Fergo on track for return, but Eels no longer a 'one-man band'
By Steve Zemek
Parramatta star Blake Ferguson will return from a knee infection next week and Brad Arthur says his absence has delivered a valuable lesson to the NRL top-four aspirants.
Ferguson has been missing for the last five weeks and will again sit out Thursday's match against western-Sydney rivals Canterbury at Bankwest Stadium after being sidelined with a knee infection.
He suffered complications following a routine knee cleanout and his absence was predicted to be a massive blow to the Eels' season.
Since coming over from the premiership-winning Sydney Roosters last year, Ferguson has ignited last year's wooden spooners.
But instead of falling into a lull, the Eels have won their last four.
If they beat the Bulldogs, who themselves have won three in a row, and results go their way they will find themselves in the top four for the first time since 2017.
"He trained well today and during the week he's been a pain in the backside," Arthur said.
"He wants to play and we just need to make sure he's 100 per cent right. The doctors have pretty much given him the all-clear for next week [against Brisbane].
Asked about coping without their metre-eating winger, Arthur said they had learned how to be more than a one-man team.
"That's part of our development as a club, as a team, that everyone has a role to play when they come in – the number on your back comes with responsibility and accountability," Arthur said.
"There's different bodies in the jerseys but the job doesn't change.
"That's the mentality the boys have got at the minute, if we've got a mentality like that every week we'll have a pretty good chance."
But as the Eels eye earning a second bite at the cherry, the resurgent Bulldogs are intent on continuing to rattle cages in the run to September having already knocked off Penrith, Wests Tigers and South Sydney in recent weeks.
Having been anchored to the bottom of the ladder all season, the Bulldogs will provisionally move to within two points of eight-placed Cronulla with victory against the Eels.
"Through the first 14 rounds we had some games where we really competed hard," coach Dean Pay said.
"There were some things that went against us and cost us in games.
"If we could have jagged a couple more wins earlier in the season, it might have been a different story."