Ever since Setanta Sports went belly-up, taking with them their excellent coverage of Australian rugby league, I’ve been unable to follow the NRL season closely.
But I’ve watched it closely enough to know that former St Helens coach, Daniel Anderson, is some form of coaching genius as he reaches a fifth Grand Final (NRL and Super League) in eight years. His efforts in coaching the Eels to their first Grand Final since 2001 will probably rank amongst his greatest achievements, not least because they did so from eighth place, the first team to ever do so.
In a return to his coaching roots, Anderson was named coach of Paramatta Eels in November 2008, after leaving Saints who he coached to three successive Grand Finals (1 win) a World Club FInal victory, and three Challenge Cup FInal wins. Anderson started his coaching career with the Eels in 1999, working as assistant to Brian Smith (former Bradford Bulls coach) in 2000.
The underachieving Eels had put in another disappointing season in 2008, thwarting the bookies who touted them as contenders, by winning just eleven of twenty-four games and finishing eleventh. A long way from playoff football.
Despite the influence of Anderson, the Eels carried that form into 2009 standing 3rd bottom half way through the season. Apparently it took that long for the message to sink in, but when it did it stuck hard.
Shock wins over their Grand FInal opponents to-be, the Melbourne Storm, and Canterbury Bulldogs saw them set off on a seven game unbeaten streak to edge into eighth spot and a playoff place.
The Eels run was heavily inspired by some huge performances by Dally M award winning Fiji international fullback, Jarryd Hayne. The controversial Hayne is only the second fullback to win the prestigious Dally M. The other one? Current St Helens coach, Michael (Mick) Potter, who picked up the award in 1984.
Anderson’s Eels reached their first NRL Grand FInal since 2001 in style too, thrilling a record-breaking crowd of 74,549 (at ANZ stadium) with a 22-12 victory over the Bulldogs.
Now the scene is set for Anderson and the Eels. But Anderson must put behind him the spectre of just one win from those five appearances. If he does so then he can grit his teeth to face the English winter he was so desperate to escape as the Eels will jet back to blighty for the World Club Challenge.
See ya later alligator.