Finals dream a reality for Eels: Jennings
Eels strike centre Michael Jennings says the club's finals hopes are now more reality than dream and has encouraged his teammates and fans to embrace the favouritism for the club's remaining games against lower-ranked opponents.
The former Roosters premiership-winner can speak from experience; with 18 Origins, seven Tests for the Kangaroos and 11 finals appearances with the Panthers and Roosters, he has more big-game experience than the rest of the Eels squad combined.
"It's not a dream anymore for us, it's more reality now that we can make the finals and really push forward for the competition if we keep playing the way we did on the weekend [against Brisbane]," Jennings said of this week's crucial Thursday night clash against old rivals Canterbury.
It's a refreshing change from Jennings, with players rarely comfortable saying anything publicly beyond 'we're just taking it one game at a time'. Having achieved close to everything the game has to offer, perhaps Jennings realises the challenge ahead is not one with platitudes but on-field and mental application.
"I think what's good is that everyone's still trying to work hard, we're not trying to be complacent, everyone's still training hard off the field and doing their extras," Jennings clarified.
"We still need to do a lot more than what we're doing at the moment to be up there with the top four teams. It's not a dream now, it's reality."
The four straight wins leading into the Brisbane game was the point at which the players began to realise what they were capable of, he added.
"We're sitting comfortably now, if we keep playing the way we're playing, we've got a few home games [to finish the season]," Jennings said.
"It's good to have that confidence that we'll be playing finals footy, we've got that belief. Like I said it's reality now, we've got that belief now."
He stressed the team couldn't afford to be the slightest bit complacent against a desperate Canterbury team that ran the Eels to golden point just five weeks ago.
"Defensively Bulldogs are really good. I think what most people see is their attack is what they need to fix. For us, defensively we need to pick our game up," he said.
"If we're favourites this game we should embrace it. We've worked hard all year to be where we are so we should embrace being favourites going into this game."
One of the key challenges for the Eels will be to match the intensity they showed last week against the fourth-placed Broncos when they meet the 13th-placed Bulldogs, and key to that is their forwards matching their ferocity of last Friday after responding well to coach Brad Arthur's mid-week challenge last week to truly dominate an opposition pack.
Back-rower Manu Ma'u was one of many Eels who rose to that challenge and is stinging for another crack at Canterbury after going off with a knee injury in the 13-12 Round 17 win.
"I got injured in the first five minutes last time we played Bulldogs. I'm ready to rip in and play with those big boys," Ma'u said.
"I strained my medial and got taken off. I injected it and tried to come back on but it was no good."
He admitted he "thought it was a bit serious" at the time but ended up missing just the Round 18 win over the Storm before returning after the Round 19 bye with a powerful 80-minute, 139-metre, 35-tackle effort against Wests Tigers.
Ma'u said the Eels forward pack cannot afford to drop back their standards after showing what they were capable of against the Broncos.
"[Arthur] told us last week, we've held our own against other forward packs but we haven't really stepped up and played over the opposition forward pack. I believe we did that on Friday. It was a good win," Ma'u said.
"There's no backwards step for us now, we've got to keep pushing and cement a spot in the top eight."