Mannah's hospital visits forge 'priceless' bond with Eels 18th man
A week after Parramatta had their 2016 season shattered by the club's salary cap scandal, coach Brad Arthur marched his full team up the road to Westmead Children's Hospital.
It was a reminder that 12 competition points wasn't everything in the world then, just as four losses to start 2018 isn't everything now.
Eels players can often be found doing the rounds at Westmead and its adjoining Ronald McDonald House, the home away from home for families with sick kids.
None more so than skipper Tim Mannah, the last man who needed that reality check two years ago.
The 30-year-old prop is on deck a couple of times each month, touching base with families and friends he has come to know over six years as ambassador for the McDonald's house.
Sharing the same first name, birthday, and passion for all things Parramatta, Tim Jelacic is still with the Eels captain, the "saddest story" that endures most.
'Tuff Timmy' died two-and-a-half years ago, aged nine. He spent most of his life fighting recurrent brain tumours.
More than 50 general anaesthetic treatments and 60 bouts of radiation therapy make up part of Timmy's tale.
But for all Timmy's resolve, it was the kid's simple relish for life that still sticks with Mannah now.
"Timmy just loved life, he was always happy and in a good mood," Mannah smiles.
"He loved Parra and coming to the footy and came out to a lot of our games.
"He had the same birthday as Jarryd (Hayne) and myself and we formed a friendship with him. His mum Nicole and his whole family, they're a beautiful family and we got to spend a number of years with Timmy.
"We saw his whole journey as he fought his brain tumours and that's one story that still sticks out in my mind, meeting some special people here.
"Nicole still stays in touch most weeks, she wishes us luck before games and we'll see her around here and there.
"You develop relationships here that last a lifetime."
Parramatta's association with the Ronald McDonald House, and kids like Timmy that come through its doors, stretches back some 22 years now.
Fundraising by The Mannah Foundation in 2014 helped send the Jelacic family to Disneyland, while the Eels dubbed him their honorary 18th man at their last game before he passed away. That jersey still gets a run most every home game, with Nicole and the family almost always in attendance.
Sending a family of five halfway around the world has its complications. But the simple time and effort put in by the Blue and Gold is worth its weight in that same precious metal.
"You can't put what Tim does into words. The commitment he gives individually on his own, outside of the club visits and coming in over so long is beyond anything we've seen," Ronald McDonald House CEO Belinda Woolford says.
"But all the guys, that impact they have is priceless. Having the boys come down and spend time with the kids and families during a tough time is huge.
"These kids, a lot of them have only seen footballers on the TV so they absolutely love it.
"…they don't mind sledging them either, I've heard a few today already and you know what kids are like, they're always pretty honest with them."
Parramatta are copping it from all corners, at the moment, not just the kids. Arthur declared his team "embarrassing" after a 54-0 hammering from Manly in round two.
Mannah knows the backlash, inside the club and out, is for the most part, warranted. But it's still just a game.
"Especially at times like now, you lose three on the trot and everyone tries to make you think the world's caving in," Mannah says out the front of Westmead Hospital, a few days before Parramatta's Easter Monday loss to the Tigers.
"But you come somewhere like this and you see families going through some real struggles in life, some real hard times there, and it puts everything into perspective.
"It is a bit of a shake up to realise that there are more serious things outside of footy."
This Sunday the footy takes centre stage once more in thr round five match against western Sydney rivals Penrith.
Ronald McDonald House is Parramatta's charity partner for the local derby, with a 50-50 raffle prize pool to be split between the lucky winner and the Westmead institution.
More info on the Eels' 50-50 charity raffle at each home game and partnership with Ronald McDonald House can be found HERE