It was a case of so near yet so far for Parramatta this season, as they came within 80 minutes of breaking a 36-year premiership drought.
They did incredibly well to snatch a top-four spot with a late season surge but ended the year in disappointment after falling short at the final hurdle.
In truth, you never really knew where you stood with the Eels throughout much of 2022. One minute, they were knocking off a heavyweight to stake their premiership credentials whereas the next they were getting comprehensively beaten by a team towards the bottom of the ladder.
The Eels struggled to string together a consistent run all campaign, until they turned it on when it mattered in sudden death finals matches to advance to the grand final.
Unfortunately, Brad Arthur’s men saw their dreams go up in smoke against Penrith in the decider, going down 28-12.
The Sporting News have reviewed the Eels’ season in-depth below.
Over-deliver or under-deliver?
The Eels finished in 6th last season, so gave themselves a much better shot at the premiership by claiming a top-four finish in 2022. This was about par for the course though, with Parramatta assembling their strongest squad in decades.
However, to come within a game of ending the longest premiership drought in the league after making their first grand final in over a decade, the Eels OVER-DELIVERED this year.
When did it fall apart?
Parramatta’s season threatened to fall apart just about every week during the regular season after they’d follow up a big victory with a defeat against a side well below them on the ladder.
They got beat by the Wests Tigers in an Easter Monday shock, as Michael Maguire’s men claimed their first win of the season thanks to a last-minute field goal from Jackson Hastings.
Then, in round 14 they fell to an embarrassing 34-4 defeat at the hands of the lowly Bulldogs.
But to their credit, the Eels didn’t let these setbacks disrupt them too much as they still mounted a title charge in the business end of the year.
They were undoubtedly the underdogs entering into the grand final against their western Sydney rivals although they still had hope of pulling off an upset.
An opening 20-minute blitz from the Panthers all but ended any chance Parramatta had of winning the premiership and was the point where their season sadly slipped away from them for good.
MORE: Parramatta Eels player ratings from their grand final loss as Gutherson and Moses struggle
After being beaten 26-0 at home by the Rabbitohs in round 22, things were looking bleak. There were rumours about the future of the head coach splashed all over the back pages, while the club looked like it was going to be unable to secure that all important finish inside the top-four.
Yet they responded by posting 95 points in their next fortnight to blow away Canterbury and the Broncos and set a final round date with Melbourne to decide who would get the coveted second chance.
The Eels beat the Storm 22-14 in the decisive clash, before losing to Penrith in the first week of finals.
Faced with the prospect of being bundled out in straight sets, Parramatta rallied to put on their most complete display of the campaign, battering the Raiders 40-4.
Arthur’s troops then backed this victory up with a brave win against a refreshed Cowboys outfit who were at home and favourites to advance to the grand final.
It wasn’t quite a run of form which eclipsed their ’09 charge to the decider, but it was certainly their most exciting period since then.
Shining Light – Dylan Brown
The young five-eighth stands on the precipice of becoming one of the best halves in the game.
After a difficult year in 2021, where he looked a shadow of the player he promised to be, Brown rose to new levels as his combination with Mitch Moses blossomed.
The Kiwi international is a damaging ball-runner and is starting to add a great passing game into his arsenal.
Brown finished the year having appeared in every single game of the season, registering 19 try assists to go along with his 11 tries. Cameron Munster was the only five-eighth to gain more run metres than him, while no player in his position made more than his 18 linebreaks.
How will they improve in 2023?
It’s easier said than done, but the Eels need to find a consistent performance level in 2023.
At their best, they can beat Penrith twice. At their worst, they lost to bottom four teams.
The combination between Moses and Brown is vital to their chances of success, as is their forward pack with their game built around exploiting the middle of the park before switching it to the edges.
Throughout the season the Eels showed just how devastating their game plan can be when they isolate their backrowers in attack and play off second-phase. Shaun Lane’s late-season form was incredible as he became one of the best forwards in the game with his strong carries and ability to find an offload.
MORE: Shaun Lane misses out on selection for the Kangaroos World Cup squad
They will need Lane to provide more of the same in 2023, with the loss of his backrow partner Isaiah Papali’i to the Wests Tigers shaping as a massive hole to fill.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo complement each other well in the starting pack. But with the loss of a number of their rotation forwards, along with the huge void that Reed Mahoney will leave, Arthur may well have to try and find solutions in the market to keep his side as contenders next year.
Gains- Josh Hodgson, Jirah Momoisea, J’maine Hopgood
Losses- Reed Mahoney, Marata Niukore, Isaiah Papali’i, Ray Stone, Oregon Kaufusi, Tom Opacic