Bound for Glory: Eels prepare for Battle of The West

PARRAMATTA has lit up with the famous Blue and Gold colors as the Eels prepare for their first NRL Grand Final since 2009 against arch enemies Penrith on Sunday night.

The Battle of the Wes’ at the Olympic Stadium is a dream grand final for footy fans in Western Sydney and it is the first time the Eels and Panthers have met in the season finale.

Eels forward trio Regan Campbell-Gillard, Shaun Lane and Reed Mahoney have been consistently overlooked for rep honors, yet they hold the key to an Eels win on Sunday. They were superb in Friday night’s ‘surprise’ win over the North Queensland Cowboys in Townsville.

Apart from the 24-20 win, the best things about that match were the Eels forward domination and their tremendous defence.

Campbell-Gillard and his front row partner Junior Paulo provide the ‘grunt’ for the Eels, getting them on the front foot with strong charges in the early tackles. This gives Reed, Mitchell Moses and Dylan Brown the time and space to create opportunities on either side of the ruck.

And Lane’s size and mobility is a bonus to the Eels out wide as he breaks tackles and get his arms free for critical offloads.

Penrith have a similar setup with the Panthers props providing great go forward, hooker Api Koroisau and the giant Isaah Yeo acting as the perfect link for Nathan Cleary and James Luai.

Being in a Grand Final is rarefied air for the Eels who last made the decider in 2009 and last won in 1986. However for the mercurial Moses, whatever happens this week, can never match last week’s rollercoaster of emotions.

Mitchell made the ultimate sacrifice for his team on Friday with a spot in the Grand Final on the line.  His partner Bri gave birth to a baby daughter and Moses had to make a choice between two “‘once-in-a-lifetime’ events.

The Eels star put the team first as he opted to miss out on the birth of his first child to line-up alongside his teammates against the Cowboys.

“It has just been a whole rollercoaster, I lost my grandmother last week, we laid her to rest on Monday, and then I am welcoming my first child over Facetime,” Moses said to Channel 9.

“Now I am playing in a grand final.”

Moses was spotted cradling a ball in the change rooms and Broncos legend Gorden Tallis joked it was as if he was pretending to hold a newborn baby.

“When he was holding the footy it looked like he was nursing something already,” Tallis said.

The Eels have a chance of breaking the longest premiership drought in the NRL, having last won the competition back in 1986 against the Bulldogs 4-2 with names like Sterling. Kenny, Price and Cronin dominating.

The unsung hero

The Eels have the wood on the Panthers this year, beating them 34-20 and 22-10 before losing 27-8 in the first finals match. 

Coach Brad Arthur is the unsung hero of the Eels charge to the Grand Final.  The man who once captain coached Batemans Bay Tigers from last place to the finals in 1998 and played lower grades for both the Eels and Panthers, has extra incentive to guide Parramatta to victory on Sunday.

Arthur was told by Penrith legend Royce Simmons he would never make first grade, but encouraged him to concentrate on coaching.

Simmons, the former Penrith, NSW and Australian champion, urged Arthur to enter coaching more than 25 years ago after telling the young lock forward he was too small and slow for a sustained first grade career.

Now he is one of the Eels mentor’s strongest supporters.

“It’s embarrassing for the idiots who don’t know what they’re talking about,” Simmons said. “He deserves credit and shouldn’t be getting any of the crap he cops.

“I can’t get my head around how people criticise him – he gets Parramatta to the finals every year.

“The people criticising him just don’t understand. They are so far off the mark it’s embarrassing. It’s Coach Arthur realises this is also a ’once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity for the Eels.

“The boys really want it. We have got a lot of players here that might be leaving to go to other clubs, but they have been a big part of what we have done. “They cherish every last day that they have got with each other.”

Arthur revealed his players made a pact late in the season to turn up for each other every week and the team are now reaping the rewards as they sit on the verge of history.

“We want it and I have seen that in their eyes,” Arthur said.

“They did it, not me. They got together and had some real honest conversations about turning up every week regardless of how they feel.

“That was the mentality we took up to Townsville. I don’t care how you feel, just go up here and get the job done and that’s what we did.”

Michael Ennis commended the character of the Eels to put all the criticism to one side and focus on playing for each other, as they did it the hard way to earn a grand final berth.

“Brad Arthur has a great relationship with his players,” Ennis said.

“But the character the side has shown to galvanise back at home against the Raiders to win 40-4 against a team that had so much momentum and so much class.

“Then to have to do it the hard way and come to Townsville in 30-degree heat and in fairness, how they were in the game at halftime with the completion rate they had, I will never know.

“The bravery and the ticker that the Parramatta players showed tonight to keep fighting and keep hanging in there in those moments is what earns a grand final.”

“Sides don’t roll over at this time of year. You have got to roll up the sleeves and win it the hard way and that will instill some character in them for next week.”

Gorden Tallis said  on Foxtel the Eels showed the reported fractures in the club were not in the playing group after an inspired comeback win.

“The pressure on Parramatta is all external,” Tallis said.

“It is not internal because you don’t have that second half performance and you don’t make only two mistakes in the second half if there is no belief in your systems and your teammates and wanting to work really hard for each other.

“They were out on their feet and they were hanging on by a shoestring at times.

“To dig deep and bite down on their mouthguard and they just kept turning up for each other and the tide started to turn slowly and when it did they were good enough to take their opportunities.

Cooper Cronk sees Moses as the key to Eels’ success.

“He was one of the players that adjusted at halftime against the Cowboys,” Cronk said.

“In the first half he looked like he was trying to win the game with every play. The two kicks out on the full he over-kicked them. In the second half he came out and said, I need to be more measured.

“He changed his temperament a little bit and made more high percentage plays and other players were able to make some plays.

“Sometimes the halfback when you are trying to influence the game too much it can actually go the other way.

“Credit to him after a big day, the biggest day in his personal life and in his footy life in a prelim final he got it together at halftime and came away with it.”

Ennis believes Moses is learning from experience that he doesn’t have to do it all himself to lead his side to victory.

“Age and experience give you that perspective,” Ennis said.

“He has been through the ringer at times about can he get it done?

“He showed great maturity tonight to pull it back in the second half against the Cowboys. He knew exactly what his team needed from him.

“He didn’t try to overplay his hand or come up with miraculous passes or chip and chases.

“It was more of a measured and mature Moses in the second half and that was enough.”

So, Penrith will start favorites in ‘the Big Dance’, but NRL is a funny game with luck playing its part in any Grand Final win. And with a little bit of luck and a game plan to contain the Panthers big guns, the Eels can win on Sunday.

More photos at: Parramatta Times Facebook page.

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