While the Parramatta Eels still have a small glimmer of hope making the top four, coach Brad Arthur is trying not to emulate his mistakes from last season by ensuring his players are rested heading into the finals.
Arthur believes last year he couldn’t hold his nerve around the plan he had for resting players which exposed some players last season who hadn’t played for two months.
“We have a lot of players that haven’t played a lot of footy in a long time and if you look at last year we had both wingers, centre and Marata didn’t play in that game against Souths, and we had four players come into the squad that hadn’t played footy for two months,” he said at his press conference on Thursday.
“That’s not fair on them and I could have handled that better and had those guys more ready to play so I’m making sure that anyone that comes into the squad is prepared because our expectation of those guys is going to be high and the demands are going to be high, so I need to make sure I’m preparing them better.”
Learning from his mistakes last season Arthur made the call early in the season to ensure his players were ready come finals time.
“I made the decision very early this year of what I needed to do, and I have stuck to it,” he said.
“Maybe I would have liked to rest some of the boys earlier, but we’d had a couple of bad performances and I certainly wasn’t going to reward blokes on the back of poor performances.
“We needed to get ourselves back on track and they have done that and know it’s about getting ourselves ready for the finals.”
Even if Arthur wanted to field his strongest side, there would be six players unavailable through injury or suspension plus a couple of others who are in desperate need of a rest.
“We’ve probably got six players this week that if we wanted to put our strongest team out probably wouldn’t of been available, Reg (Reagan Campbell-Gillard) is not right for another week, Matto (Ryan Matterson) is suspended, Junior (Paulo) is suspended, Gutho (Clint Gutherson) wouldn’t of played, Waqa Blake strained his calf in the captains run last week and played for us so he hasn’t been able to train this week, Marata (Niukore) has a head knock and has been ruled out so there is six there straight away,” he said.
“Nathan Brown is wearing more strapping tape at the moment for training than most players do for a game, he’s busted.
“Isaiah (Papali’i) hasn’t played a full season and the way he has played this year he deserves the opportunity to get his body fresh for next week.”
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But with injury and resting players comes opportunity for youngsters to make their debut. Samuel Loizou and Ky Rodwell will make their NRL debut for the Eels on Friday night while Hayze Perham will play his first game for the Eels, and for Arthur the message is simple.
“The main thing I want from them is I want them to have fun, I want them to enjoy the opportunity they have been given,” he said.
“A lot of people work hard for these opportunities and not everyone gets them.
“They’ve been given a great opportunity to be proud of wearing a Parramatta jersey, there’s people everywhere that would kill to wear a Parramatta jersey and these blokes have been given this opportunity and I want them to make sure they enjoy it.
“At the end of the day I don’t want them to have any regrets, that’s up to them and that’s around their attitude to how they want to play and backing themselves.”
Both NRL debutants have trained hard all year and done the extra work required while there has been no NSW Cup to show their wares in.
Rodwell started the year on a train and trial contract while Loizou has battled through a few injury setbacks this season.
Arthur was complementary on the energy that not only these two bring but all of the young players in the Eels squad.
“Energy is exactly the word that those guys have provided for us from the first day of training,” he said.
“It’s really good that the environment that our senior players and our leaders in the club have created around extras, where it’s not driven by me or our staff, and our young blokes are an example of that, they’re always the last ones off the field.
“They bring that energy and enthusiasm and that’s what we’re looking for from them tomorrow night.”
With skipper Clint Gutherson missing from this week’s team, utility Will Smith will be the stand in captain and Arthur couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s been at our club for five years and he’s only played 50 odd games for this club, that’s not a lot of games in five years and that’s not through his own fault or injury, it’s just around team selection and when I need him in the team and when I don’t,” he said.
“He’s never ever complained or whinged he’s understood around every decision I have made; he might not always agree with it but he has never shown that.
“It’s an honour for us to give him that captaincy, he’s had a tough week around his grandfather and he’s main priority was making sure he could lead this team.
“Every year he waits until the end of the year for us to decide whether we will go ahead with him again for another contract, he’s just one of those blokes you need at your club.”
With these changes to the final round game plan Arthur will be hoping it will pay off come finals time.
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