Parra's pain driving premiership push
The experience of playing for nothing last year has Parramatta players believing they can handle the expectation that comes when you play with everything on the line.
The Eels made a stunning re-entry into the Telstra Premiership top four on Thursday night by putting 52 points on the second-placed Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, the second time in five weeks they had bullied one of the premiership fancies into submission.
It was only a week ago that Eels fans were celebrating their guaranteed return to finals football for the first time since 2009 but given the pain of having points stripped for salary cap breaches last year the players are taking a quiet confidence into September football.
Parramatta were docked 12 competition points in May but the team continued to play with a belief they could do the impossible and qualify for the finals regardless. They won four of the first six games they played after having their points taken away from them and played with a unified spirit that they have carried into 2017.
"When you've got nothing to play for you can easily turn up and get rolled every week and we didn't do that and I think that's the kind of culture that Brad [Arthur, Eels coach] has brought to this club," said star five-eighth Corey Norman.
"It's taken a few years to build it but especially after last year and our hardship there we've definitely got that culture of turning up week in and week out.
"Last year we sat down together and had a good honest chat and what you really need to get out of last year and we did that. The coach does a lot of it but it comes back to the players."
Now an integral member of the ruthless Parramatta forward pack, Nathan Brown lined up against the Eels for South Sydney in the first game after Parramatta's points were deducted, the Rabbitohs having to fight back from 20-6 down to win 22-20.
The Eels had their revenge five weeks later with a 30-12 victory that kept their slim finals hopes alive and left a lasting impression on Brown with the resilience they displayed in such a tumultuous period for the club.
"That was one of the reasons that I came here. They've got a good culture in playing for each other," Brown told NRL.com.
"Playing at Souths last year and looking in to Parra you could tell that they had a good culture and as a player that's what you want.
"You want to go into a team where everyone plays for each other. You've got great coaching staff, good leaders within the club and we're going forward which is good.
"Everyone's really close. We spend a lot of time away from footy with each other and if anyone needs a hand one of the boys will put their hand up and help you out. That's what kind of culture I'm talking about, great mateship and great friendship."
Few know the pain of Parramatta's recent history quite like captain Tim Mannah who has played 174 games for the blue and golds since they last appeared in a finals match.
Whilst those within the Blue and Gold Army might be clearing their calendars for October 1, Mannah believes the experience of last year will help the players to maintain the right perspective as excitement levels grow around them.
"We showed a lot of resilience over the last 18 months but this is a special playing group and we've got a coaching staff that have really led the way for us and made it a lot easier for us to go out there and do our job," said Mannah.
"One thing the playing group learnt over the last 18 months is not to let too much of the outside world affect our inner sanctum.
"Whether they're pumping up our tyres or trying to drag us down we're not too concerned with what everyone else is saying.
"We've got a lot of belief in our playing group and what we can do and we'll just keep our thoughts to ourselves and see how we go."