The spirit binding the blue and gold wall
The stunning defensive spirit shown by Parramatta over the opening six rounds of the 2016 season is the kind of thing most NRL coaches would love to be able to bottle up and take with them anywhere they go – but in reality that kind of resilience comes from something much less tangible.
A belief in each other, belief in and respect for their coaches, a desperation not to let each other down as well as complete confidence that the man next to them has their back. These are the sorts of things guiding Parramatta through the tough times out on the field.
Times like when an error straight after half-time against the Raiders meant the Eels were forced to soak up seven straight minutes of attack at their try line. The jubilation and high fives that spread throughout the team when a tired Raiders outfit eventually – in their seventh set in Eels territory – coughed up the ball showed how much that passage meant to Parramatta.
This week, players spoke of what is a remarkable record – an NRL-best 65 points conceded at a tick under 11 per game – but tempered that with the knowledge it's early in the season and sterner tests await.
It helps that coach Brad Arthur has brought in some star power; players who are accustomed to defending in teams that simply don't leak points.
Half Kieran Foran won a premiership at Manly and is regarded as one of the best defensive halves in the competition; centre Michael Jennings, for all his strike power, has spent three seasons at the Roosters while they averaged around 13 points per game conceded on their way to three minor premierships and the 2013 grand prize. Back-rower Beau Scott is famous for his rugged-defensive work on the right edge in NSW's drought-breaking 2014 Origin series win and the Dragons' miserly 2010 premiership charge.
"It's our attitude. It all comes down to the attitude," was Jennings' straightforward assessment.
"It's having that right mindset of you're playing with someone you don't want to let down because everyone's so committed and all the hard work they've done in pre-season, it's all coming off in the field and everyone's putting in that effort. It's the right attitude.
"It's not being willing to let your teammate down."
Hard-working lock Tepai Moeroa, who has made the starting No.13 jersey his own in the absence of Anthony Watmough, agreed.
"It definitely makes it easy when the player next to us is covering our backside," he said.
"We have the luxury of maybe overstepping one or two steps because we know the guy inside will cover.
"The boys just want to work for each other, plain and simple. No one wants to let anyone else down, you want to work for the man both sides of you.
"If you're in the line at 'A' you just tip the fella next to you 'let's go, let's get up here' then it kind of dominoes and everyone gets on board."
Rugged hooker Nathan Peats is in his third year at Parramatta and has played in Eels sides that were far more fragile in defence and to him the improvement is a culmination of what the coach has been building over three years.
"It's finally starting to come together. We're just turning up for one another," Peats said.
"You don't want to be that bloke that makes the mistake or misses that tackle. Everyone's putting in the hard work and it's starting to pay off a bit in our defence.
"It's obviously good having that belief and the confidence we're not going to let them in. On the weekend [against Canberra] it was probably that feeling.
"We were doing really well and it was good confidence. Even with the dropouts we knew it was just another set we had to defend. It's good confidence-wise for everyone. It's just one game though, if we can start backing up week in week out that's when people might start taking notice."
Round 1 against Brisbane saw two tries run down through Parramatta's right side defence and rookie winger Clint Gutherson and centre Brad Takaraingi have worked overtime to make sure that area isn't seen as a weakness. There's hardly been a point scored down Parramatta's right side since.
Having Foran and Scott lining up to their inside hasn't hurt either.
"'Foz' and 'Beauy', they've made their careers on being tough in defence and no question, you know they're going to turn up for you so me and 'Takas' are trying to work off that and work with each other," Gutherson said.
"I think there have only been one or two tries on our side since Round 1 so we've been working on that and trying to keep that up for the rest of the season.
"We had a look at ourselves after that [first] round and what we had to do and after that we have gelled, we've worked hard on it so we're looking forward to what teams can throw at us and see if we can shut it down."
Gutherson, like Scott and Foran, is new to the club this year but he said a hefty focus in the pre-season is paying off.
"Most of our pre-season was about defence and turning up for one another and not compromising one another's efforts so we've put a lot of work into that and as we can see in the first six rounds we're thereabouts," he added.