Parramatta coach Brad Arthur insists his team will still play finals football this year but has conceded he faces the toughest test of his coaching career to help the Eels dig themselves out of a winless start to the season.
In a wide-ranging interview with NRL.com, the Eels coach addresses suggestions of unrest amongst his halves and dismisses the notion the arrival of Jarryd Hayne is partly to blame for a gigantic form slump at the club many tipped to challenge for the title in 2018.
Only one team in NRL history has come back from a 0-5 start to the season to reach the finals (Broncos finished eighth in 1999), however Arthur is adamant his team's first win of the year will ignite their campaign.
"Oh 100 per cent," Arthur said when asked if his team could still play finals football.
"And same with the players. They are desperate. We can't keep saying it, because we have to get that win and then we'll go from there. But we're still 100 per cent confident that we're going to be playing finals."
Arthur embracing toughest test
As revealed by NRL.com on Monday, the Eels will get a massive boost this weekend as they welcome back Clint Gutherson for the first time since suffering a season-ending injury against the Wests Tigers last July.
But like with any team struggling for success, fans are quick to point the finger and there have been murmurs of disharmony apparently settling into the group.
Arthur has heard the talk but insists he's seen nothing from Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses to suggest the pair aren't on the same page.
"They have lunch and breakfast together all the time," Arthur said.
"They are around each other all the time. There's nothing wrong with them looking frustrated with each other on the field or if one doesn't get the ball or something doesn't quite work. It happens all the time. I've seen it in the best halves combinations the last couple of years.
"I saw a couple of examples of it on the weekend – halves not getting along because something doesn't go to plan. That's just emotion but it just shows that they care. We want them to challenge each other, we want them to be cranky at each other if someone is going outside the script."
Arthur has endured his fair share of hardship during his time at the club, none more so than the salary cap scandal that rocked the Eels in 2016.
However he has conceded the predicament Parramatta now finds itself in is the toughest challenge of his short career, scratching his head as to what has gone wrong with a team oozing with talent.
"Yeah it is [the toughest test], but the toughest part of it is looking at our players all the time," he said.
"I wish I was able to go in there and say we're not training hard enough or we're not doing this or we're ill-disciplined at training but it's none of the above. It's really hard to see them struggling.
"They want their fans to be proud of them … they want their friends and family to be proud of them. They are struggling with the fact that people can't be proud of them because we're not winning. Everyone wants you to win, no more than the players."
Disgruntled Eels fans have been quick to highlight the only major change in the offseason – the return of Hayne from the Gold Coast Titans.
But Arthur doesn't see any correlation between Hayne's arrival and the form slump of his football team, admitting Hayne, who could return from injury against Manly next week, is as determined as anyone else at the club to lead them back into finals contention.
"I had him in 2014 and we didn't have any problems with him then, but I think he's matured and his attitude is really good," Arthur said.
"His buy-in has been excellent. He cares. He's always on the phone to me about what might work and what might not to help the boys with their mindset. He's nothing but about winning. It's unfortunate he hasn't been able to get any consistency on the field.
"Everyone wants reasons and everyone wants excuses why sometimes. The boys haven't trained any less, if anything we've trained harder and feel like we're more professional doing things better but it's just not transferring to the field."
The Eels still have some money to play with in the salary cap for this season but it's looking increasing unlikely they'll be able to land a big name player during the course of the season.
They have identified a need for a big body in the front row and, while there have been suggestions Canberra Raiders prop Junior Paulo wants to return home, the Eels are no closer to finding a solution.
"It would be nice to have a real big body up front but the really good front rowers are taken up and clubs just don't hand over good players for nothing," Arthur said.
"For the last 12 or 18 months we've been on the look to improve that area but we have to make sure we get the right person and also the right people have to be available. You can't just go pluck them from a club."