Ahead of Sunday’s elimination final against the Newcastle Knights, Parramatta Eels head coach Brad Arthur has stated that some big calls needed to be made to settle on a team for the matchup.
For Arthur and the Eels, the task of selecting a squad for the do-or-die clash against Newcastle in Rockhampton has been a troublesome one.
Returning players fresh off a final-round rest, others returning from injury or recent form playing a role, the head coach said excitement levels are still prevalent within the club.
“What we did last week as a club, resting players was the right thing,” Arthur told media on Saturday.
“[It] freshened them up and it’s been 14 or 15 days between games for 10, 11 of these players so they should be excited.
“There’s a level of confidence but not arrogance on the back of their last performance which was the Storm game and they’ve trained that way this week and they seem to be upbeat for the occasion but also not overawed by it.
“Whereas maybe in the past we might’ve overthought things or been a bit nervous going into finals or worried about pressure but there doesn’t seem to be that at the moment.”
Having made a semi-final in three of the last four years, the Eels know what it’s like to perform on the big stage in finals.
The team’s late-season form included a four-game losing streak from Round 19 to Round 22 though Arthur identified those performances were behind them now, proving they have what it takes to step up in big games.
“I believe that run of three or four bad performances, then the way we responded, it’s because we’re under a fair bit of pressure,” Arthur said.
“You know, you lose four games in a row after winning 80, 90 per cent of your games before that, the pressure builds and our response was really good and we had a massive challenge against Melbourne which we rose to.”
The head coach said the side would be bolstered by the return of prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard, citing his inclusion would be a big boost to Parramatta’s chances of advancing to week two of finals.
“He’s good to have in the group, he does all the tough stuff and I was really happy with how he was playing this year,” Artur alluded to.
“Sometimes you take for granted what you[‘ve] got until you actually lose it and when he was missing for those three or four games we just lacked that little bit of hard-edge to start the games and someone doing all that tough stuff.
“Our expectations won’t be through the roof with him this week as he’s gonna be a bit short of a gallop but whatever he does we know that he’ll front-load and come with plenty of energy and aggression.”
Again pointing towards players who could contribute to a team effort for Parramatta, Arthur said halfback Mitch Moses has the demeanour to be a big-game player and contributes in many facets of the game.
“I just feel that he’s maturing with each game around his control and getting the balance right,” Arthur said.
“He’s a very good runner of the football but he’s also got [a] big responsibility around steering the team around the field, getting his kicking game on.
“I think what everyone overlooked in the Melbourne Storm game was his defence. He was aggressive and he got up off his line and really committed in defence and I think that paved the way for him and gave him that belief and confidence with the rest of his game.”
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Perhaps the harshest call Arthur felt he had to make was in relation to Ryan Matterson’s position, opting to choose him as the 18th man in the lineup, It was a decision that the coach didn’t enjoy making but said it was the best option for the team this week.
“Matto (Ryan Matterson) having been out for a month, that was part of the [plan in the] last couple of weeks,” Arthur said.
“We’ve tried to give everyone some time on the field and some footy and some game time so that they were ready for the challenges that lie ahead and especially the expectations.
“There was a pack of forwards that went out there against Melbourne and mixed it with the best and [did] the job and I felt like I needed to give them the opportunity to get the job done again.”
Similarly, Arthur was impressed by Ray Stone’s performance against Melbourne but more so against Penrith last week where the lock played a full 80-minute game.
However, still cautious about and looking to manage Stone’s workload, especially in finals, Arthur said there’s back-up should they need it again highlighting the ability to play as a team and fix any holes.
“We just let Stoney (Ray Stone) go for as long as he can and if gets through to half time and then to start the second half, great, if not we’ve got Will Smith there,” Arthur mentioned.
“Will Smith is someone we don’t really give too many directions to around a game plan. He’ll go to hook, he might go on the halves, he can go to centre, he can go anywhere for you. That’s the beauty of Will Smith and we don’t need to overcomplicate it for him.”
Addressing the Eels’ finals opponent, Arthur believes the Knights have got better as each week went on towards the back-end of the season and prepare for their big bodies to start, acknowledging they also have key inclusions.
For Arthur, he just wants the team to focus on controlling what they can and not get caught up in the moment.
“It’s more about the stuff that we can control, staying in the now and not overthinking it, not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” he says,
“On the flip side, if something goes against us it’s about our response, not panicking and thinking the worst either. We’ve just gotta get on top of things, control the things that are in our control which is your physicality, your effort areas, your desperation for each other.”
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