Eels halfback Chris Sandow says his dumping to NSW Cup a fortnight ago was a 'wake-up call' that sparked him into a man-of-the-match effort against Penrith on Friday night.
The off-contract playmaker's mid-season relegation to Wentworthville seemed to put paid to his hopes of a fresh deal at the club and, at the age of 26, threatened his chances of getting a new contract elsewhere.
But after a game in which he controlled proceedings well, kicked beautifully for 463 kicking metres and laid on a try, the halfback said he's enjoying his footy and thinks of his fellow Eels not as teammates but family.
"I had a rough few weeks but it's behind me now," he said.
"I'm just enjoying my footy you know, when the boys work hard in the middle I love that and I just play off the back of that, me and 'Normy' [five-eighth Corey Norman]."
He said the demotion to NSW Cup from Eels coach Brad Arthur was a wake-up call and he took it on the chin.
"I just love playing footy, I didn't let it get me down. I know what I'm capable of, whatever's good for the team I'll do. Brad put me back there to take control of the side and I did that. He gave me an opportunity tonight and I didn't let him down," Sandow said.
He admitted his contract situation was in the back of his head.
"The boys there are pretty much like family you know, they're not [just] my teammates, they're like family. We've just got to stick together like we have been all year, we've been sticking really solid. Hopefully tonight is a turning point for us."
It was a welcome chance to be able to close out a game after having lost at the death to Souths last week and in golden point to the Warriors a week before, he said.
"It was good behind the line, the talk was really good, we didn't go in our shell like we have been in previous weeks, we just stuck together as brothers and we got through it tonight and hopefully it's a turning point for the club," he said.
His form at the kicking tee also returned; having missed all five shots last week he nailed all five against the Panthers, which he put down to a big week at training with retired Parramatta goal-kicking ace Luke Burt.
"Me and Burty have been working really hard you know, Burty was a great kicker at the club... me and Burty have been working really hard and we worked really hard this week and it paid off tonight."
In his typically understated way, Arthur paid tribute to Sandow's match-winning turn after the game.
"Chris was very good tonight. We need to make sure that he does it week in, week out for us," Arthur said.
And of the confidence that seems to be so critical to Sandow's performances: "Chrissy is pretty care-free, I don't think too much fazes him."
Sandow's halves partner Corey Norman also praised the halfback's efforts.
"He did play well and good on him, I'm happy for him, he got man of the match and everyone knew Chrissy had that in him and he's just got to find that every week," he said.