It took the last 20 minutes of the final trial match to give Brad Arthur his biggest confidence boost about Parramatta’s prospects in 2016.
A glut of high-profile signings, led by superstar Kieran Foran, had many predicting a belated but glorious return to the finals for Parramatta long before the first day of the NRL pre-season.
But for coach Arthur, his greatest assurance didn’t come until the end of summer, when he cleared the bench for the final 20 minutes of their trial against Penrith.
“We’ve been building for the last couple of years. There’s been a lot of boys that have pulled that jumper on over the past two years that have worked hard for this club,” Arthur told AAP.
“But what’s given me the most confidence was the last 20 minutes (against Penrith).
“We put all the boys that have been here for the last couple of years out there and defensively they kept turning up and they followed on with the mentality that was put in there in the first 60 minutes.”
There’s no denying it. The Eels have had the most successful recruitment drive in the competition.
Adding the likes of Foran, Beau Scott, Michael Gordon and Michael Jennings, all of whom have played representative football, can turn any team into a contender.
But Arthur said it was vital the rest of the squad didn’t rely on their new-found star power.
“It hasn’t been a fix overnight, but the other thing is we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said.
“Effort’s a big focus for us, making sure we don’t compromise in that area. As long as you have intent and attitude, you can work with the rest of it.”
Already, Foran’s trumpeted arrival has been somewhat overshadowed by the stellar February form of halves partner Corey Norman, who set the Auckland Nines alight with a tournament-best performance and that backed it up with an eye-catching trial against the Panthers.
Gordon and Jennings add class to a backline that already boasts two-time Dally M Winger of the Year Semi Radradra, while Scott joins veteran Anthony Watmough in a suddenly formidable forward pack.
It has all the makings of a season that could finally bring an end to a six-year absence from finals football – the current longest drought in the NRL – even before a ball is kicked.
“And what’s wrong with people being excited about that? We take that as people seeing we’re heading in the right direction,” Arthur said.
Premierships: 4 – 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – 12th, 2014 – 10th, 2013 – 16th
Coach: Brad Arthur
Captain: Kieran Foran and Tim Mannah
Gains: Josh Aloiai, Matthew Woods (Wests Tigers), Mitch Cornish (Canberra), Kieran Foran, Clinton Gutherson, James Hasson (Manly), Michael Gordon (Cronulla), Michael Jennings (Sydney Roosters), Cameron King, Scott Schulte, Kelepi Tanginoa (North Queensland), Kieran Moss (Penrith), Rory O’Brien (St George-Illawarra), Beau Scott (Newcastle)
Losses: Beau Champion, Richie Fa’aoso (retired), Will Hopoate (Canterbury), Darcy Lussick (Manly), Pauli Pauli (Newcastle), Joseph Paulo (Cronulla), Adam Quinlan (St George-Illawarra), Reece Robinson (rugby union), Chris Sandow (Warrington)
Strengths: Michael Jennings, arguably the world’s best centre, now links up with two-time Dally M Winger of the Year Semi Radradra, on the most frightening left edge in the NRL.
Weaknesses: A front row rotation of Tim Mannah, Junior Paulo, and Danny Wicks might lack some punch and aggression compared to others in the competition.
Best team: Michael Gordon, Semi Radradra, Michael Jennings, Brad Takairangi, Clinton Gutherson, Corey Norman, Kieran Foran, Tim Mannah, Nathan Peats, Junior Paulo, Beau Scott, Manu Ma’u, Anthony Watmough. Interchange: Isaac De Gois, Danny Wicks, David Gower, Tepai Moeroa
Predicted finish: 9th