Eels boss admits concern for club culture
IT'S probably the strongest admission you will ever get from an NRL club chairman.
But Parramatta boss Max Donnelly has conceded: "I didn't think culture was a problem but you have got to question it."
On the day troubled forward Kenny Edwards was due to front court after allegedly doing a runner from police after being spotted driving while suspended, Donnelly opened up about the club culture.
In a wide-ranging interview Donnelly hit back at suggestions coach Brad Arthur had lost the dressing room and addressed Jarryd Hayne's future beyond this year.
"I certainly deny anything like the coach has lost the dressing room," Donnelly said.
Asked specifically if he believed Arthur was the right man to lead the club long-term, Donnelly said: "At the moment I believe he is and he is contracted until 2019."
Donnelly is the administrator who was brought in to clean up the Eels' salary cap scandal mess.
But problems on and off the field continue to tear at the club's reputation.
And Edwards' latest drama has only increased the heat on the coach, despite players like Hayne recently declaring talk about Arthur "losing the dressing room" was the inspiration behind their breakthrough win against Manly in round seven, after starting the season with six straight defeats.
While Edwards' run-in with police occurred on April 19, Edwards didn't inform the club that he was due to face court until last Friday night.
You only have to look at the success of their cash-strapped rivals the Wests Tigers to see how quickly a club can turn things around after years of underachieving, if the right people are appointed in the right positions.
While the Tigers don't have near the rivers of gold Parramatta's wealthy Leagues Club provides them, the Tigers have made a strategic choice under new chief executive Justin Pascoe and coach Ivan Cleary to base their recruitment strategy around character and players willing to buy into team culture ahead of talent and reputation.
The likes of Russell Packer and Benji Marshall are the perfect examples of the type of players now driving the Tigers' culture.
With that put to Donnelly, he said: "I can't argue with you but I don't think there is the (culture) problem you are suggesting at Parramatta.
"There may be something in it. But (chief executive) Bernie (Gurr) runs a pretty good front office."
Parramatta hold the longest premiership drought of all NRL clubs, having not won the title since 1986 under John Monie.
They also have the second biggest junior catchment in the NRL behind Penrith yet continually struggle to produce and retain local talent.
Their two best young talents, five-eighth Jaeman Salmon and back-rower Maraka Niukore, came from rival clubs.
Arthur has also been criticised for his recruitment and retention policy, dating back to Anthony Watmough and Kieran Foran, deals that ended in disaster.
But Donnelly denied recruitment was a problem.
"Mitch Moses was a great signing and he is one of the more recent ones," Donnelly said.
"Nathan Brown has had his contract extended.
"Everyone is going to pick up on Jarryd Hayne but the problems of the club aren't Jarryd Hayne's fault. He hasn't been playing.
"A lot of people questioned (the signing) of Jarryd Hayne. We are paying Hayne $500,000. The average wage is $300,000. We are not paying a premium for a player of his quality.
"The problem has got nothing to do with Jarryd."
Asked if Hayne would be re-signed for next year, Donnelly added: "You'd want to see him do something between now and the end of the year.
"I am not sure what he wants to do. But the problem is not Jarryd's fault.
"It is difficult (the current situation) but the club has to deal with it. It is just as much my problem as it is Bernie's and as it is Brad's.
"It is not for the want of effort. But, yes, you have bad luck and you have all these things … but we are not winning games."
Donnelly is planning to step down from his position at the end of this year but not before he has the club on the path to sustained success.
"I am not here for the long term but I want to leave it so it is financially sound," he said.
"The coach is contracted until the end of 2019 and has a good roster that will be built on."
Given Parramatta's wealth and huge nursery, the Eels should be a consistent NRL powerhouse.
"True. But I would like to think that the curb will be turning (at Parramatta) helped by a good Leagues Club and a lot of good things happening at the Leagues Club and a new stadium (that is being built)," Donnelly said.
"I look at the big picture for Parramatta.
"Look, the fans sit there and say 'we want to win a comp'. I get that. But I am a realist. I never promise anything to anyone.
"All I can try and promise the fans is that I am going to leave that club in a position to be very powerful. Financially powerful."
Donnelly would not comment specifically on Edwards' future, but he would face having his contract terminated if he is found guilty.
Having been previously sacked by Manly and St George Illawarra for off-field incidents, Edwards was also at the centre of two other scandals while at Parramatta.
In 2015 Edwards was suspended for nine months for providing a urine sample on behalf of teammate Kaysa Pritchard.
And he was also suspended for the first seven games last year and fined $60,000 after a domestic violence incident.