Matt Encarnacion, NRL.com
As we count down to season 2014, NRL.com identifies 30 players who will be crucial to their team's fortunes this year. From new faces to rising stars to proven performers who will need to lift this season, these are our MVPs for 2014.
Remember the days when Chris Sandow's biggest problem was his inspiring – or unnecessary, depending on which way you looked at it – shoulder charge? Sigh. Good times.
But these days, whether it's the missed tackles, the weight concerns or last year's very public gambling problems, it's certainly been trying times for those of us who really wanted to believe in the 'Aboriginal Alfie'.
Rugby league was certainly a lot more fun when 19-year-old Sandow's biggest problem was making sure he didn't miss the fullback off his own kick chase.
But now, on the eve of his seventh season in first grade, it seems like the 2008 Rookie of the Year is facing his biggest problem of all: fighting to save his career.
The sun on Parramatta's 2013 season had barely set when the former Rabbitoh returned from his three-week exile in rehab to join his teammates for the first day of the pre-season.
And the club had gone to great lengths not to place too much pressure on Sandow for the rest of the summer, with new CEO Scott Seward and coach Brad Arthur seemingly aware of how much weight – both literally and figuratively – Sandow could carry.
In fact, Arthur told NRL.com that instead of expecting a breakthrough season from his halfback in 2014, all he wanted was that Sandow simply return from the festive season in decent shape.
"Me and Chrissy have had a few chats and all I've spoken to him about at the moment is just making sure that he can get himself in the best physical shape he can," Arthur said.
"And where that goes, we'll see what happens."
To say that Sandow hasn't lived up to his reported $1.6 million contract over the first two seasons of his four-year deal is an understatement. He's been dropped to NSW Cup in both of his seasons in western Sydney as he battled demons on and off the field.
Granted, Sandow has been one of any number of Eels who have underperformed during the club's two-year reign as wooden spooners. But for the large part, he's definitely been an erratic shadow of the happy-go-lucky, play-it-as-you-see-it halfback that took the NRL by storm in his first few seasons.
At his scheming best, the 25-year-old can unlock even the stingiest of defensive structures and has that rare ability of pulling off match-turning plays.
A fit and firing Sandow will go a long way to bringing back that Aboriginal Alfie tag.
If that happens then he won't just save his fledgling career, but he could also save the club from an embarrassingly fifth straight season out of the finals too.
But another poor season just might spell the end for a kid who once was the only hope in Redfern.
And with the season kick-off upon us, the question needs to be asked: if another 12 months gets written off, will it be the end of what was once a very promising career?