Eels ponder what could have been
As Parramatta comprehensively dismantled the Warriors in a 40-18 defeat on Sunday, they had the look of a team who could be playing finals football this year.
A completion rate of 85 per cent in wet conditions, five line breaks and seven tries all suggest they would foot it with most teams right now, while a look at the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder reveals Parramatta would have accumulated enough points to make the top eight, had they not been docked 12 for salary cap breaches.
To some degree that is fish and chip paper now, it's happened and Parramatta accepted it as their reality a long time ago, but after the Round 26 victory in Auckland prop Peni Terepo admitted it had crossed the players' minds this week.
"We sort of saw that (where they would have finished on the ladder) and reflected on that, but we can't be too hard on ourselves, it was things that were out of our hands," Terepo said.
"We would still be in the top eight if things had been smooth there… but I'm just happy to finish on a high.
"This is a semi-finals team, we deserve to be in there, we have worked really hard since November and our goal was to be there in October, but that's not the case now.
"That will still be our goal, we will just have to wait a bit longer."
New Zealand-born forward Kenny Edwards, who was a surprise guest in the post-match press conference, echoed those thoughts but insisted the club would be better for their experiences in 2016.
"There will always be that feeling of 'what if those points didn't get taken?' but at the end of the day they did and I think for us as a club it's going to better us," Edwards said.
"Brad [Arthur] touched on it before – I think we needed that, we have been a struggling club for years now and with our coaching staff and the players we have got moving forward, I really just rate that."
The end result at Mt Smart Stadium was a comfortable Parramatta victory, but it had looked unlikely in the early exchanges after the Warriors ran riot through the opening 10 minutes.
With the game eight minutes old and the Kiwi side yet to have to make a single tackle, the Warriors led 12-0 and looked set for a convincing result, before Parramatta turned things around to take a 22-18 advantage into half-time.
Assistant coach Steve Murphy said the way his side handled those early setbacks typified their mental toughness in 2016.
"Our response to things that have happened this year has been fantastic from day one, and we are so proud of them as a staff with what they have achieved," Murphy said.
"It's been a tough few years for the group and it's been a really tough season, but to see them get rewarded by winning their last two games… we are really pleased to get the performance tonight that we did.
"I thought we got back into the game off the back of our defensive efforts.
"We started to defend a lot better and then the two tries (from Isaac De Gois in the 17th and 20th minutes) really came off our defence, and that sort of got us in the game."