Eels 'here to stay' as NRL heavyweights

They may have fallen at the final hurdle last night but veteran Parramatta winger Luke Burt believes his club is on the verge of a period of dominance similar to that which has propelled Melbourne to four consecutive grand finals.<br><br>Burt told NRL.com that the Eels’ 23-16 loss at ANZ Stadium shouldn’t be considered a failure but instead the start of great things for the blue-and-gold army who are still awaiting their first title since 1986.<br><br>“I think [something is building],” he said. “You only have to look at the younger blokes – Daniel Mortimer and Jarryd Hayne had a great season plus we’ve got people like Timana Tahu and Justin Poore coming next year. <br><br>“It’s only going to strengthen us and if we can draw on what we did this year to back it up next year I can only see us getting better.”<br><br>Asked if the Eels boasted the potential to match Melbourne’s efforts over the past four seasons, Burt said “I wouldn’t write it off with the club and the team we’ve got. It’s definitely possible. <br><br>“Obviously it only takes one game to not be there – we played three [finals] games before this one and they were all cut-throat. <br><br>“It’s that easy to get knocked out. <br><br>“But we’ll be striving for this goal and a different result at the end of next year.”<br><br>Parramatta fell just short of capping one of the greatest comebacks of all time last night against a Storm side that was as clinical as they were lethal.<br><br>Having already won 10 of their past 11 games and knocked off top-four sides St George Illawarra, Gold Coast and the Bulldogs, the Eels were no match for the class of Slater, Smith and Inglis in rugby league’s biggest stage.<br><br>But Burt, one of only three players remaining from Parramatta’s last grand final appearance in 2001, said it was important his younger team-mates recognised exactly what they had achieved.<br><br>“I think we have to,” he said. “No matter how hard it is, the loss, I think we have to celebrate what we did a bit.<br><br>“There is no way I thought we would make the eight. We have to celebrate that.<br><br>“It’s hard to get to a grand final and I just hope that everyone understands that – how hard it is to get there and how hard it will be to get there again.”<br><br>The confidence is certainly there.<br><br>Despite his disappointment, hooker Matt Keating said he expected the Eels to challenge for a top-four spot in 2010 and beyond after proving they could match it with the best this season.<br><br>“I think one of our goals as a club is to be a top-four team for however many seasons,” he said.<br><br>“I’ve got two more years here and I want to be part of that.<br><br>“We’ve still got heaps of stuff to work on but we have another year next year and we’ll be better for the experience.<br><br>“I mean, if you don’t get better you may as well be playing park footy.<br><br>“On a personal level I think I’m slowly getting better.<br><br>“Next year is a new year and I’ll set myself some new guys like everyone else.”<br><br>Burt said he was stunned by the strides the Eels had made this season after missing the finals 12 months ago and undergoing huge changes off the field mid-season.<br><br>And he admitted that the efforts of youngsters Mortimer, Hayne, Matt Keating, Joel Reddy and Tim Mannah had helped rejuvenate his 28-year-old body.<br><br>“I’ve felt unreal,” he said. <br><br>“This season has been one of my better seasons. <br><br>“I’m confident that I’ve got plenty more years left in me now and the young blokes have brought the best out in me. <br><br>“It has freshened me up. I’ve loved this season, to be honest with you. <br><br>“Coming from the start of the year, it’s been one of the best rides ever at the back-end. <br><br>“It’s been awesome.”<br>