Peter Sterling identifies the problem that lingers for his beloved Eels, stopping them from stepping up as contenders.

Eels legend Peter Sterling said that 2021 looms as a pivotal year for the club, but improvements can’t come without introspection.

“I’ve got concerns, because I think there have been opportunities in the last two years – but if I was Brad Arthur and the team, I’d be going back to look at Round Six against the Roosters,” he told Wide World of Sports.

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That game was best remembered for Maika Sivo trampling over James Tedesco, but what concerned Sterling was that Parramatta clawed back to lead 10-8 late in the game before falling apart.

“That sums them up. The first 60 minutes of that game was as good as I’ve seen them play. It was against quality opposition and both teams were at their best, it felt like finals football, no doubt.

“They can match it with the best teams for a period of time, but when the acid test is really applied is the question mark over the Eels.”

The season finished in a similar fashion. Trailing the Rabbitohs 20-18, a Mitch Moses penalty goal attempt that would have tied the game smashed into the post.

Peter Sterling

Souths went up the other end and scored a minute later – game over.

Sterling said working out how to turn those 60 minute performances into 80 minute ones would determine the future of the club.

“There are a number of moments – and they all say the same things. When the game is there against the top teams, and it can go either way, it inevitably goes against them because they haven’t handled the situation or reacted well enough,” Sterling said.

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With every halfback in blue and gold in the past 30 years being compared to Sterling in some way or another, it was inevitable that Moses would be no exception when he signed from the Wests Tigers in 2017.

Sterling said that there had never been a better chance for Moses to grab a premiership ring.

“There’s never been a better opportunity for him, and I think he understands the pressure better than ever before. We’ve seen all aspects of his game, but I’ve not really seen it consistently over 80 minutes every week,” he said.

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“My constant appraisal of Mitchell is that when things are going great he’s fantastic, but when they’re going poorly I don’t see him to the fore enough.

“In many ways, he’s the personality of this football team. And that means that if his head goes down, other heads go down. His body language always has to be good, his involvement has to be high. I want some of his best games to come in losing teams. Your best football needs to be when things aren’t going well.”

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Sterling also pre-emptively came to the defence of Brad Arthur, saying that just because it was an important year shouldn’t mean it was ‘make or break’ for the coach.

“Absolutely there’s pressure, and I think Parramatta’s history and all that doesn’t help. But while they’re treading water, they’re treading water at the right end of the pool,” he said.

“Brad’s done a great job, I’m a big fan and I think that’s been justified in where he’s taken the club to. But people remember coaches on the premierships they win, and he’s taken this team from a perilous position to a contending position, and I’m hoping that his coaching nous will be a big part of taking that next step.

“We’re on that edge where we can go one way or the other. We can either take that next step and become a premiership force, or all of a sudden find ourselves off the pace.” 

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