You think facing an elimination final is tough? Try playing for a contract every single week. Inside the Eels’ high-pressure season ahead of their NRL finals campaign.
Parramatta have been playing under finals-like pressure all year and, coupled with an internal midseason review, has helped put the Eels on track to create history.
That’s the view of star centre Michael Jennings, who has brushed off concerns around the Eels’ post-season inexperience.
Jennings told The Daily Telegraph having that having coach Brad Arthur and 19 regular first graders off contract and playing for their futures in 2019 had hardened the Eels for the NRL finals — which kicks off with a do-or-die elimination match against Brisbane at a sold-out Bankwest Stadium on Sunday.
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of pressure all year to be honest,” Jennings said.
“I think everyone is up to the task. Last year we finished last, so we came into this year with a lot pressure just in terms of that.
“But there was also a lot of players off contract, myself included. I was playing for a contract.
“That built a lot pressure.
“Even the coach didn’t have a contract coming into the season. There was a lot to play for this year and we handled it really well. It’s going to help us in the finals.”
The veteran centre, who has played in 13 finals matches, doesn’t even expect the occasion to frazzle rookie five-eighth Dylan Brown.
“Dylan Brown is a really calm head, especially under pressure he has been unreal. Our boys will be fine in the finals,” Jennings said.
Jennings revealed Arthur — for the first time since he’s been at the club — conducted a mid-season review, holding players to account over their performances.
“We can play footy, we just needed to be better mentally and the reviews we had at the start and during the year really helped us with that,” he said.
“It wasn’t something we did last year. The review during the year was to see where we are at and then where we needed to get to. Physically, we trained hard and were prepared but mentally the reviews helped us make sure we were doing everything possible to win it.
“We don’t want to have any regrets about the finals.”
It’s a strategy that has lead to success.
Since round 13, the Eels have won eight from 12 matches and showed a marked improvement in a number of key statistics over that time.
After finishing as wooden spooners in 2018, the Eels claimed fifth spot on the ladder this year giving them a shot at being the first team since the Western Suburbs Magpies in 1933 to go from last to premiers in the space of a season.
Jennings credited Arthur for the “calm” approach the coach has taken this year and the sense of accountability he has instilled in the playing group.
“He’s been calm and really open minded in getting help from every angle,” Jennings said.
“He hasn’t locked himself in a shell and he has tried a lot of different things to help the team.”
According to Fox Sports Lab, after the first 12 rounds the Eels were 14th (72 per cent) for completion rate but finished the regular season in 3rd (79 per cent). For metres conceded they improved from 11th (1425 metres) to third (1333 metres) and went from 16th (31 tackles per game) to eighth (25 tackles per game) for missed tackles.
Arthur will be hoping his side can continue the positive trends in Sunday afternoon’s elimination final against Brisbane at Bankwest Stadium.
“Everyone is enjoying the fact all the hard work we have put in the pre-season and during the year is paying off now and we are pumped for a big game,” Jennings said.