Eels players call secret meeting to back coach
In a week where the Parramatta club was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons following revelations the signing of star 2016 recruit Kieran Foran was again up in the air, and the future of coach Brad Arthur was cast into doubt as a result, Eels players got together and decided enough was enough.
Speaking after a morale-boosting 16-12 win over the Dragons in front of a home crowd of more than 15,000 fans, Eels lock Anthony Watmough told NRL.com that while the media scrutiny had no effect on the players, the playing group needed to make a stand to take the pressure off the coach.
Watmough also revealed he had spoken to close mate Kieran Foran and told him the same thing he had when Foran was first agonising over whether or not to leave the northern beaches club for a four-year deal out west – do what's best for yourself.
"It's good to get the win for Brad and to show how much us as players want to play for him and what it means to us," Watmough said.
"We got together early before Brad even knew us players had spoken.
"The players got together and we said 'there are people trying to tear us apart, and what we believe in and what we're working for'."
As a result the players decided "we're not going to stand for it," he said.
"It's up to us to stick up for our coach and prove to everyone that we want to play for him and he wants to coach us. It's great for the [young players] to be able to see that mentality and want to play for someone so bad, and it showed."
"We could have tossed that game away but to have that want and desire to prove people wrong, it's a big thing and something the kids will get a lot out of."
Watmough said Arthur had been amazing around the group despite the pressure.
"He should try and get the sack every week!" Watmough laughed.
"At the end of the day he knows the boys support him and he supports us.
"He knew that we supported him and he knew that he had us. We had to prove a point to everyone that there's only so much he can do as a coach and he'd been doing it but we hadn't been doing it on the field. We stuck solid tonight and last week, we haven't been far off for the last six weeks but it's good to get back-to-back wins."
In the post-game press conference Arthur indicated the impromptu get-together among the players earlier in the week had played a part.
"The boys got together during the week and just had a little chat on their own and it showed tonight," Arthur said.
Watmough said the past week had been tough with the speculation around close mate Foran.
"All of it aside, I spoke to 'Foz' and I just said 'look mate you've got to do what's right for you'," Watmough said.
"We had this discussion weeks ago before he'd signed and it's weird having it again. Hopefully he comes, we want him here, Brad's obviously going after him for a reason and it's not ideal what happened, but it happened and we've got to move on from it."
Watmough – not originally named to face the Dragons due to a shoulder injury picked up in the Eels' last game against Melbourne – said he was determined to play at Arthur's request due to the side's mammoth injury toll and against doctor's orders.
"I wasn't going to play. The specialist said 'no', the doctor said 'no', Brad asked 'can you do it?' and I said 'yeah, chuck a few locals [anaesthetics] in there and I'll be right,'" Watmough said.
"I could have said no but we want to prove to people that we're there and we're a solid unit and I think [Saturday night] typified how we are as a team and we haven't been far off for weeks but we're slowly getting there.
"Same as two weeks ago against Melbourne, we could have found excuses to lose but we kept turning up. That's something we tried to build on early in the year but it came a little bit later for us.
"We're getting there. It'd be good to go into the [Round 18] bye with another win [against Wests Tigers next Monday] but we have to work hard. Lucky we've got a bit of a turnaround and we can get some injuries right and some people back and hopefully we'll be a bit better Monday."
Watmough admitted it is hard not to look back at the three close losses from winnable positions against the Warriors, Rabbitohs and Cowboys, knowing they'd be equal third with those extra six competition points.
"It's hard not looking back. If we had have won those games people would be looking at Brad like he's a champion coach.
"No-one lost them but ourselves and that's what we spoke about, just being a bit tougher for each other and proving we can do it because we can do it. We're a young team except for myself, we're a very young team of people that want to have a dig and have a go for one another and it was just little things that were letting us down."