What a difference a year makes for the Eels

When I woke up on Monday morning and checked the NRL ladder I saw something I hadn't seen in a long time.

For the first time in over a year, the Parramatta Eels sit in the top eight after beginning the season with two consecutive wins.

Let's compare this with where the team was at the end of round two last year.

The Eels had slumped to two consecutive losses; the first against the Panthers and the second against the Sea Eagles.

I remember that Manly game well. It traumatised me.

Parramatta lost that game 54-0 in 40-degree heat. I had parked my car at the top of a hill, which felt like Mt Everest at the end of the game when I had to trudge back as a loser.

After that game, I vowed that I would never go to Brookvale Oval again.

But there's something different about the team this year. It was on display in the wins over Penrith and Canterbury.

In the game against the Panthers, the Eels had a 14-0 lead early in the second half. Interestingly, in the same game and the same round last year, the Eels had the exact same lead.

Then Mitch Moses got sent to the sin bin, the Eels capitulated in the second half and lost 24-14.

This year's round one clash came eerily close to following the same narrative, but instead of Mitchell Moses being sent to the sin bin, it was Michael Jennings.

But in an impressive case of resilience, the squad kept a cool head and managed to win the game 20-12, with a Jennings try sealing the win.

The Eels of last year would not have won this game. They would have found a way to lose. 

In their round two game against the Bulldogs, the Eels were up against it early, with the Bulldogs running out to a 10-0 lead.

The Eels had barely made it out of their own end. I remember tweeting "this is the Parramatta Eels team that I know and love".

I expected us to lose to the team that had been the most disappointing in round one.

But again, the Eels displayed a calmness and resilience which I did not see last year and ended up going to win that game in spectacular style.

So, what's different?

I have heard Clint Gutherson speak a number of times this week suggesting that last year, when the team was in a difficult position, there would be five people trying to speak over each other in the team huddle.

This year, there is one person speaking – on the weekend it was Mitch Moses. That strategy seemed to work.

Please don't mistake this article as another Parramatta supporter getting ahead of herself. Two wins is certainly not enough for me to get my hopes up too high.

But the signs are positive. Some of our younger players have been a breath of fresh air including the likes of Dylan Brown, Marata Niukore and Reed Mahoney (Mahoney taking it to Reagan Campbell-Gillard in the game against the Panthers was my moment of round one).

I would also like to acknowledge the efforts of our new recruits – particularly Shaun Lane and Blake Ferguson.

When the Eels lost Semi Radradra at the end of 2017, I wondered how we would replace not only his attacking prowess, but also the metres he would make to help get the Eels get out of their own end.

The short answer is we didn't replace him.

Reed Mahoney and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
Reed Mahoney and Reagan Campbell-Gillard. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Blake has been a welcome addition to the team. I have heard the group speak about what a positive influence his experience has been.

On Friday night the Eels take on the Sydney Roosters in their first home game of the season at ANZ Stadium. Many have predicted that the Roosters will go back-to-back this year.

Many also predicted that the Eels would finish at the bottom of the ladder. So this week will be a test and should give footy fans a clearer indication of where exactly the Eels are at.

What I'm hoping for in this game is the same commitment and resilience that I have seen from the squad in round one. Another intercept try from Shaun Lane wouldn't go astray either.

The most exciting thing about where the team is right now is that at the start of the season, many people joked that the best thing that would happen to the Parramatta Eels this year would be opening the new Bankwest Stadium.

With the opening of the stadium less than month away, hopefully the team will be in a position to give it the christening that it deserves.