Mature Norman Eels' most consistent
After Parramatta's tense 26-22 win in Melbourne on Monday coach Brad Arthur heaped praise on pivot Corey Norman, who says he'd challenged himself to have a "red hot crack" in 2015.
The injury-hit Eels are 15th on the ladder, but had they not surrendered winning positions against the Rabbitohs, Warriors and Cowboys in their past three losses they could be in the eight, leading Norman to describe 2015 as a season of "what ifs" for the blue and golds.
Despite their lowly position on the ladder, Norman has been a shining light for the club still battling to work out how it wants to play its football in the post-Jarryd Hayne era.
Norman proved a tremendous foil for the mercurial Hayne as the Eels fell one win short of the finals last year and has shouldered an additional load in the wake of the departure of the NFL-bound fullback.
Norman has also played a vital role alongside enigmatic half Chris Sandow, steadying the ship and allowing the brilliant but inconsistent halfback to shine in the matches Parramatta have won.
"Corey Norman at the moment for us is controlling our game," Arthur said on Monday night.
"He takes a bit of pressure of Chris and allows Chris just to get the footy and run and play what he sees. I think Corey Norman at the moment for us is our most consistent player and he's doing a very good job."
Norman told NRL.com that while it's always nice to get raps from the coach he'd be happier getting a few extra wins for the team.
"It is good but I'm not here to get raps, I just want to win, and we need to start winning," Norman said.
"It's good that we got a win and good that I got a rap but we need to go away with the bye and freshen up mentally and physically and get back and I think we've got two more games then another bye so the next two games are really crucial as well."
Norman has eight try assists this year – just one behind Chris Sandow – and scored a crucial try against the Storm in another polished effort that also saw him moved to fullback in the latter stages of the game following Reece Robinson's fractured cheekbone and a couple of handling errors from Sandow while filling in at the back.
He said he felt like he'd matured as a player this year after challenging himself to lift his game.
"In the last year I said to myself I really wanted to step up this year and have a red hot crack and each week I just try and do the same thing," Norman said.
"That just means consistency, not having one good game and a couple of weeks off then have another one. I've been working hard to turn up every week and give my best for the boys."
He added he felt comfortable in his short stint at fullback.
"I've played almost a full season there before [at Brisbane], I just went back there and felt comfortable. You've just got to be aware of where the kickers are, it's a lot of repeat efforts – it's different to being up in the line."
It was a relief to finally win a game after so many close losses, he said.
"It's just good to be on the other side I guess. There's no better feeling than just hanging in there and winning a game like that. It was good for us and it's a good feeling.
"We've had so many close games and let ourselves down in close games it's been a real year of 'what ifs' for us but that needs to turn around if we want to make anything of this year."
With Robinson going down with a fractured cheek in the fourth minute and a host of other injuries leading to no available players on the bench by the end of the game – including both hookers out of action – Norman said at times players weren't even sure what position they were in.
"It was [chaotic], to be honest mate I didn't know who was playing where, everyone was everywhere, that's what makes the win even better, we just found a way to win," he said.
"It was a scrappy game and we had players everywhere but it was good to hold on to a win. We needed that, especially with the bye this week – it's a four-point game so it was good."