Down-on-form Sandow on the clock
Eels coach Brad Arthur is just like everyone else at this time of the year: prone to sweat in the summer heat, extremely busy and just that extra little bit giddy with excitement.
As the seconds seemingly tick down quicker than usual leading into the festive season, the rookie clipboard-holder is also eagerly waiting what's in store for him post-holidays. More specifically, what will Chris Sandow offer him up as his Christmas gift?
Will it be the happy-go-lucky, game-breaking halfback who forced the club into shelling out a reported $600,000 a season two years ago?
Or will it be the enigmatic, troubled soul who had his Sat Nav programmed for rehab and who was equipped with all manner of assistance to overcome his longstanding gambling addiction?
Ahead of his club's visit to Westmead Children's Hospital on Thursday, coach Arthur gave NRL.com a brief insight into his first few weeks working with his could-be-anything playmaker.
"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. And where that goes, we'll see what happens," Arthur said.
For a club that has been the butt of all jokes for the past two years, the wooden-spooners actually have a number of things going for them this summer. There's the brand new, home-grown coach; the inspirational, fearless skipper; a fullback who looked every bit his former 2009 Dally M medallist self during the recent World Cup; and a five-eighth and hooker both champing at the bit to jump out of the very big shadows that shrouded them at their previous clubs.
But the biggest question mark in Parramatta-land still hangs over their halfback who, by the sounds of it, is in line for the most important off-season of his career.
"He's training just as hard, [with] no harder or no less intensity, than anyone else," Arthur says. "He's doing his job like anyone is."
But you get the feeling the first-year coach wants more. The 2008 Rookie of the Year was signed, after all, to take them to the 'Promised Land'. And all they've gotten thus far has been, well, broken promises.
Having a couple of familiar faces – namely his 2011 former Rabbitohs' scrum base partner in Nathan Peats – will help. The recruit has impressed many with his focus and work ethic in his bid to become a first-choice hooker, but it's his combination with Sandow that could be key to Parramatta's fortunes next season.
"Chrissy's been training the way Chrissy is," Peats observes. "He's jolly and having a joke around. Chrissy's good at hiding his emotions. He's coming to training and enjoying himself.
"I haven't noticed anything wrong with him at all. I wasn't here last year so I wouldn't know how he was but he's been okay so far."
Like his new head coach, you get the feeling Peats wants a lot more out of the potentially devastating No. 7, too.
While it shouldn't take too much time for him to acclimatise with his 'new' dummy-half, the clock is indeed ticking for Sandow, who needs to impress his new boss pretty quickly.
Pressed on whether his on-field general would ever be able to handle the pressure of life under the burning NRL spotlight, Arthur had just this to say: "You know what? I just think he needs to worry about the next couple of weeks leading into Christmas rather than seeing what happens next year. But I think at the moment he just needs to get his body right."