At the start of the year, I declared that if Brad Arthur could not get the Parramatta Eels past Week 2 of the finals, then it might be time to say thank you to their head coach and look elsewhere.
After eight years, my biggest question was whether Arthur could lead Parramatta to a premiership or whether he had reached his ceiling.
Am I allowed to take back my declaration?
At the start of the season, I could not contemplate a scenario where the Eels could exit the competition at the same stage of the finals and show improvement.
Prior to this season, Parramatta exited the finals in Week 2 in three of the previous four years.
In 2019, the game against the Melbourne Storm was over within ten minutes.
In 2020, despite disruption such as the axing of Michael Jennings the day of the game due to a drugs investigation, Parramatta performed admirably but not well enough to beat the Bunnies.
In 2021, I thought to show some growth and some maturity as a football team, the team would need to progress.
Yet here we are.
This is only the second time in my existence I have been content at the end of a season – the other being in 2009, when Parramatta were beaten in the grand final by the better team, the Storm.
On the weekend, Parra matched it with one of the best teams in the competition and held Penrith to just one try. They left it all out on the field and as a fan I could not have possibly asked for anything more from them.
I was sad at the end of the game because the players deserved more for their efforts. But my biggest hope was that the team know just how proud of them we were as fans.
Sure, some calls may have gone against them, but some went their way too. That’s footy.
There were 80 minutes for Parramatta to win the game and they did not. This is not the fault of the referees.
I have found it incredibly frustrating to see the focus on the officiating following the game.
This was one of the best games of the year. It was tough, competitive and physical. There was a feeling that an error would be a turning point and that whichever team won the battle of attrition would prevail.
Despite what some might have you believe, high-scoring games are not always the most entertaining. Despite the last try of the game being scored in the 16th minute, I was on the edge of my seat for most of the contest.
Instead of talking about that, the focus has been on refereeing. It erupted yesterday once again, when it was announced that the Panthers would be fined $25,000 and the trainer involved in the Mitch Kenny incident would be banned for the rest of the season.
Focusing on the refereeing detracts from the performance of both teams and, in particular, from Parramatta’s immense efforts.
The Eels’ mental fortitude has been under the microscope in recent seasons and for good reason. There were always questions about whether the team had the resilience and tenacity, particularly in big games.
These questions weren’t only limited to the media and fans either. When NRL players were polled about premiership contenders, Parramatta never seemed to be part of the conversation.
Considering where their season was about six weeks ago (down the toilet, in case you had forgotten), to see convincing wins over the Melbourne Storm and the Newcastle Knights, and a strong performance against the Panthers leaves me feeling optimistic for the future.
The drums may have been beating for Arthur a couple of weeks ago but I hope they have gone silent again.
One thing that is often left out of the narrative when you talk about Parramatta is how young the team is. Dylan Brown is only 21 years old, Isaiah Papali’i is 23, Haze Dunster is 22, Reed Mahoney is 23 and Will Penisini is just 19.
I’m hopeful that these men will form the nucleus of Parramatta’s group and, if that’s the case, the future looks bright with Brad Arthur continuing to lead the way.