Parramatta and expectations haven't gone well together in recent decades.

Which begs the question: what will happen this year now the Eels are considered top-four contenders? Especially given their storming finish to last season, plus the addition of representative forwards Ryan Matterson and Reagan Campbell-Gillard.

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Eels coach Brad Arthur has worked all summer to make sure his players are fit, but also ready to cope with the higher-than-usual hopes from one of the game's most passionate fan bases, sponsors and the media.

You only have to go back to 2018 when the Eels promised so much but finished with the wooden spoon. Arthur, like his players, was happy with their finish to the 2017 season when they won nine of their last 10 games and went within a couple of points of humbling the Storm in week one of the finals.

But the coach noticed something creeping into the playing group at the start of the following season. There was a blowout trial win over Newcastle in Maitland. Then there were players declaring in the media they could win the competition. Some even started to believe the hype and tried to squeeze the club for more money.

It all went wrong from there, the Eels lost 11 of their first 13 games of the 2018 season and finished last.

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High-profile recruit Reagan Campbell-Gillard.Credit:Benjamin Cuevas

Arthur has good reason to believe things will be different this time around.

"There will be no excuses," he said. "It is up to us now. It will come down to our want and desire.

 

"I remember 2018: there was expectation and we simply didn't aim up. I'll bear the brunt of that.

"As a coach of this team and club, we've shown when we face adversity, like the salary cap dramas [of 2016], we rise and find that extra motivation. But now the challenge for us is on the back of a good season last season we need to be better again."

54703c21872f435b5cc415187ee2f81caba26dfc"Fullback and captain Clint Gutherson had a season to remember in 2019." />

Fullback and captain Clint Gutherson had a season to remember in 2019.Credit:Benjamin Cuevas

Arthur said he made the mistake in 2018 of giving his players only one trial match. The Eels ran out of steam against Penrith in round one, lost their first six games of the season and had their confidence shattered.

Clint Gutherson and Mitchell Moses had outstanding seasons last year. Both will push for NSW and Kangaroos honours. Arthur knows if they fire the Eels will fire.

 

Campbell-Gillard has done nothing but impress since shifting up the M4 Motorway from Penrith, as has Matterson who was involved in a messy off-season split from the Wests Tigers.

"Ryan has come home really," Arthur said. "He played his junior footy here. I'm sure that Tigers game will be built up when it comes around, but he's focused on training right now.

"He has strong beliefs about how he wants to be as a person and how wants the team to be seen, and he's not afraid to express it."

Andrew Johns could prove the Eels' trump card this campaign. The eighth Immortal was in Papua New Guinea this week, but returns next week and will continue to work with the halves and Eels players.

Johns has also proven vital for Arthur – the coach who guided the Eels through their salary-cap scandal and put up with a board that warred for years, not to mention the high-profile defections to rival codes of Jarryd Hayne and Semi Radradra.

 

In fact, when you tell Arthur he once looked like the kind of guy who would bark at his own shadow, he smiles and says: "In six years I've made a shitload of mistakes, but I'd like to think I haven't made the same mistake too many times over.

 

"I'm sure I won't make the same couple of judgment errors I made in 2018. I've learned I have to deal with everyone differently. I've learned how to deal with the media.

"I have the trust and comfort in the playing group that they can hold each other accountable rather than me being the one with the big stick all the time.

"I want to be a career coach. I love this club and playing group. We have an opportunity and we need to do something about it. It's as simple as that."

https://www.smh.com.au/sport/nrl/the-2018-debacle-that-is-driving-arthur-and-the-eels-20200118-p53sks.html

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          • Well that would depend on how we lost those two games. If we lost them the way we lost to Melbourne last year, then yeah maybe, but if we lost them the way we lost to them in 2017, then you couldn't fire him on those terms. We were a fanny hair away from winning that prelim semi in 17. We stuck it to the Storm pretty solidly that day.

            • Ahhhh the good ole 'we competed' line.

  • Top 4 has to be the goal this year, and we have to be tougher in the grind and when things go against us.

     

    We made great strides last year but in that Storm Semi we are still not up to those top few teams just yet.  Hopefully RCG and Matto can make a big difference.

  • Defence has to be what we build the season on. Loving the contact, the physicality, the grind, the wrestle. We have plenty of talent to score points, players who love scoring tries, players who love to entertain. But that rarely wins comps. Defence.....that wins comps. 

    • That's why I'm excited about RCG, he loves the physicality of the game. I'm also quietly hoping for Kane Evans to take another step forward.

      • Agree Brett, I think both will have significant impact his year in how we play

        • I believe that these two are very good signings to say the least, both have big motors and will add impact to both attack and defense.  It is now a big question how well Evans feels the effects of the competition. Who starts and who is on the bench is going to be very interesting indeed.

           

  • The club's defensive strike rate – the number of play-the-balls defending inside their own 20-metre zone that led to tries – was a massive 11.1 per cent. So of 567 plays that started with an opponent inside the Eels 20, there were 63 tries scored against them.

    Parramatta's 2019 renaissance included a complete turnaround in their attacking prowess, piling on plenty of points after major woes in that department in 2018.

    However a breakdown of their defensive numbers shows Brad Arthur's men were worse than every other team except the Titans when it came to defending their own line.

    The club's defensive strike rate – the number of play-the-balls defending inside their own 20-metre zone that led to tries – was a massive 11.1 per cent. So of 567 plays that started with an opponent inside the Eels 20, there were 63 tries scored against them.

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    • This!!!

    • Interesting stats Mick. I agree with you & Muttman.

      Improvement in our D & attitude under pressure will be the key. Or forget about it.

      For three years during 1978-80 we were the top attacking teams (no.1-2), with the likes of Sterling, Kenny, Grothe, Ella, Price, Cronin (top pointscorer consecutive years), but our D was mid-range. We even missed the finals in 1980.

      It wasn't until Gibson entered & transformed us into a top defensive unit (no.1-2) that we became a championship team from 1981-84.

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