Mannah 'blown away' by Jennings' leadership
For all the headlines and fanfare around Parramatta match-winners like halves Corey Norman and Mitch Moses and try-scoring sensation Semi Radradra, veteran centre Michael Jennings is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of his decorated career – and his contribution is not lost on close mate and Eels skipper Tim Mannah.
Crucially, the 2013 Premiership-winning centre has got better as the season has progressed.
Brought to the club as a left centre – a position he spent almost his entire career to that point – Jennings was switched mid-season to the right to suit the team's needs, particularly in terms of defence.
His combination on the Parramatta right side with Mitch Moses and Tepai Moeroa in particular has improved out of sight.
Jennings himself over the past month alone racked up four tries and 12 busts as well as 100-plus metres in every game bar the romp over the Titans in Round 23.
"In particular the last month or two when the games started to mean a bit more and there was a bit more on the line you saw 'Jenko' step up," Mannah said of his junior footy rival.
"He's definitely a big-game player and his leadership he's displayed the last month or two has really blown me away. I always knew he was capable of it but to see it in action again just shows why he's the kind of player he is."
Jennings' big-game experience – 11 finals including the 2013 Grand Final win, 10 Tests for the Kangaroos and 18 Origins – would outweigh the rest of the current Eels team combined if not for fellow veteran Beau Scott.
"You can tell in the way he's playing he's a man that's experienced, a man that knows what it takes," Mannah continued.
"We've got guys like Beau Scott as well. Kirisome Auva'a's won a grand final as well, guys that have been there and done that who can really guide the younger players in terms of knowing what to expect."
As the Eels head into the club's first finals campaign since Mannah's debut season in 2009, the skipper also had some heady praise for coach Brad Arthur who, freed from the shackles of last year's salary cap penalty and a conflicted and dysfunctional board, has shown him to be a coach and man-manager of exceptional work ethic and nous.
"Seeing what I've seen the last four years [and] the way he handled himself last year, [Arthur] earned so much respect from the playing group the way he shouldered all the burden," Mannah said.
"He allowed us just to focus on our footy and I think the way he's handled this year and to get the performances he has out of our playing group is a real credit to himself. It's very rare in professional sport that a playing group really want to play for their coach and go out there and make him proud but he's definitely got that from our playing squad.
"He's probably the most complete coach I've ever had. The amount of work he does, his work ethic is unbelievable so he'll be preparing for games two or three weeks in advance and his man-management skills have really improved.
"He's definitely the most complete coach I've ever had."