Eels braced for horror home stretch
With top four sides the Dragons, Storm and Roosters waiting in the wings for Parramatta over the remaining cub games left in 2018, could things get any harder?
Yes they can, because in between those games comes Johnathan Thurston's last game at 1300 Smiles Stadium to farewell a stellar 17-year, 300-plus game career – and the Eels have drawn that straw too.
"That's going to be tough but also a privilege," Eels half Corey Norman told NRL.com.
"He's one of the greats of our game, probably going to be an Immortal and we all rate him as one of the best.
"It will be really exciting up there to be a part of it – a massive crowd and a great occasion."
That match comes in round 24. Round 22 is next weekend and the Eels have the Dragons, who suffered their fourth loss in five games on Saturday, going down 18-12 at home to the Warriors.
Then it's the Storm at AAMI Park in round 23, the Cowboys and finally the reinvigorated Sydney Roosters in round 25.
"I find we go better when no-one gives us a chance," Norman said.
"We've got three top eight sides and we're really looking forward to it."
It does beg the question of whether the Eels' 28-12 win over the Titans at ANZ Stadium on Saturday – only their fifth win of the Telstra Premiership season – could also be their last.
"We're confident we can win any game and that's been showing in our play the last four or five weeks," fullback Clint Gutherson told NRL.com.
"We're going to try and spoil some parties, put a few teams in a bit of doubt going into the finals."
Parramatta have won two of their past three games but have not been able to break out the bubbly too much in their own milestone matches.
Norman's 150th NRL game was in round four and they lost 30-20 to the Tigers. His 100th for Parramatta was in round 18 and it was a slim 18-16 loss to the Knights.
The 26-year-old says the frustration of the 2018 season will not dictate his decision on where his next contract might be. He revealed to NRL.com last week that he had met with Titans coach Garth Brennan.
But his current deal doesn't end until November 2019.
"As it is I'm still here next year. How we will finish this year won't affect my thinking about my future," Norman said.
"I'm still contracted here … that's the way it is at the moment. If anything changes, no doubt the media will find out as soon as I do."
Parramatta have a clutch of young halves in the pipeline so it seems certain Norman won't be at the Eels in 2020.
Gutherson doesn't want to become entangled in that debate, but is glad Nathan Brown is in Eels colours for a few seasons still after his mammoth effort against the Titans – 229 metres, 21 hit-ups.
"Just normal for Browny … that's normal figures for him," Gutherson said of his energetic lock.
"He just tries to help out anywhere he can on the field and in any way he can. He turns up in places he shouldn't and that's why we love him."
Gutherson was no slouch either racking up 254 metres – the most of any player on the field – with 74 post-contact metres.
"We've all been playing a lot better footy the last month or so we're enjoying ourselves no matter who we face.
"The last four weeks as a team we've become even closer so we're determined to end the year with a smile.
"We're sitting at the bottom but we've still got to try and win as many as we can the last couple of weeks."