After an apprenticeship at NRL giants Melbourne and Manly, what is new coach Brad Arthur's biggest advice? It's simpler than you'd think. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Aaron Blacker arrived in Parramatta this week hoping to uncover the meaning of life which, after two wooden spoon seasons, is like asking new Eels coach Brad Arthur to cure cancer.
But given Blacker is a mere development coach in the rugby league vortex that is central Australia, spending a week under the nose of a full-time pro, you could understand his optimism.
But as he stood a few metres behind Arthur at a public oval in North Parramatta on Friday, Blacker paused for a second and wondered whether he's had the Holy Grail in his possession all along.
"I'll tell you what, my first impression from a training and coaching point of view is that I expected to come here and see all these great things that great coaches do that we don't even know about," Blacker explained to NRL.com.
"But what the guys are doing, the coaches and squads, is exactly what we do in Darwin and Alice Springs, only the execution is so much better."
The naysayers will joke that the Eels wouldn't have done much better against a Northern Territory A-grade side for the past two years.
And at some level, they might have a point.
But in former Storm assistant Arthur, the Eels have a bloke who won't promise the world – he'll only give them the keys to it.
At least that's what he told Blacker and his colleagues from Darwin.
"He's the ultimate professional. He's the first here, the last to leave. He's the first in the gym, the last to leave the gym and the last off the training field." - Brad Arthur on Will Hopoate
When asked what earth-shattering lesson the new Eels clipboard holder has given his newest band of students, Arthur literally kept it simple.
"It's easy. You've just got to work hard," he said. "You can't complicate it. Keep it simple and work hard."
And again, the cynics will point out that Parramatta couldn't even get that part right last year.
But if all the Eels get out of Arthur this year is a summation of the apprenticeship he's done under the two most successful sides of the past decade in Melbourne and Manly, then just might get them back on the road to relevance.
"It was just how tough they are, you know?" Arthur said of his year with last year's grand finalists the Sea Eagles.
"Mentally and physically, they just keep turning up and turning up and it doesn't matter what shape their bodies are, in terms of training and how bashed around they are.
"They just give you the same every game and every training session. They're just so professional in their mental and physical toughness."
And if Parramatta players need an example of that, they needn't look further than the kid who has spent his past 24 months without a social life.
"You wouldn't say he's back to full fitness, he's been out of the game for two years so that'll take some time," Arthur says of former Manly weapon Will Hopoate.
"But he's the ultimate professional. He's the first here, the last to leave. He's the first in the gym, the last to leave the gym and the last off the training field. He's always in doing extra video and watching the video.
"He'll give himself every opportunity to come back and it'll take a little bit of time, but he's put on five to six kilos so he's going really well."
The Eels travel to Alice Springs in a week so that kids can see first-hand that their own coaches aren't too far away from giving the advice their heroes are listening to on a daily basis.
They'll also learn that there really is no short cut, no big, mysterious secret in becoming a Tim Mannah or a Jarryd Hayne.
Hard work, apparently, gets you a long way.
"What it tells us is that we're so close to the mark, what we're doing is the right thing, just we're not doing it well enough," Blacker said.
"There's no re-inventing of the wheel [in the NRL]. It's back to basics, it's exactly what it is, but the execution of these guys and the speed at which they do it is another whole different level to what we do."