Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
He is fit again, he is running the football again and – as coach Ricky Stuart promised when he first arrived at Parramatta – he is smiling again.
But for Chris Sandow, who finally produced the attacking brilliance the Eels paid for when they lured him from South Sydney 12 months ago in Saturday’s 40-10 thrashing of the Warriors, the key has simply been feeling part of a team again.
Coming off the back of Parramatta’s 2012 horror show in which they were stuck their first wooden spoon in 40 years, Sandow explained that his impressive return to form has come via a new attitude and also a camaraderie he never fully grasped during his first season in the blue and gold.
“Last year was tough for me,” he told NRL.com, revealing that he and star fullback Jarryd Hayne had become particularly close over the summer.
“I guess everyone was struggling, but the big thing we’ve worked on this year is that your mates pick you up and that’s what we did [on Saturday night].
“Jarryd and I have become really close the past couple of months with all the training we’ve been doing. We’re always at it at training. I think our friendship on and off the field has become really strong, and that’s been a big thing for me.
“But it’s been the same with everyone. All the boys worked really hard in the off-season together and we grew really close. Over the last year we’ve been pretty down on ourselves over our performances last year, but we’re a different team now. We’re really tight and that’s a credit to the coaching staff. They came here with the right attitude and the boys took it from there.”
Eels staff – those that remain, at least – tell of huge changes in Sandow’s attitude in 2013.
Last year he would walk around with his head down, barely uttering a word; this year he is the life of the party and the liveliest of all when the team gets together.
Asked if he had ever regretted leaving the Rabbitohs, Sandow replied.
“Not at all – every player goes through it and I went through that last year but the only way is up.”
However, it took Stuart – a man renowned for instilling belief in his players – to turn it all around.
“He has taught me about taking more control and being confident in myself.” Sandow continued, pointing to the return of his lethal running game this year as a direct result of Stuart’s teachings. “Ricky was a confident player back in his playing days and he is a confident coach as well.
“To be honest, I’ve lost a few kilos as well and that’s probably had a bit of an impact on my running game – it makes it a bit easier, you know?
“But it’s just about when you see opportunities, you have to take them. And you’ve got to run to make opportunities for your teammates. Our forwards up front, they did that for me and ‘Haynesy’ and the gaps opened up there for him to score all those tries.”
For Stuart, Saturday night’s performance in which Sandow scored a try, had a second disallowed, produced two line-breaks and set up the second four-pointer of Hayne’s hat-trick, was a pleasing reward for the efforts his young halfback has put in over the pre-season, although he insists it doesn’t come as any great surprise.
“He is a talented footy player and it’s a matter of squeezing that out of him,” Stuart explained. “He’s a natural talent and natural halfback. I’ve really enjoyed my time with him. I mean, he gets it. When I talk to him about something he understands it and he can replicate it on the training field pretty quickly.
“I said it to Dean Pay while watching our under-20s [on Saturday]: ‘If Chris Sandow and Jarryd Hayne play well today we’re going to be a good hope.’ They’re two very important players and they were both very, very good.
“Jarryd didn’t see a lot of footy last year and Chris had a lot of negativity in his life last year. I’m just happy to see him enjoying a game of footy again. I said when I got here that I wanted to put a smile back on Chrissy Sandow’s face, and I think we’ve seen that.”
The task now is to keep the momentum building.
While a win over an admittedly lacklustre Warriors side was a promising start, Thursday night’s clash with old rivals and 2012 grand finalists Canterbury at ANZ Stadium presents an entirely new challenge.
“But you know, we’ve just got to stick together as a team,” Sandow said. “We didn’t win as many games as we wanted to last year but this is a new season. We’ve really grown as a team now but we need to work really hard and keep improving.
“The ’Dogs... the past few years they’ve always been up there with their performance but I think that will bring the best out of us.
“We’ll take a lot of confidence out of that [Warriors] win so now it’s all about our own performance as a team against the ’Dogs.”