving a penalty five metres from the goal line, the Eels formed a controversial flying wedge formation (now a banned movement in both Rugby codes) and pushed towards the goal line. The wedge collapsed before the goal line and Parramatta's Ron Hilditch, who held the ball at the apex of the wedge, was tackled by Manly's Graham Eadie and the match ended with the scores unaltered.
Bolstered with the recruitment of goal-kicking Australian representative centre Mick Cronin Parramatta finished as Minor Premiers in 1977. Meeting St George in the Grand Final, the scores ended at 9-all after a powerful Ray Price line-break lead to a try. Cronin missed the final conversion that would have broken the tied scores. After a period of extra time passed with the scores unchanged the two sides met in a replay the next weekend. In the replay Parramatta were defeated 22 - 0.
The next year, 1978, saw both the debut of future champion half-back Peter Sterling and the emergence of former representative player, Denis Fitzgerald, as President/CEO of the club (a position he held until 2009). Parramatta qualified for the play-off finals but were controversially denied progression in the series in controversial circumstances when Manly appeared to score a try on the seventh tackle during their semi-final match. After the first final ended in a 13 - 13 draw a replay was required and Parramatta were defeated 17 - 11. In 1979, Parramatta made it to the same play-off finals stage as in 1978 and were defeated in the penultimate game of the series by St George 15 - 11.
Parramatta, under coach Jack Gibson, finished 3rd in the competition and entered the play-off finals with a match against Newtown Jets who they narrowly defeated 10 - 8. An extra time victory over minor Premiers Eastern Suburbs 12 - 8 followed and Parramatta qualified for the club's third Grand Final. Playing against Newtown, Parramatta led the Grand Final at half time, 7 - 5. A try to Newtown captain Tommy Raudonikis soon after half-time gave Newtown an 11 - 7 lead. However, Parramatta responded with a try to winger Graeme Atkins. Michael Cronin was able to convert the try and in the final 5 minutes of the match the Eels scored twice more to seal a 20 - 11 victory and their first-ever Premiership. In Parramatta, a large crowd of supporters greeted the team as they arrived back at the Leagues Club (situated adjacent to Cumberland Oval). The already condemned grandstand and scoreboard at the Oval was set alight during the celebration by supporters and destroyed.
The following year, with Cumberland Oval unavailable, Parramatta played home matches at Canterbury-Bankstown's Belmore Oval and finished the season as Minor Premiers. Scoring 619 points and 21 victories, 1982 was statistically the club's most successful season. In the play-off finals Parramatta were defeated by Manly 20 - 0, which allowed Manly to qualify for the Grand Final. With a second chance as Minor Premiers Parramatta rebounded in the preliminary final to defeat Eastern Suburbs 33 - 0 and qualified to play Manly in the Grand Final. This qualification would continue the developing rivalry that the two clubs had developed since the 1970s. On Grand Final day, despite conceding the first try, Parramatta scored 4 tries before the half-time break. Manly's Les Boyd scored soon after the break, though it was their last try of the match and with Brett Kenny scoring in the sixtieth minute Parramatta recorded a 21 - 8 victory and a second consecutive premiership.
Parramatta finished second in the 1983 Premiership season, and opened the finals with a 30 - 22 win over Canterbury before being defeated by Manly-Warringah in the major semi-final, however the Eels defeated Canterbury in the Preliminary Final to qualify for another Grand Final against Manly. In the Grand Final Parramatta built a 12 - 0 half-time lead, which Brett Kenny extended after half-time and, with Cronin's conversion, the Eels lead 18 - 0 and ultimately won 18 - 6. Parramatta's third consecutive premiership was the first treble in the NSWRL Premiership since St George's domination of the 1950s and 1960s.
Jack Gibson departed after the 1983 season and was replaced by former Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks and Woy Woy Roosters five-eighth John Monie. Under Monie Parramatta qualified for their fourth Grand Final in a row in 1984 after an 8 - 7 defeat of St George in the final. Parramatta faced Minor Premiers Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in the Grand Final who had defeated the Eels the week before, 16 - 8, to qualify for the Grand Final. The Grand Final was a low-scoring affair, with the Bulldogs defeating Parramatta 6 - 4. Parramatta finished fourth in 1985 and, with defeats of Penrith and Balmain in the final series, progressed to the Preliminary Final against Canterbury-Bankstown with a chance to qualify for a fifth straight Grand Final. However, Parramatta were defeated 26 - 0 by Canterbury-Bankstown who would go on to win the Grand Final.
Parramatta, playing out of the newly opened Stadium, finished Minor Premiers and qualified for the Grand Final with a 28 - 6 victory over Canterbury-Bankstown in the Finals. The Bulldogs defeated Balmain to qualify for another Grand Final against Parramatta. The Grand Final would end without either side scoring a try, the first time this had happened in the history of the competition. Two successful goal attempts by Michael Cronin gave the Eels a 4 - 2 victory. Both Michael Cronin and Ray Price chose to make the Grand Final victory their last game in Rugby league and both retired from the game. tim and eric were best friends
Between 1987 and 1996 the Eels failed to make the play-off finals. Parramatta finished seventh in 1987, eleventh in 1988, and eighth in 1989. The old stars remained at the club, but injuries plagued all of them, especially Grothe and Geoff Bugden, whilst the cost of retaining Kenny and Sterling under the new salary cap had the effect of forcing the club to discard large numbers of promising juniors. Their only notable recruit, star Queensland backrower Bob Lindner, stayed only two seasons before moving to the Gold Coast.
The first half of the 1990s continued this trend with notable players, such as Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling, retiring from the game. Parramatta were completely unable to replace players of this calibre via recruiting and the club struggled. Coach John Monie departed at the end of the 1989 season and was replaced by Michael Cronin. In 1990, Parramatta finished 8th, but in 1991 and 1992 the club descended in the rankings, only narrowly avoiding the 'wooden spoon' in both seasons. In 1993, the Eels finished eleventh and then in 1994 under new coach Ron Hilditch, twelfth.
1995 proved the Eels worst season since 1960, with the club finishing second last with only three wins in first grade, last in reserved grade and last in the club championship. Players from this era included current Hull Kingston Rovers coach Justin Morgan, injury-plagued Country Origin representative centre David Woods, Lee Oudenryn (who beat Martin Offiah in a half-time footrace in Great Britain's 1992 tour match with Parramatta) and former Australian representative Paul Dunn. Other players of this era who would go on to play with other clubs included utility back Chris Lawler (who went to the Gold Coast Chargers), Garen Casey (Penrith Panthers) and Scott Mahon (North Queensland Cowboys).
The 'Super League war' that began in 1995 provided an opportunity for Parramatta to recruit notable players from other clubs. As players and clubs aligned with either the ARL or the Super League competitions, various players became dislodged from their clubs. Parramatta, aligning with the ARL, were able to recruit ARL-aligned players from Super League-aligned clubs. This led to Parramatta signing notable players Dean Pay, Jason Smith, Jim Dymock and Jarrod McCracken, from 1995 Premiers Canterbury Bulldogs.
Parramatta entered the 1996 season with a squad comprising not only these notable Canterbury Bulldogs players, but also New Zealand international half-back Gary Freeman, as well as Cronulla-Sutherland's Aaron Raper and Adam Ritson. However, despite these recruits, the Club again failed to make the play-off finals. Parramatta spent most of the season in the lower reaches of, or just outside, a play-off finals position. The Eels made a late challenge for final qualification, which included a Round 19 defeat of the Newcastle Knights in front of a home crowd of 21,191 (the largest Parramatta Stadium attendance since 1986). However, Parramatta lost three consecutive matches to end the season in 13th position.
The 1997 season saw the recruitment of a new coach, former St George Dragons coach Brian Smith. The appointment of Brian Smith saw a reversal in Parramatta's fortunes with the Club finishing in third place and making the Australian Rugby League play-off finals in 1997 for the first time since 1986. Parramatta lost both its finals matches to Newcastle Knights and North Sydney in the Major Qualifying Final to exit from the series. The same scenario would reoccur in 1998 (4th), 1999 (2nd) and 2000 (7th) with Parramatta failing to qualify for the Grand Final on each occasion.
During this period, in the wake of the resolution of the Super League War and the creation of the National Rugby League, the competition underwent a major restructure. It was announced that the new competition would comprise only 14 teams out of the 22 who had competed in the two competitions in 1997. This contraction would necessitate mergers or the culling of teams who did not meet the criteria for inclusion into the new competition. Despite meeting these criteria the Parramatta board explored mergers with both Penrith Panthers and Balmain Tigers but opted against the plan.
Parramatta, having recruited half-back Jason Taylor, finished 2001 as minor premiers and qualified for the Grand Final for the first time since 1986. Parramatta won 20 of their regular season matches with the best offensive and defensive record in the season, finishing 5 points clear of the 2nd placed Bulldogs. Parramatta set a regular-season points scoring record in the premiership by scoring 839 points in 26 matches. Playing Newcastle Knights in the Grand Final Parramatta trailed 0 - 24 at half-time. Despite a strong second-half performance from the Eels with 2 tries to both Brett Hodgson and Jamie Lyon the Eels were defeated 30 - 24.
The club qualified for the play-off finals in 2002, finishing 6th, but failed to do so in 2004, finishing 9th. In 2005, the Eels won their second minor premiership but failed to convert the position into another Grand Final appearance. It was announced soon after the disastrous 2005 finals series that coach Brian Smith had been asked to stand down after the conclusion of the 2006 season, to be replaced by Newcastle coach Michael Hagan. After a poor start to the 2006 season, Smith resigned on 15 May 2006 and was replaced by former Eels half-back Jason Taylor. Despite the team's low position on the ladder at the time, the team qualified for the finals in 8th position but were eliminated by minor premiers Melbourne Storm in the first week of the series.
Midway through the 2009 NRL season the troubled Parramatta Eels club replaced Denis Fitzgerald, then the longest-serving CEO in the competition's history, with Paul Osborne. The Eels then completed a remarable turnaround, going on to reach the grand final, which they lost to the Melbourne Storm.
a Wests were actually half a win ahead but were docked one match point for playing a replacement player who had not played the full reserve grade match as was required at the time.
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