It may be a month late, but with their superstar back on deck and skipper’s future sorted, Parramatta are finally ready to get their 2012 NRL campaign underway.
Pity they’re already 0-4, and looking a long way from being top-eight contenders.
But with Jarryd Hayne returning from a knee injury and speculation over Nathan Hindmarsh’s future put to rest following news of his impending retirement, the Eels view Saturday night’s grudge match with Manly as a chance for a do-over.
“We have brought that up,” coach Stephen Kearney said.
“Given the start to the year, it is an opportunity for us to clear everything behind us and start again basically.”
It’s a long way back for the Eels, but with Hindmarsh bowing out, motivation should not be a problem.
“I think if someone’s spent 15 years at a footy club and done what he’s done, I’d be wanting to go out there and have a dig for him that’s for sure,” Kearney said.
“The start to our season’s been pretty disappointing, it’s a great opportunity for us to pick ourselves up.”
For his part, Hindmarsh says his farewell should not be a factor for his teammates.
“I just want them to do it for themselves,” he said of the Eels turning their season around.
“It’s important that we get on a roll and start winning some games.
“I think it comes down to going out as an individual and wanting to improve your own game which will help the team improve.”
With Hayne running freely again, the Eels are in the best position they have been all year to pick up their first win of the year.
Centre Willie Tonga has three games under his belt, while halfback Chris Sandow should be the biggest beneficiary of Hayne’s return with opposition defences now having more than one playmaker to focus on.
Providing some hope for Eels fans is that in the brief time Hayne and Sandow played together in round two against the Warriors, Parramatta charged out to a 10-0 lead before Hayne was driven off on the back of a medicab.
The winless start to the year led to Kearney being called in for a please explain with chief executive Bob Bentley earlier this week, the under siege coach admitting he had little power to stop the rumours, which have included talk of a player cleanout and divisions within the squad.
“We can’t stop it,” Kearney said of the innuendo.
“It’s just a matter of focussing on what we’ve got control over, that’s our performance.
“I’ve heard some beauties over the past couple of weeks in terms of what’s going on here.
“We’re not going to stop that, it’s just a matter of putting that aside and getting on with what we’re about.”
With his retirement confirmed, Hindmarsh admitted missing out on that elusive premiership would be his biggest footballing regret – but he’s refusing to rule out the possibility of a fairytale finish despite the slow start to 2012.
“There’s a lot to play for, you want to win the competition,” he said.
“Of course we’re disappointed with the way things have started, we’re 0-4.
“I’ve been at the club for a long time and I’ve been in a similar position before and it doesn’t take much for a team to turn things around.”