Eels stamp finals credentials
Friday night's impressive win over the Broncos was not only Parramatta's best performance of the year but also announced their credentials as a genuine top-eight force who could yet be a factor past the first week of September – but Eels players say they've had that belief all year.
The Eels have been roughly on track for a finish somewhere around the bottom part of the eight or just outside it all season but their current five-game winning streak now has them placed to make a charge towards the top four, with a relatively gentle run home featuring games against Canterbury, Souths, Newcastle, Gold Coast and Brisbane again.
Crucially, Friday night was the Eels' best performance given the quality of opposition. Plenty of the team's 12 wins this season have been impressive but six have been against bottom-eight opponents. There were also wins against under-strength top-eight sides in the shape of the Dragons (minus Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell in a pre-Origin week), the Storm (minus six Origin representatives) and Cowboys (minus three-quarters of their first-choice spine due to injury in Round 9).
Their other two wins came in Rounds 1 and 2 against Manly and the Dragons, before most teams had hit their stride.
Still, six wins (from nine games) against current top-eight sides is a mighty record at this stage of the season and Friday night's effort shows none of it was a fluke.
In other significant milestones the win was the team's fifth straight – the first time this has happened under Brad Arthur and the first since their magical run to the 2009 Grand Final. It was also just the second time the Eels have won in 2017 after trailing at half-time.
Notably, the recruit of former Wests Tigers half Mitch Moses mid-season has been something of a turning point. His addition was timely given an injury to first Corey Norman and more recently Clint Gutherson and his combination with his teammates and defensive line partners has improved out of sight since joining the club.
The Eels have now won seven of the nine games in which Moses has worn blue and gold.
"It's a confidence boost in a way but all year we knew we had that in us," fullback Bevan French said after the 28-14 win.
"That's the closest thing to an 80-minute performance we've put together for quite some time. We knew all along what we were capable of, we just have to go out there and capitalise.
"All year we had that belief we'd be there at the back end of the season. We've still got a lot to work on – we know we can play better so hopefully we can do that."
With a finals berth now all-but guaranteed, many of the current Eels squad are set for their first ever finals campaign. Corey Norman played one finals game for Brisbane in 2012, Mannah featured in the 2009 finals run from the bench and bench prop Suaia Matagi played three finals games at Penrith and the Roosters.
Experienced centre Michael Jennings has 11 finals appearances – far more than the rest of the team combined – while his 18 Origins and seven Tests for the Kangaroos also outweigh the rest of the squad combined.
French did not believe that lack of experience would be a problem in September though.
"Not at all. We've got some names in our side who are great leaders," French said.
"You've got Normy and Mitch there who combine very well and some good go forward in the middle with a lot of intent and aggression so if we make it to the finals I'm confident we can give it a good shake up."
The experience of beating that quality of opposition would give the Eels and particularly the forwards a boost moving forward, according to Kenny Edwards.
"To get that win, especially against the Broncs at full strength, they're a good side," Edwards told NRL.com.
"They'll be there come finals time so to get a good win against them was really impressive for us and something we're going to build on. We can't go backwards from here, we play the Dogs, Dogs will be hurting after [losing to Penrith] and they're a tough side so we'll lick our wounds and go back to training and look forward to this week."