After a strong finish to 2016, with a settled coaching staff and renewed stability at their NRL affiliate, the Wentworthville Magpies might just surprise some people in the new season.
The Magpies enjoyed an impressive start to last year, initially challenging Mounties as one of the competition’s top teams before a mid-season slump and departure of former coach Joe Grima appeared to derail their finals aspirations. The black and whites kept never gave up, however, winning six from their final eight games to come desperately close to stealing eighth place. An untimely Penrith victory denied Wentworthville that chance, but many higher-placed teams were breathing a sigh of relief having witnessed the team’s end-of-year form.
Current coach Nathan Cayless was a key part of the Magpies’ late resurgence in 2016, but gets a full off season and control of a new side to prepare him for the new year. The Magpies’ roster, according to the full Intrust Super Premiership NSW Arrivals and Departures list, is one of the most consistent in the competition, giving the club stability that is rare at this level.
“It’s always nice to be able to get to know the players right from the start of the season,” Cayless tells NSWRL.com.au. “Having said that I enjoyed the back end of last year. After a bit of a slow start as a group that we were together, we ended up finishing the back end of the season six wins from eight games and really put ourselves in contention for the finals.”
Another fact that will help the players’ chances in 2017 is their age; just one of the Magpies’ nominated 13-man squad is yet to turn 21, which pits them alongside Mounties and the Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles as the oldest squad in the competition.
“A lot of guys are very experienced, but having said that quite a few young guys in the squad and working within the club that are really snapping at those experienced players’ heels,” Cayless says. “You’re going to assess each game on a week to week basis and pick the best team that’s going to suit the opposition that we’re playing each week.”
Despite the poor outlook that a bottom-four finish might provoke, all is clearly not lost for the Wentworthville side.
2016 IN 16 WORDS OR LESS
A tumultuous year at Parramatta cruelled the Magpies’ chances of finding consistency all year long.
THEIR BIG FIVE
Wearing the no.13 jersey, Sam Gorman is one player that any teams would be happy to have. High tackle counts and strong carries all game are his biggest weapons.
Leva Li, who returns to the Eels’ system after a stint with the Gold Coast Titans, is an athlete who will be valuable on the wings for Wentworthville.
Danny Barakat has been around for a long time and is easily the most experienced in the Wentworthville line-up. The Lebanese international will once again play a pivotal role at centre this year.
Make of it what you will, but Jordan Martin’s skill was on show for all to see when he came second on reality TV show The NRL Rookie last year. Hard runner of the football on the wing.
Danny Howard is another old head who will help the squad last year. A never-say-die attitude who’s reliable in defence and attack.
Cayless’ elevation to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW coaching role last June brought a smile to many Eels fans, with one of the club’s favourite sons heavily involved again six years after his playing career ended. It was not, of course, the 39-time Kiwi international’s first experience in coaching at Parramatta; Cayless explained his previous work with the Eels’ junior development upon taking up the new role.
“I looked after the junior representative program at the Eels, looking after all of our staff and all of the kids and coaching the SG Ball at the start of the year,” Cayless said at the time. “Once that finished in May I did a little bit of work with ‘Burty’ [Parramatta under-20s coach Luke Burt], just doing bits and pieces with him.
“Then this opportunity came up. I didn’t know many of the players I didn’t know what things they’ve been working on so it took a bit of time.”
Cayless had a role in the success of the club’s Harold Matthews premiers and Under-16s National Champions, while directly taking the SG Ball outfit deep into the finals early last year. His influence at Wentworthville – wooden-spooners in 2015 – elevated them into finals contention, confirming his ability in the coach’s box.
A particularly small player movement will help the Magpies, but they will have to deal with the loss of Kieren Moss (Bradford Bulls), Nick Kassis (Blacktown Workers Sea Eagles), Yileen Gordon and Dylan Izzard (both Mounties). In their place, they’ll welcome Jamal Fogarty fresh off an Intrust Super Cup win with the Burleigh Bears, along with Reece Goldsmith and Leva Li.
There’s little doubt that the Magpies are not heavily favoured to win the competition and that would certainly be an optimistic prediction, but there are genuine reasons to expect them to finish higher up the ladder than they did last year. If the stars align and Cayless has determined the perfect formula for Wentworthville, they could very well surprise some people in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW; look for a more consistent side in 2017.