'The footy world will see the real Chris Sandow'
So Jarryd Hayne has traversed the waters to fulfil a childhood dream, walking away from his statuesque status in western Sydney, which – according to the critics – means Eels coach Brad Arthur is going to throw in the towel for 2015, Parramatta's Town Hall will collapse, and the rugby league apocalypse is about to set in.
But Chris Sandow is one player who believes the outlook remains bright, not just for the Parramatta Eels but also his own turbulent career.
The latter is of particular significance for the halfback once dubbed the Aboriginal Alfie, because the last time he entered the final season of a contract he waltzed away from none other than Russell Crowe with one of the biggest deals in NRL history.
NRL.com sat down with Sandow to discuss the Eels' recent trip to Seattle, life without Hayne, his next contract, and why he'll follow Brad Arthur wherever he goes.
Q: How were the eight days in Seattle?
A: It was an eye-opener when we went to interact with the kids and put a smile on their faces. It was positive. They sat there and said, "You have a nice accent." I told them I was native Australian. But we went there and worked hard as well.
Good time to gel with the new teammates as well...
Yeah for sure. Instead of coming back fresh and getting flogged and being tired, you want to go home and sleep. There were times where we did go out and hung out, which was good. We came back like we'd known each other for a long time now. That's really good. That goes to show where we're going as a club. I'm really positive about what we're trying to build here at Parramatta.
How different has it been without Jarryd Hayne?
I've been asked that a lot lately. It's going to be tough, you know, because there's not another Jarryd Hayne in the club. But we've got different guys that bring different things to the team. Jarryd was a big, big part of what we're building here, but that's life. He's gone to chase his dream like a kid. Playing in the NRL, that was my dream. And he pursues his dream in the NFL. Good luck to him. We've got blokes that can bring something different than what Jarryd did, and that goes to BA (coach Brad Arthur), the club and the coaching staff who are getting other blokes here to Parramatta and building a good culture.
Have you made a conscious decision to step up more in his absence?
I sat down and thought about it when I was at home after I got that text [from him]. I was back in Queensland at the time. Normally I love a drink each weekend, but I've narrowed stuff down, what I do on the weekends, to keep on top of my fitness and on top of my body weight. I've been going really well and I'm excited about myself to take that next step next year.
It sounds like you're more motivated this pre-season...
I always play to win. I'm a sore loser. I hate losing. All the boys know that. That's why I'm always trying to win when we do conditioning games at training, always geeing the boys up on the weights. I'm just a competitor. I want to win all the time.
But it doesn't go like that sometimes. I've always grown up as a kid winning, every weekend when we're playing. But then you do grow up and there are guys in the NRL, the best competition in the world, and they're training as much, or harder than I am. I always have that in the back of my head, because I want to win every game because I like to see the boys happy.
Three years ago, you were coming off contract and had a big year. Do you remember what it was like?
Yeah, it brings a lot of memories, actually. The type of training we're doing here at Parra is similar. We've got a lot of skilful blokes at Parra like we did at Souths at the time. We're all young faces here too, and want to make a name for ourselves and stamp our authority in the NRL. And that's really positive for the club. We have the best group we've had in a while and I'm excited about playing behind some of these players.
The price tag came with a lot of expectation though...
100 per cent. I think the expectations of me coming to Parra, I didn't know what it was going to be like. Coming from a community, I was just worried about playing footy. But coming to a big city by myself, I just got bogged down in stuff, going out every weekend.
I missed out on a lot growing up. I became a dad at a young age and I missed out on stuff. I think I just had fun. I don't regret it because it was fun. I loved doing it at the time. But it's all behind me now. I'm 26 in January, but I'm still young. Footy-wise, I'm one of the older guys in the club. The boys do look up to me and I'm ready to take that on the chin and work really hard to take the boys forward.
Do you want to stay at Parramatta?
Yeah, it'd be good. We're building, I like what I see here at Parramatta with all the guys coming through. I just want to be a part of it because I know Parramatta's going somewhere and I want to be a part of that.
If I do leave and go to another club and the boys do go good, it'll shatter me. That's why I've been training my arse off. I want to stay with the boys because some of the boys do have longer contracts than me at Parra. But it's up to the club and Brad if they want me to stay. I'm going to try my best to get a new contract here at Parra.
Have the negotiations started?
I'm not quite sure. My manager does stuff behind the scenes and he doesn't get me involved because he wants me to work hard at training and just think about footy. I'm at my best when I'm only thinking about footy.
Peter Sterling has suggested a number of times that the club should go in a different direction at halfback. Do those comments bother you?
Nah, Sterlo's got his own opinion. He's his own man. It doesn't bother me, what he says. He's a great of the club, but I'm my own man. I'm Chris Sandow. I'm from an aboriginal community. I play my own style of footy. I don't really care what Sterlo says.
Do you believe you're worth your contract?
At the time, I was killing it at Souths. I thought I was worth that at the time. But then I came and I didn't play too well because what I was doing at Souths, I was winning games on my own. We had a game plan that suited me. When I came to Parra, it was different – organisation on the field, what the coaching staff wanted from me. I wasn't quite used to that.
With Brad, he reminds me of John Lang a lot as a coach. That's what I like about Brad. I love playing under Brad, he reminds me so much of John Lang.
So, an angry man?
He's not angry, but he's straight down the line with you and what he wants from you. He makes the boys play to my style of footy, or what our strengths are on the field. That's smart of a coach to think or build a game plan around certain people. I'll play for Brad anywhere, if he goes somewhere else, I'd follow him.
You sound like you're determined to have your best year at Parramatta...
I'm excited. I feel like a kid again. I think the footy world is going to see the real Chris Sandow next year and I'm excited about that. When I came to Parra, some fans did change from Souths to Parra even though they were long-term Souths supporters. I asked them why, but they just said they love my style of footy. I gave them a big hug for that. I love to win games, I think the fans see that in me.