Parramatta players have laughed off winger Semi Radradra's increasingly delayed return from a trip to Fiji as him being on 'Fiji time', saying they expect him back a day out from Saturday's meeting with the Sharks.
The in-form winger was allowed to return to his homeland over the club's bye period in Round 16 but has so far failed to return to training amid reports he in unsettled and eyeing a code switch to rugby.
Facing media on Wednesday, Eels players said they had been told that morning by coach Brad Arthur the flying Fijian would be back in time to face the Sharks at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
"He's on Fiji time at the moment. We've been told he's going to be back by Friday, I think it is, or tomorrow (Thursday), I'm not too sure but he's going to be back," said centre Michael Jennings.
"Brad's told us he's going to be back Friday."
Hooker Isaac De Gois had the same message.
"He'll be back, that's what we're expecting. When he turns up – we're thinking Friday – so we're looking forward to seeing him Friday," De Gois said.
"It's not a distraction at all. Semi in my opinion is the best winger in the world. If he turns up Friday and I'm sure he will he'll do his job whether he was here all week or whether he turns up Friday… he's on Fiji time, it's the way he is mate."
De Gois said Radradra hadn't seemed unhappy at all of late.
"He's always got a big smile on his face when he's at training and when he's scoring tries which is pretty much every week so he's seems pretty happy to me," he added.
Prop Danny Wicks said he was 'very' confident in Arthur's reassurance that Radradra would return.
"Brad told us he'll be back… He's on Fiji time, he'll be back," Wicks said.
"We thought he'd be here [at training on Wednesday] but we've been told by Brad this morning that he'll be back and that's all that matters."
The players all backed the blockbusting 24-year-old to play his best regardless of how limited his preparation is for this weekend's game.
Asked how late Radradra could return and still play his best, Wicks laughed: "Three minutes before the game!"
"I think he's in the best three players in the world at the moment so if he wants to turn up and throw the boots on and walk out I'm happy with that."
Added Jennings: "Semi's a natural athlete. I think he could warm up and he'd be ready to play. It doesn't distract us, we're just focusing on what we need to do."
Jennings said he understood Radradra was currently dealing with some personal issues and backed the club's handling of the matter in giving Radradra some extended time off at home. He added that if Radradra did end up leaving the club there would be no hard feelings from the players.
"Everyone has their personal issues and why they want to leave, it's nothing for us to comment on, whatever decision he makes the club and the players are behind him," Jennings said.
"I wouldn't [be angry]. That’s a personal decision that he wants to make… it might be family or personal issues. Whatever decision he makes I'm sure the playing group and the staff are behind him."
The other news out of Eels camp this week is the club's decision to relieve injured skipper Kieran Foran of captaincy duties as he attends to personal issues of his own, to go with his season-ending shoulder injury. It allows stand-in captain Beau Scott to get on with the week-to-week side of things.
"Foz will be disappointed but Beauey's been doing a great job in the captaincy plus Foz not playing it's probably good that Beauey gets the opportunity to captain the team," Jennings said.
De Gois added: "Obviously Foz is out for the year with a shoulder injury so someone else had to obviously step up and take the captaincy role so I don't think it's really that much of an issue."
In a season that has lurched from one disaster to the next, headlined by the impending loss of 12 competition points for salary cap rorting, the playing group have continued to find a way to keep the wins coming; their 12-point penalty notwithstanding the club currently sits in fourth place on the ladder with an impressive nine wins from 14 starts.
De Gois shrugged off an assessment from club great Peter Sterling that 2016 is the worst year in the club's history.
"We're still winning games, we're still playing well, our supporters and fans are still turning up to games. I don't think it's been that bad at all to be honest with you," De Gois said.
"It's a full credit to the coaching staff and players the way we've been turning up and playing, we're sitting fourth just past halfway through the year. We've had that much stuff tossed up off field and we're still going pretty well."