So close yet so far... Eels players were heartbroken after last week's loss to Manly. Copyright: NRL Photos/Robb Cox. Credit: NRL Photos/Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos/Robb Cox.
Veteran Parramatta centre Willie Tonga has revealed that last Sunday's loss to Manly drove him to tears, describing the defeat as the worst of his life.
In what could've been the upset of the season, the Eels led last year's grand finalists 18-16 with a minute left on the clock but conceded a try on the final play of the game.
"I was shattered. I honestly never felt like that after a loss in my life," he on Tuesday. "I got really mad about it, and I was tearing up in the sheds. To be so close and put in so much effort and to get that result is heartbreaking."
Tonga said his emotional outburst was a culmination of a difficult two years with the club that has left the Eels with two wooden spoons. Since moving to the club from Townsville in 2012, the Eels have won just 12 of a possible 40 games.
"It is [a build up]. It gets tough and I guess people out there that don't go through this wouldn't realise. We're out there busting ourselves, trying to do our best every week," he said.
"It just wasn't meant to be. I've moved on from that, all the boys have moved on. And we're just looking forward to Penrith this week."
Tonga, 30, paid tribute to coach Brad Arthur for helping the team's younger players move on from a heartbreaking loss that extended their losing streak on the road to a staggering 17 games.
"A lot of heads [were] down, but Brad's been so positive and he's handled it as a positive step from where we were last week, considering they were the grand finalists as well," he said.
"The game was there to be won for us, and we didn't take our opportunities. But we've got a young squad and we're still learning. We can take a lot from that.
"Our boys are young and raw. They're still learning the game. I don't think people realise how raw these boys are. But as soon as they realise their potential and what we can do, the belief that the boys within themselves can have, and we'll surprise some teams and a lot of people."
Tonga said he was confident in the ability of his team to turn it around in front of their home fans against an in-form Panthers side that was on the opposite scale of a last-minute result last week.
"Every week that we come in, Brad's a big part of that, we can dwell on the last [game] for that 24 hours and then that's it. It's gone now," he said.
"We've got another challenge ahead of us. Penrith are doing really well at the moment, it's another game that we need to lift for."