Unpredictability key to Eels' finals push
Eels players hope the unpredictable nature of the team's attacking play, through an instinctive halves pairing that swing both sides of the field and some ball-playing forwards, could prove to be the kryptonite that undoes their finals rivals through September.
Parramatta are one of the few teams that not only have two genuine top-line playmakers in the halves but also two instinctive footballers who are prepared to shift to both sides of the field, link up on the edges and play eyes-up footy.
Speaking to NRL.com about the heart-breaking narrow loss to the Storm last week and a must-win semi-final against the impressive Cowboys this Saturday night, five-eighth Corey Norman said both he and halfback Mitch Moses wold hate to be pinned to one side of the field in attack.
"A big part of that is [coach] Brad [Arthur]'s game plan and structure but the good thing about me and Mitchy, we can kind of play off the cuff, we're both footy players and we love playing footy," Norman said.
"It's come along really good but I couldn't be happier with where we're at at the moment."
The style the pair play is not dissimilar to that which started to evolve last year between Norman and Kieran Foran, before the latter's injury woes and eventual departure.
Prompted on the similarities, Norman laughed: "I know I don't like being pegged down on the left edge, I like roaming and I think Mitch is the same.
"Brad's structure, the way we play it makes it so much harder to prepare when halves are popping up on both sides of the field."
Not only have the pair clicked quicker than expected in attack but the mid-season signing of Moses has taken a ton of pressure off Norman and allowed him to focus on his natural game.
"Absolutely he has [taken pressure off me], Mitch has come in here and he's flying, I think he's playing the best football he's played in his career," Norman said.
"He's definitely taken the pressure off me and also Nathan Brown and Clint Gutherson when he was playing, they were massive for me as well. Clint and 'Browny' had breakout years but Mitch as well, they've really taken a lot of pressure off me and I've been able to focus on my game."
The infectious energy of the halves has been a boost for the rest of the squad but particularly the forwards, according to ball-playing back-rower Kenny Edwards.
"In defence they play left and right but apart from that they roam," Edwards said.
"They've had 12 or 15 games together, imagine next season when they've had a whole pre-season! Two players who play off the top of their head but can also play to structure, I'm lucky to be outside them."
Edwards has had a closer experience of playing alongside Moses that most this year, given they are paired on the right side in defence.
"We've got our whole right edge, myself, Tepai [Moeroa], 'Jenko' (Michael Jennings), Somi [Auva'a] and Mitch running the play. It brings an unpredictability about our right side," Edwards continued.
"We always play what's in front of us and don't leave any stone unturned. I think that's good, we probably haven't had that in the past. Bringing Mitchy out here has been a blessing, especially for Normy, it's taken a lot of pressure off him."
Looking ahead to the Cowboys, Norman said there was no suggestion of the team taking confidence from a narrow loss to the table-topping Storm because in the team's belief they should have won the game.
"We had the game there to be won and we let that slide. We always knew we had a chance so it's more disappointing that we let that game go ourselves," Norman said.
"That's our own fault and we'll have a look at it this week and where we need to improve and really focus on the Cowboys."
While half the Eels team were making their NRL finals debut against the Storm, Norman was in just his second finals appearance.
The first seems a lifetime ago; back in 2012 Norman was a Bronco playing alongside the likes of Corey Parker, Petero Civoniceva, Justin Hodges and a few current-day Broncos like Sam Thaiday, Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett. His team finished eighth and got bundled out of the opening round of the finals by North Queensland, who the Eels meet on Saturday.
"A lot of the boys, you probably couldn't tell it was their first finals appearance [against Melbourne]," Norman said.
"I think they embraced it and that's what you need to do. It's exciting playing finals football, good crowds, the games are good.
"I just approached last week as another game and prepared myself as I would any other game and just get ready like any other week.
"We're champing at the bit to get [to ANZ Stadium on Satuday] and I think it's going to be a good game. That win with the Cowboys [against Cronulla], they're going to come down here as excited as well.
"No one gave them a hope and they won, the belief up there must be massive. They're going to come down here and try and ruin the party.
"It's very exciting to be playing at this time of year. It is do or die now, we can't lose, we all know that. This week we have to really look at ourselves, prepare the best we can and get ready for the Cowboys."