Eels players continue to find a way
Despite a seemingly endless parade of off-field (and occasional on-field) dramas buffeting the Eels this season, the players continue to turn up for each other and find a way to win games.
Yet another hard-fought win last weekend – coming from 18-6 down with 20 to play, having lost two key players for the match in the opening 20 minutes, to win 22-18 against the Roosters – has them remarkably still in the hunt for an unlikely finals berth despite losing 12 competition points due to salary cap breaches.
Winger Clint Gutherson – who scored the late match-winning try last Friday – said there was a measure of relief in having the salary cap penalty now formalised so the club knows exactly where it stands moving forward.
"It is finally good to realise where we are sitting. We were fourth or tied third for a while there but we've lost the points now, we know what we have to do to make the eight and we'll soon see if we can," Gutherson said.
"We'll just take it week by week and just keep turning it over and keep getting the wins that we need to."
Club captain Tim Mannah said the players had reconciled to the loss of points some time ago but agreed it was a relief to have it formalised.
"Ten weeks ago we accepted that this was happening. It was nice for it finally to come out but our job hasn't changed," Mannah said.
"It doesn't matter if we lost 12 points or none. Our job is to look forward to the next match. Footy players have to prepare for footy games."
Aside from the salary cap issues, in recent times the club has also had to deal with the mid-season loss of stars Nathan Peats (Titans) and Junior Paulo (Raiders) to help them make the team salary cap compliant, plus a couple of well-publicised off-field dramas concerning star playmaker Corey Norman, as well as star winger Semi Radradra eyeing a stint in overseas rugby before suffering a six-week knee injury last week.
But the immediate focus for the Eels squad is getting the necessary win over Penrith on Saturday to keep their season alive and Gutherson said last Friday's performance proved the players had the focus and commitment to keep getting the job done.
"You always know looking next to you that the person next to you is going to be working hard for you and we built that throughout the pre-season and the start of the season as well," he said.
"When we lost two early injuries there with Semi and 'Goisy' [hooker Isaac De Gois] going down we knew we could still do it even with 20 minutes to go and down by two tries we knew we could win if we stuck to what we were doing and we'd get the win and it turned out in the end we did."
The Eels are aware of the sort of challenge Penrith will provide back at home with a talented young squad.
"We know that Penrith are going to turn up ready to go. They've got a real good team over there, a good young team that can really just offer out anything, they can put 60, 70 points on you… but we've just got to go about it as per usual and turn up ready to play," Gutherson said.
Gutherson was adamant finals footy was still a realistic goal for the club in 2016.
"Our goal at the start of the season was to be playing in October and that still is our goal," he said.
"We're not giving up hope until Round 26 when we know if we are or if we're not playing so we're raring to go and we'll keep giving it our all and that's what we've built here and that's what we're going to keep giving."