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Eels legend Nathan Hindmarsh has done it all in what can only be described as an iconic career. Well... not quite. He’s done it all except win that elusive premiership. He opens up exclusively to journalist Paul Johnson about premierships, mates, Melbourne, footy and the fairytale.

“A Grand Final win? Mate, it means everything, the whole kit and caboodle. When you grow up you watch Grand Finals, and you see grown men hugging after the game, some even crying and you say to yourself ‘that’s where I want to be, that’s what I want to do’.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have played Origin and represent Australia but a Grand Final victory really will mean everything.

“If we lose, we lose - but if we win, it’s going to be celebrations for a month. I’ve discussed it with Bonnie (my wife) and she has given me the OK to do whatever I want.”

And so begins the odyssey of Grand Final week for a man who arguably deserves a premiership ring more than anyone in the modern game

They say the greatest compliment a footballer can receive is one from the men beside him and Hindmarsh, famous for his long mop of hair and low-slung shorts, has been praised by his teammates as “one in a million”. Todd Lowrie even dubbed him the ‘new Mr Perpetual Motion’.

“I don’t want to be the ‘new Mr Perpetual Motion’, it’s just that we apparently have similar styles of football, but he has won Grand Finals and played both league and union for Australia, so he knows what he’s doing. I reckon I shade him on athletic ability though, but to be honest it’s an honour to even be compared.

“To be called one in a million by him, that’s an even bigger honour, massive coming from him, it really is.”

Hindmarsh is chasing a dream which has finally come into view for the first time since the 2001 decider where the Eels let themselves and their fans down.

To Hindmarsh and the surviving members of the squad, (Luke Burt and Nathan Cayless) it will forever be ‘the one that got away’ and like the other two men who still go into battle with him, it still hurts the Eels’ second rower.

“We were the top team in ‘01 and got nutted and I still haven’t watched that game.

“I think the reason it hurt so much is because it was something we did to let it slip. We didn’t play our best footy on that day and that made it so much worse. This Sunday if we go out there and execute and still get beaten, but do so playing well, then, we will have been beaten by a better team, and you can handle that. But if we were to go out, go away from what has served us so well and it goes wrong then that’s when it really will hurt.”

What has served the Eels well in their historic 11 match run - which ironically began against their Grand Final opponents - is their ability to keep the ball alive in attack, the way their younger players have stood up and been counted and their brick-wall defence which has let in an average of just 11 points per game since round 19.

“It’s not just Haynesy. Fuifui, Nathan Cayless, Tim Mannah are doing a great job for us up front. The younger forwards are doing their job, everyone is and it’s what’s allowing us to play the way we are.

“Look at the halves, Daniel Mortimer has been good and Jeff Robson was man of the match last week. They are playing great footy for us. Morts has surprised me in how well he has come on. He’s a strong young man and tough as they come. He’s doing everything right, but the speed at which he has developed has surprised me.

“Robbo hasn’t. He’s always had it in him. He is playing the game he has to play and getting his kicking job done.”

In attack, the Eels have been carefree throwing the ball around and it’s paid dividends. It certainly could again this Sunday and Hindmarsh has marked the freakish Feleti Mateo as the X Factor.

“Feleti has been playing very well for us and he has to be the X Factor in the game. He’s a starting back rower or five-eighth, but because he got injured and the way other guys have been playing, he is coming off the bench. He’s a freak of a player, everyone else gets two support runners around them, Feleti has five or six! That’s how good he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins it for us on Sunday.

“Offloading is definitely something we have worked at and improved on. Halfway through the year we started doing it. Inu is very good at it, even I got a lot away for a while there but I’ve gone quiet again.”

But what about the defence? Early on it had as many holes as the Titanic. So what’s changed?

“I think the embarrassment of leaking so many points early in the season is what turned it around. We all had a chat about it and realised we were leaking a lot of points up the middle. Truthfully, it was embarrassing. We let the Bulldogs put 40 odd on us and the Broncos scored a heap as well. It wasn’t good enough.”

Surely having Hindmarsh in the side can’t hurt either. He regularly makes more than 50 tackles in a game as he cuts down everything that moves, but still doesn’t know how.

“I don’t know really, I’m not the only one though. You look at Dallas Johnson and David Stagg - they do it too. I’m just fortunate I am fit enough that I am able to do it, but at the same time you look at what Nathan Cayless is doing for us. He’s making 15 hit ups and 30 tackles a game and he’s playing 20 minutes less than me. That’s a huge effort.”

It is a huge effort, and Hindmarsh insists the Eels need captain Cayless this weekend as he attempts to recover from a hamstring strain.

“Truthfully this week we just want to get him on the field, because in a way he is irreplaceable.

“Everyone was into him at the start of the year telling him he was overpaid and that he wasn’t good enough and he stuck it up them, which is great for him. It wouldn’t be the same this Sunday if he wasn’t there and he’s still on a high after New Zealand’s World Cup win. So imagine what he will be like if we win on Sunday.”

Standing in their way will be the Storm. If anyone can ruin the party, it’s them. They are notoriously tight in defence, play a hard, controlled game and have some genuine game-breakers. Hindmarsh is under no illusions as to how difficult it will be.

“They’re very good at stopping the offload and wrapping the ball up. Most teams have two in the tackle. The Storm always have three guys in there and that’s what makes their defence so effective.

“Then you have their attack. First of all you have to watch Slater around the ball and stop him, but then you have to figure out how to handle Greg Inglis out wide and how to tackle him, not to mention Cameron Smith out of dummy half.”

But what about Eels discard Brett Finch, a player with a point to prove if there ever was one. He wasn’t part of Daniel Anderson’s plans at Parramatta and now his story has almost come full circle.

Hindmarsh certainly didn’t expect to be staring him down on Grand Final day.

“No, I didn’t think this would happen, but good luck to Finchy. None of us here at Parramatta have any ill will towards him. He is a very good player but obviously he wasn’t in Ando’s plans and wanted to go find another first grade spot and he has done that and succeeded in Melbourne.”

As for the Storm, they are specialists at making the Grand Final, but not so much winning it. Having taken out only one from three.

It raises two questions. Is Hindy worried? And are the Storm close to being labelled chokers?

“We haven’t had a good run against Melbourne in knock out games. They kicked us out in 99 and 07, so yeah to beat them on Grand Final day would be a nice turnaround.

“I don’t think they are chokers in any way, look at those deciders. Brisbane had Shane Webcke farewelling the club and a very good side, then they smashed Manly before getting hammered by them when they didn't have Cam Smith. Based on who they have come up against, they aren’t chokers and I’m a lot more concerned heading into this game than I have been any other final this year. The law of averages is backing them.”

Hindmarsh has been keeping his preparation low-key and keeping the excitement in check as the Eels head toward the decider, but he does concede a win would be very special.

“I’ve just always been the type of person to downplay things. I’m very happy that we’re here and have this chance. I’m happy with our season given where we were. To win this one, on this run would be something very special, it might even mean more.

“It definitely makes it more special if we win, but it won’t make a loss hurt more.”

“I’d love to see as many blue and gold clad fans as possible on Sunday, maybe Peter Wynn should start selling the jerseys at half price.”
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