Jarryd Hayne isn't getting his expectations up too high despite the arrival of three star recruits and the return of Chris Sandow. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Apparently Chris Sandow is back, baby. Apparently he's fit, has those off-field demons at arm's length, and is even wearing that signature grin back on his mischievous face.
"He was playing good [on Tuesday]," Jarryd Hayne says. "We had a two-hour skills session and he was running amuck and carrying on as he does."
Apparently new recruit Corey Norman has been caught smiling, too. Not that there's a lot to be unhappy about in a place where he's got the six on his back like he's always wanted.
"He's a bit of a character. He loves to have a bit of a laugh and a bit of a joke around and that's been good as well around the boys," said teammate Luke Kelly, the player Norman will probably replace in the halves.
And then there's Nathan Peats, who just always seems to carry that cheeky smirk on him no matter what time of the day it is. Apparently he's already given the Eels a tougher, meaner streak over the summer. As Kelly says, "He's just ultra competitive in everything he does".
Finally there's former Manly sensation Will Hopoate, back from two years out of the game, already a NSW Blues representative but still with his best years ahead of him at the age of 21.
Just like it does every season, the turn of the calendar year not only guarantees new gym memberships but also fresh expectations and a renewed hope.
Particularly for wooden spoon holders who have been waiting for a clean slate since August, it's the time of the year when the ladder has you equal with the defending premiers and the only person you're upset with is the bloke in charge of conditioning.
Franchise face Jarryd Hayne returned to training on Monday, re-acquainting himself with one of many fresh starts he's endured since his fairytale-like gauntlet to the grand final in 2009. Again, he met a new coach. And again, he met a new CEO. This time, though, he had to meet his team's new spine, too.
Maybe it was something he learnt during his World Cup triumph, or maybe it's simply something that comes with age, but this time Parramatta's most significant piece in its quest for relevancy refused to buy into the annual hype a new year brings.
"I'll get excited when we gel together. It's obviously good to get people in key positions but it doesn't mean much when you don't gel together," Hayne said.
"That's what I'm looking forward to and what I'm focusing on at the moment, just making sure that we get what we want to get done right and making sure that we're all on the same page. I think that's what's going to excite us, because that's what's going to win us games."
Off the training paddock, the enthusiasm is as genuine as it is pragmatic.
But that's not what Hayne's about this year. After four seasons of mediocrity, the superstar is wary of jumping on a brand new bandwagon.
"We're definitely a young team. With the young teams it's a bit more quieter, probably louder off the field, when we get on the field it's a bit quiet," he said.
"I think that's something with knowing people as well. A lot of new faces that have come in and when you're not comfortable with someone you don't talk as much. That's just timing and that'll come. We understand that and as long as we're training hard and doing the things we need to do, everything will click."
For the past four years, Hayne has carried the Eels as far as his ailing body would take him. On Wednesday, he told a group of rugby league talent from the Northern Territory how hard he had to work just to get on the field.
"The last three years, I've had two season injuries that put me out for the rest of the season and the year just gone I did my hammy," he said via Skype.
"For me, just working as hard on the field as I do off it, with icing and stretching, [doing] whatever I had to do to get it right, I see about three different people to get my body right."
Truth be told, that body didn't really take the Eels that far last year. Still, with an arduous 2013 season that included Origin and World Cup campaigns in the bank, Hayne has no qualms about putting the club on his back for another year.
"I think the burden I have on my shoulders is good for me. It makes me get in the game more and do it more. For me, that's not really a concern," he said. "My main concern is us playing well together. If we do that we'll win games and if we're winning games, everyone's happy."