Eels prop Junior Paulo says all the players were on board with coach Brad Arthur's decision to rest a host of key players last week and admitted recent finals exits still burn.
There was criticism from some quarters that Arthur was wasting the momentum built a week earlier with an impressive win over Melbourne but with a top-four finish effectively gone Arthur chose a different strategy from the one that had failed in recent years, by resting most of his top-line players in an eventual 40-6 loss to the Panthers.
The Eels have gone out in the semi-final stage in three of the past four years; last year and in 2017 they bowed out in straight sets after finishing in the top four while in 2019 they racked up a huge elimination final win over Brisbane before being humbled by the Storm.
Paulo, who was a part of the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, welcomed the rest after a gruelling season that included all three Origin games.
"It was a smart move for us as a club and as a team," Paulo said.
"We're physically refreshed and also mentally, just to have that week to get away from football.
"Our job last week was to help the boys prepare and to do everything we can to get ourselves right for this week. It's been good vibes since the start of the week.
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"Physically it was a smart move, it has been a long year and everyone's going to have little niggling injuries.
"To have that extra week just to prep well and refresh mentally, it's something that was definitely needed. Heading into this week we've really hit the ground running. All the boys are just looking forward to enjoying the whole week."
Paulo said the coach approached the players before naming the round 25 team.
"He obviously spoke to a couple of us the week previous about having that week off and it's something everyone agreed on," Paulo said.
"I don't think it would have mattered to anyone if they were to play or weren't going to play. We're just pretty fortunate to be in the position that we are and playing finals footy.
"It's stepped up another gear with the intensity of the boys really approaching our training and using every single minute of training to get out what we put in."
Last year's straight sets exit clearly still hurts.
"We've obviously got that desire to go out there and perform well," Paulo said.
"I just think on the back of last year's finals experience the team definitely still have that burn inside, the way we exited last year. It's only been a learning curve for us but also motivation as a team."
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Paulo also welcomed the return of his regular front-row partner Reagan Campbell-Gillard from a groin strain.
"He's been a massive loss for us," Paulo said.
"To have him back, especially at this time of the year, it's going to be a massive boost for us. I think he's more worried about his lungs returning after so long but Reggie is just that type of player who's made for the finals arena."