Watmough steeling young Eels
His old Manly team had just been pummelled by a bunch of Parramatta upstarts who had no business keeping with the Brookvalians, but Eels forward David Gower knew one of his former teammates would soon be in on it.
The worst kept rugby league secret in 2014 wasn't officially announced until late October, but from the moment long-time Manly servant Glenn Stewart was deemed surplus to requirements on the north shore, Anthony Watmough's future also went under a dark, grey cloud.
And there it stayed for most of the season until an awkward date with the Eels in Round 24, where a ray of sunshine broke through.
"He obviously wasn't too chatty because we got 'em good," Gower told NRL.com of Watmough's arrival at Parramatta, where he linked up again with Eels mentor and former Manly assistant coach Brad Arthur.
"But he just knew the coach and bloke Brad was. Knowing who the coach is and what he wants from his team, you know what sort of team you're going to have as well. He was really excited to come across, learn under Brad and get involved in our squad. He's bought into everything – the culture and everything we want to do. It's been great so far."
Critics have questioned the value of signing Watmough on a four-year deal that will expire just after the back-rower hits his 35th birthday. But there's a ton of hard-earned experience in that battered frame that you simply can't pick up on the training paddock or read in a textbook.
Gower, who lost a grand final alongside Watmough in 2013, put it this way: "He brings a hard, competitive edge and mental toughness on the field. He's a player that's won grand finals, played Origins, played for Australia.
"He knows what it takes to be competitive for 80 minutes, and maybe that was something that we were lacking a little bit last year. In all our drills, he's making sure that the boys are keeping their body language right and that our technique is all correct. The younger guys are really thriving off his leadership at the moment."
And for a club that just lost its inspirational talisman in Jarryd Hayne, a club icon who either scored or set up a third of the team's tries last season, they could certainly do with a bloke that knows what to do when times get tough – especially when they have a forward pack greener than the Parramatta river.
Manly's pilfering of Parramatta's talented juniors – or rather, the Eels' infamous inability to hang onto them – has been well-documented in recent seasons. But Watmough's arrival, together with the comeback of prop Richie Fa'aoso, brings the number of ex-Sea Eagles at western Sydney to five.
And Gower hopes the mental toughness that defined Manly's success in recent seasons will help improve the club as they strive for their first post-season run since 2009.
"When it gets tough, when you've just done repeated efforts and your arse is hanging out, when you're exhausted and need to find something, I think he's just going to show young guys like Tepai [Moeroa] that there's no excuse to be tired, no excuse not to tie in, there's no excuse not to make your tackles," Gower continued.
"It's just that competiveness and mental toughness that I was just talking about earlier. That's going to be great for kids like Tepai, Pauli Pauli, Junior Paulo, and they're all thriving off it. If we can all as a squad, develop that mental toughness that Choc has, that Manly has, I think we're going to be improving for sure."