Harder edge showing at new-look Eels
The 2016 Parramatta Eels believe they have taken the lessons from their 2015 second-half fadeouts and, boosted by some competitive new recruits, are better able to close out games in 2016.
The Eels made a habit of losing winnable games last year – including getting run down from 30-6 in front against the Cowboys – so their ability to hang on against the same side last week with some energetic second-half defence was a boost for Brad Arthur's men.
Some players admitted that Cowboys game was one they probably would have found a way to lose last year so were relieved to be able to grind out the win.
"That's something we really want to be better at. We want to be better at being patient and we want to grind out games and I thought we definitely showed that on the weekend," club captain Tim Mannah told NRL.com.
Mannah said the reasons why the club was better able to handle a tense closing was a "mixture of everything," including the additions of experienced rep players like Kieran Foran and Beau Scott.
"The young guys are also getting a bit more development and a bit more maturity and working hard in the summer so it's a mixture of everything," he said.
Lock Tepai Moeroa said the team had been desperate to improve defensively after getting beaten 17-4 by Brisbane in Round 1.
"In previous years the last 20, 25 minutes is where we've fallen off the park and got rolled, especially against the Cowboys last year where they came back," Moeroa told NRL.com.
"The boys fronted up and got real aggressive towards the end."
Moeroa said the biggest improvement had been the team's mental fortitude.
"Just having the mental strength to push through the pain and keep going. Last year we probably would have rolled over and the Cowboys would have rolled two or three tries in but the boys stuck solid and worked hard for each other and came away with the win."
The addition of Kieran Foran to the squad has also made a difference.
"Foz, he leads with his actions, he's one of those players you don't want to let down, you want to do your best to make sure you've got his back," Moeroa said.
"He's a leader. It comes natural to him. To have him and Normy (Corey Norman) in the halves, we've got control all over the field...
"We're getting there. There's lots to work on but we're getting there."
For his part, Scott downplayed his own role in the team's improvement but said he had enjoyed playing a mentoring role to the side's younger forwards who are bursting with potential.
"We've got a good group of youth coming through that are very willing and we just need to point them in the right direction on the field," Scott said.
"At points of the game you're under a lot of fatigue and just the direction I guess is helping us out a little bit.
"They haven't got many NRL games under their belt so it's probably a good time to catch them and see if we can teach them a little bit along the way."
Scott said the squad had worked on its game management a lot over the off season to improve at closing out games and conceded players like himself and Foran had to led the way in those late-game situations.
"I think that's when the majority of games are won and lost. You touched on last year where we weren't capable of closing out games and we've working on them a little bit and I think it's just a recognition of where the game's at," he said.