Eels insist title window open beyond 2022

·3-min read

Parramatta insist their NRL premiership window will not shut after this season despite facing a mass exodus after this year's title tilt.

Eels players and officials are well aware they will hit the finals in the best form in recent memory, after being knocked out in week two in four of the past five years.

A win over Penrith on Friday night will finally break that streak, qualifying them for their first preliminary final since way back in 2009.

But there is also the reality of greater challenges ahead.

Hooker Reed Mahoney headlines the list of departing players after the finals, alongside Marata Niukore, Oregon Kaufusi, Tom Opacic and Ray Stone.

Star backrower Isaiah Papali'i was also farewelled by the club last weekend as a departing player, after his management told Wests Tigers he would fulfil a three-year deal signed last year for 2023 onwards.

But the 23-year-old himself again refused to confirm he was committed to the move to the struggling club on Monday, baulking when asked if the issue was yet resolved.

"I am solely focused on what's ahead of us and it's obviously an awesome opportunity," Papali'i told reporters.

"I don't really want to be talking about that. My focus is this Friday and the massive opportunity that I have at this club at the moment.

"I'm pretty adamant on just focusing on what I've got right now and looking after those things when it does come to that time."

Even with Papali'i expected to go, the Eels insist this season is not a case of now or never.

Josh Hodgson is the club's biggest-name recruit at hooker on return from an early season-ending knee injury, with J'maine Hopgood and Jirah Momoisea the Eels' other signings.

But half Mitch Moses said while there was motivation to win a title together before the impending exits of several who have been part of the Eels' rise, the club's hopes would not end in 2022.

"They've pretty much come through the system here and to send them off on a high note would be very good," Moses said.

"This is a good time to do it, we do have a good side.

"But it's not really this year (as our last shot). We also have good players coming next year as well."

Second-rower Shaun Lane also said the club's nucleus remained strong, with he and Dylan Brown among several big improvers in 2022.

"We've structured our team and salary cap so we have a good core group of players besides those going," Lane said.

"We can rely on the core group of senior players to turn up each week.

"We can assist in the development of other younger players coming through.

"We trust the coaches that they'll bring through some good young kids and Parramatta has a big catchment area and some great juniors too."