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Eels on cusp of finals return

Joseph Paulo is hopeful of getting his first taste of NRL finals football with the in-form Eels this year. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.

For some, like former Manly duo David Gower and coach Brad Arthur, it's been less than 12 months since running out onto that big stage of finals football. 

For others, like the four remaining members of their 2009 grand final team, it's been an extremely long and painful five years. 

But for hard-working back-rower Joseph Paulo, it's been a little bit longer. To him, September is that time of the year when you put the feet up in Hawaii or take the missus on a couple of long walks on the beach. 

The 26-year-old has never even been to a finals game, let alone played in one. 

"I've just seen it on TV and that, get glimpses of it. You never watch footy after the season's over. You just want to get away," Paulo told NRL.com. 

"You become envious if you just keep watching it. It'd be good if we get a chance to play in one though."

Paulo knows coach Brad Arthur is a stickler for not thinking too far ahead. But with just 160 minutes of winning football between his first shot at finals glory or another miserable off-season of irrelevancy for Parramatta, we can't blame a bloke who just notched his NRL century last week dreaming of his first meaningful one. 

"It's one of those things, you can feel it, but you're not there," Paulo said. 

"I know it just makes us want to work even harder. I've never been there. I've been working my arse off to obviously get the taste. 

"I know everyone else that have been at Parra for a while, they had a taste in '09. It's just making them more hungry to get there seeing how close we are."

It's a hunger that high-profile recruit Corey Norman admits he didn't think he'd see in his first season at Parramatta. Not after taking away back-to-back wooden spoons. 

"I definitely thought we would go better than what they did the last couple of years, [but] probably not finals. But we're here now, which is good," he said. 

Not content with being the NRL's biggest improvers, the Eels are now the game's hottest team after their stunning victory over premiership heavyweights Manly last Friday night – a win that had them walking into training on Monday with just a hint of swagger. 

"You get massive confidence. They're on top of the ladder. For us, beating them is massive," Norman said. 

"If we didn't win that game, our season was pretty much over. We had to win that game. We came out and we had belief we could, and we did."

Now occupying eighth spot ahead of Saturday afternoon's trip to Newcastle, the Eels hold the fate of their season in their hands. Lose, and the wait continues. Win, and Paulo will have to re-book the flights or re-schedule his date night. 

"At the end of the day, we're the ones who can control that. We don't want to rely on results," he said. 

"We know that we're in control of whether we make the finals or not. For us, it's all about knuckling down, working together and keep building from last week." 

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