Eels switch transforms journeyman De Gois
When you get the Man of the Match award in a must-win game against the side running first in the NRL, you must be doing something right.
To do it as an 80-minute hooker for a team in finals contention, and to do it less than three months after being a second-string hooker for a team running dead last that has since gone on to all but confirm themselves as the year's wooden spooners – well, it may be time to buy a Powerball ticket.
It's been an unlikely turn of events for Parramatta's Mr Fix-it Isaac De Gois, who credits the move to Parramatta for transforming his game.
The NRL journeyman has, for most of his career, been more bridesmaid than bride.
He debuted in 2006 for Wests Tigers and played a handful of games but the young hooker faced an uphill battle for game time with a bloke by the name of Robbie Farah hanging around.
A switch to Cronulla the following year brought some consistency – De Gois didn't miss a game over 2007-08 – but he spent his first year on the bench behind Kevin Kingston and a decent run of starts the following year only came as the result of a long-term injury to the future Penrith skipper.
A move north to replace UK-bound club legend Danny Buderus at Newcastle brought De Gois his first extended run as a first-choice hooker in what was a fair year for the club – finishing seventh – but he saw his game time diminish over the following two seasons, partly due to the rise of Matt Hilder, and in 2012 he moved back to the Sharks.
However after starting his first few games back in the Shire he spent the next two years as the reserve hooker behind John Morris, which is where he was when an untimely injury to impressive young former Rabbitoh Nathan Peats left the rejuvenated Eels in a massive hole.
With Under-20s NSW hooker Kaysa Pritchard sidelined long-term, the Eels were seriously struggling for dummy half options and threw an SOS to the NRL journeyman ahead of the June 30 transfer deadline.
The chance to be the number one hooker at a team on the rise was too good to pass up, and De Gois packed his bags for Sydney's west virtually overnight.
The Eels lifeline had an air of desperation about it – how many NRL-quality hookers are available for a mid-season switch at short notice? – but the move has proved a masterstroke.
Since the mid-season switch De Gois has virtually doubled his touches per game from just under 50 to close to 90, and doubled his tackles from 20 to 40 per game. In a testament to the quality of his work around the ruck for the Eels, his one-on-one tackles have leapt from just over one per game to nearly five per game in the blue and gold.
He is actually making fewer runs per game since the move despite the increase in minutes, partly due to the Eels' different playing structure, but when he does run his effectiveness has increased and his selection of when to run has been good; his metres per run have jumped from 7.4 metres per carry at Cronulla to 8.9 at Parramatta.
That improved form culminated in the Man of the Match award in the side's 22-12 win over Manly at Pirtek Stadium last Friday night – not a bad effort when your team's fullback has made 200 metres with 10 tackle breaks.
"It's been good; the coaching staff and players have been very welcoming which makes my job a lot easier, it's been a great transformation for me," De Gois told NRL.com after the Manly game.
"I think just playing more game time [has helped my form], getting back to enjoying my footy plays a big part; full credit goes to the coaching staff and the players."
He said it was great to be part of a high quality playmaking combination that also includes superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne, livewire halfback Chris Sandow and underrated five-eighth Corey Norman.
"We've got quality players, those three players have all got individual brilliance and it's great to be a part of," he said.
De Gois acknowledged the must-win nature of that clash ahead of another crucial game against one of his former clubs, Newcastle, this Saturday.
"We knew we had to win; being here at Pirtek Stadium for the last time this year it was great to get the win. Manly are a quality side, in my opinion they're the best team in the comp so it will be a big confidence boost for us.
"But Newcastle – I've played in Newcastle and when they play at home they're always on, they've got a great forward pack, their backs are playing great footy. Every game you've got to be up for it. This will be a good momentum swing for us."
In typically humble fashion, De Gois refused to take any credit for his star turn in Friday's critical win.
"It is nice [to get some recognition] but full credit goes to our forwards, they did a real tough job. The Manly forwards are a quality pack, they always do their job and they always turn up but we matched them.
"We just stuck to the game plan, did what we do best for us. I thought our defence was a lot better too, our structure and how we controlled the ruck. It's a credit to our forwards and it allowed the backs to score points."
He said the eighth-placed Eels, who are now two points clear of ninth-placed Broncos, were glad to have their fate in their own hands.
"You never want to be in the situation where you're relying on teams to win or lose or what not," he said. "Every game is tough so to get that win [against Manly], you enjoy it accordingly then come back and get ready for the Knights."