New home, new life and remembering a clubman
This Saturday night, the Parramatta Eels take on the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ Stadium in their first home game of the season.
Without sounding clichéd, this is a game both teams will desperately want to win.
After the highs of winning the Premiership in 2016, the Sharks have started their 2017 campaign disappointingly, having won only one out of their first three games.
Should the Sharks sink to one win from four games, it won't get any easier for them in the coming weeks, facing the Melbourne Storm and the Penrith Panthers in the next three weeks away from Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The Eels have had a better start to 2017, with wins over the Manly Sea Eagles and St George Illawarra Dragons, but the club will be extremely disappointed with their last 60 minutes of football against the Gold Coast Titans last week which will be best remembered for impatience, poor ball handling and for being riddled with errors.
I'll be keeping a very close eye on the Eels this weekend, mostly because they are my team, but also because the Eels' ability to make the top eight this year (and indeed for the next three years) will depend on how well they can adapt to their new home, ANZ Stadium, while their actual home ground is rebuilt over the next few years.
It's no secret that the Eels have a very poor record at ANZ Stadium.
In the last five seasons, even when the Eels were languishing at the bottom of the ladder, they managed to win 16 out of 28 games at Pirtek Stadium. In that same period, the Eels only won five from 20 games at ANZ Stadium. What does give me some comfort is that the Eels did manage to win their last three games there in 2016.
Some experts have discounted the Eels in 2017 simply because of a poor record at ANZ Stadium based on the stats above. But you know that old saying – "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics".
These stats only paint part of the picture.
They don't reflect that despite everything that went wrong for the Eels both on and off the field last year (and trust me, plenty went wrong), that they managed to win 13 games and show a resilience on the field that had been lacking for several seasons before. No matter what was happening off the field, I knew I could always count on Brad Arthur and the team to turn up and play for each other, because really, the playing squad was all they had left after everything was imploding around them.
Had the Eels not been docked 12 competition points, they would have made the Telstra Premiership Finals last year for the first time since 2009.
From what I have seen so far in 2017, the resilience developed in 2016 is something the Eels will bring to each game every week. Despite a poor performance last week, the Eels only missed 12 tackles and conceded eight penalties whilst outrunning the Titans by 106 metres. I'm also willing to cut the team some slack as players like Bevan French, Kaysa Pritchard and Clint Gutherson develop as footballers and learn their respective positions.
So despite ANZ Stadium not being the Eels' favourite place to play football, I'm confident that the team will adapt to its new home, all with the understanding that in three years' time we will get to go home to one of the best stadiums in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Johnny Mannah Cup
Despite the importance of the result on Saturday night, thinking about this game gave me the chance to get some perspective. After the Eels loss last weekend I was infuriated – so much so that I ate a couple of chocolate biscuits after the game.
I was still feeling flat on Monday afternoon, but then I logged onto social media to see the news that Eels captain Tim Mannah and his wife Stephanie had welcomed their first child into the world – Capri Rose Mannah.
It's funny how life works sometimes. How fitting that the week Capri decided to come into the world is the week that the Eels, Sharks and entire rugby league community come together to celebrate her late uncle, Jon Mannah.
Jon Mannah passed away on 18 January 2013. When the Eels play the Sharks on Saturday night, they will be playing for the Johnny Mannah Cup in his honour.
Jon started his career at the Sharks and played there from seasons 2009-2011. In 2011 he came back to Parramatta to join his brother Tim.
First diagnosed in 2009, Jon battled against Hodgkin's lymphoma for three years. He battled so hard that he managed to get back to full fitness and played another 12 games for the Sharks. Unfortunately he had a relapse in 2011 whilst playing for the Wenty Magpies and then finally lost his battle in January 2013.
I met Jon several times and was always touched by his kindness and his grace. He had a love of life, a love of family and a love of football which truly shone through in all that he did.
He was a gentleman and the rugby league family was very lucky to call Jon one of its own.
I'm looking forward to seeing plenty of Eels and Sharks fans in attendance on Saturday night to celebrate a brother, a son and a clubman.
Fingers crossed, that we will also have the opportunity to welcome the newest lady who leagues to her first rugby league game too. While Capri may sleep through the entire game and have no idea about the significance of the event, it's fitting that her first game will be a celebration of someone she may not have had the opportunity to know, but someone who will always have a very special presence in her life.