Parramatta showed glimpses of their ability in 2016 but consistency and poise in tight matches proved costly. The Two Blues lost six games by less than a converted try and finished 10th last season but there seems to be renewed optimism around Merrylands.
Some talented recruits and the return of a number of local juniors has boosted Paul Hardwick’s squad this season and if Waratahs David Lolohea and Senio Toleafoa end up in a Two Blues jersey this year, anything could be possible.

Ins/outs:

Ins: Waldo Wessels (Southern Districts), Mike Ross (Eastern Suburbs), Johnathan Malo (Eastwood), Marcus Christensen (Newcastle), Jaline Graham (Bulldogs U20s), Larry Hermans (Northern Suburbs).

Outs: Caleb Rech (Canberra), Trent Winterstein (overseas), Moa Maliepo (overseas), Robbie Mate (sabbatical), Riley Carter (coaching).

Overview with Paul Hardwick:
“I certainly think that while we had a successful season in a number of areas of the game, the reality is that we still finished 10th and that’s not good enough. You can’t continue to finish bottom of the table if you want to be a strong club going forward,” Hardwick told Rugby News.
“There were a number of games that we should have won, but we lacked the experience and know how to close those tight matches out. We lost six games by less than seven points and a few of those were by less than three points so we need to find a way to convert those tight losses into wins and put ourselves in a position to play semi finals.
“There is a good feel about the club at the moment, we’ve had some changes off the field and those new people have been able to build on the good work that had been done before them and then take it to that next level. Greg Michell, our assistant coach has been great. We’ve worked hard to push our message out there so people can see and hear about the good things happening at Parramatta and that has had a positive impact so far.
“We’ve got really strong junior clubs and a fantastic catchment area. Our junior representative sides are very strong, so we need to make sure the link between our junior and senior clubs is tight. We need to continue to build stronger connections there and that’s something we’ll keep working on so that Parramatta Two Blues is the club of choice for all our local juniors.
We’ve got David Lolohea and Senio Toleafoa with the Waratahs but they’ll still be involved with the club. A few hours before he made his Super Rugby debut, David Lolohea was clapping our boys on as they ran out to play a trial match. They’re gaining a lot of experience at the moment and they are sharing that back at the club, which helps show our players that there is a genuine pathway to higher honours through Parramatta.
“We’ve also had a number of local juniors come back to the club this year, then we’ve been able to add some fantastic talent like Waldo Wessels from Souths and Johnathon Malo from Eastwood.
“We want to be more consistent on and off the field, that’s what we’re working towards. A lot of the past players that have been down at the club this year have said that there is definitely a similar feel at the club to when they had success back in the 80s. Now we need to prove it on the field.”

Key areas of improvement:
“Last year we had a big forward pack and were dominant at set piece. This year, we’ve concentrated on our backline and the interaction and continuity between our forward and back play, which will make us a much more dynamic side.
“I think we’ve added some players with plenty of spark to our backline and that has helped improve our depth right across the grades. On the back of what should be a solid set piece, we’ll have a lot more structured attacking flare this year.”

Players to watch:
“Josh Tupuola has been really impressive through the off season and in our trials. He’s one of our colts who has stepped up into grade and he’s making a name for himself at the moment in the centres.
“Tyrone Viiga has also been impressive after what was a dominant NRC season. He spent some time with the Waratahs over summer and will be in for another big year.
“We’ve also got a few other guys from our colts program last year, both forwards and backs, who have trained really hard over the off season and I think they’ll cause a few selection headaches this season.”

What are your hopes & expectations for the season?
“Our main focus is club championship points. We’ve always been towards the bottom of that table so we really want to turn that around. We want other clubs and prospective players to talk in a positive way about our club so we need to be consistent and competitive in all grades.
“We also want to continue to build on the positive work happening off the field at Parramatta. On the field, we want each side to play to the best of their ability and make sure we are engaging all of our players. If we can do that, club championship points will take care of themselves.
“In first grade, we want to convert some of those close losses from last year into wins. The first step is to improve on our 10th place finish from last year, then we want to push to play finals football this season.”

Who will your team play in the grand final?
“Norths will be strong again, Randwick will improve again from last year, Sydney Uni and Souths are going to be tough to beat, but I think Warringah are probably the team, they look red hot.
“If we can get to a grand final, I’d say we would be pretty confident and give it a good crack.”