Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Eels coach Brad Arthur has made the surprising admission that his young side is exceeding expectations in his first season in charge.
Should the Eels get the better of the Bulldogs in Friday night's blockbuster at ANZ Stadium, Arthur's kids will leapfrog their opponents into the top eight and could even wind up in fifth spot should other results go their way.
With a month to go in the regular season, securing a spot in the finals would be a massive achievement for a club that has finished with the wooden spoon in each of the past two years.
Asked whether he thought his team was ahead of where he thought they'd be, the first-year coach said: "Probably... but they've worked really hard. In saying that, they've got to take the credit for the work they've done and they showed that belief. They've come together as a strong group. They're working hard but there's still a long way to go."
As the team went through its captain's run on Thursday morning, Arthur said there had been a buzz around the squad during the week.
"They're growing in confidence. That's going to happen with experience and once you get further into the season, how many games you win and how many games you've played," he said.
"It's up to us now what we get out of this season. I think they're just excited to be around each other, they're excited to be at training and they're excited to test themselves tomorrow night."
Last week's triumph over Canberra in Cairns gave Parramatta their 11th victory of the season – equalling their total win count over the past two seasons.
But it could all come for nought against the Bulldogs on Friday night in a game Arthur described as their biggest of the season.
"Yeah I think [it is]. It's a really important game. Every game's important for us, but on the back of three wins, it's really important that we start to build some momentum," he said.
"[The Bulldogs] are a strong side. They'll be hurting, their pride has been hurting and I'm sure Dessie will have them fired up. They'd be thinking their season's on the line, so they'll be desperate."
On the form of his star fullback Jarryd Hayne, Arthur admits he was hesitant to rest his major weapon twice after Origin games this year on advice from his medical staff, but said the move had paid off.
"I reckon it's helped. I was a little bit sceptical about it but I've got good staff around me and our high performance staff, that was their suggestion and they're paid to do a job. I've got to put trust in them and so far, it's paid off for him," he said.
"But there's still four games to go. And he knows that while our forwards need to be good for him to play off the back of, he needs to inject himself when the opportunity's there."