A defiant Brad Arthur says his Parramatta players are determined to defy the odds and the salary cap scandal and make the finals.
Set to be stripped of their 12 competition points by the NRL for systemic salary cap breaches, the fifth-placed Eels were left with a flicker of hope for their 2016 season.
They can begin playing for points again as soon as they get their squad under the salary cap.
But they can only afford to lose another three games for the rest of the regular season if they are to reach the 28-point mark which has traditionally been the cut off for the top eight.
“We’re disappointed, the players are disappointed but there’s still hope for us,” Arthur said.
“There’s 15 games to go, we need to win 12 of them.
“We haven’t given up hope. At the start of the year, we wanted to be playing finals football but nothing’s changed.
“We’re really committed to making sure that can still happen.”
Arthur said he felt “sick in the guts” after being told of the club’s punishment but said the players had the fighting spirit to still play finals.
He pointed to their 20-12 win over Canterbury on Friday night when his side overcame a number of obstacles including the absence of ailing skipper Kieran Foran.
The Eels will also be helped out by a favourable draw, facing just six top eight sides in the final 15 weeks.
“This playing group has worked so hard, all pre-season they have trained so hard, had a bit of fun at the Auckland Nines, we’ve had a few tough games,” Arthur said.
“The Bulldogs game was the latest example of that – in the second half we had plenty of excuses to roll over and we didn’t.
“It’s really hard to take but it’s out of our hands.”
The club must now shed $570,000 worth of talent to get under the salary cap. The NRL will not allow the players to simply take a 10 per cent across-the-board pay cut to fit in under the cap.
Former representative back-rower Anthony Watmough could ease their salary cap woes if he is heads into retirement because of injury.
If Watmough is granted an insurance payout, his salary will not count towards the cap.
Forward Junior Paulo is already signed for Canberra next year and could possibly go early.
Arthur admitted he had no idea how the club would get under the cap before next Friday’s clash with South Sydney.
“That’s for the club and the NRL to work out,” Arthur said.
“My job is to make sure I get the players ready to play.”