September pain never far away for Eels fans

This story was first written for and published by NRL.com. 

If you’re a Parramatta Eels fan born after 1987, the month of September holds some memorable finals moments, unfortunately not always for the right reasons.

I first started supporting Parramatta in 1998. I remember that year because of a couple of particular players like Clinton Schifcofske, Dean Pay, Shane Whereat and Stuart Kelly. But the most memorable part of that season was the way it ended.

On the day of the grand final qualifier against Canterbury, I had an extra-curricular activity at school, despite it being a Sunday.

I remember hopping into the car and turning on ABC Grandstand to listen. By the time we got home Parramatta were leading 18-2 with 10 minutes to go.

This was back in the days of delayed coverage. I remember arriving home and saying to my dad “don’t worry, we’ve got this”. I curled up next to him to watch the end of the game.

Parramatta ended up losing the unloseable game 32-20. My dad was as white as a ghost at the end of the game and went to walk the streets in total shock.

Parramatta Eels fans.
Parramatta Eels fans.©NRL Photos

That first year taught me about the pain that goes with being a sports fan. There was more pain to follow.

Leading into the 2001 grand final, the Eels had been the best team in the regular season.

They set a scoring record by racking up 839 points in 26 matches and heading into that decider, I thought we were certainties. So did my dad and godfather who sat with me at ANZ Stadium. What followed was a train wreck.

The Andrew Johns-inspired Knights raced out to a 24-0 lead by half-time and the contest was as good as over. Parramatta ended up losing 30-24. I was again left devastated.

In 2005 Parramatta had some exceptional young talent led by Tim Smith. We made the preliminary final against North Queensland and were again red-hot favourites but got flogged 29-0.

I remember a group of men sitting in the front row very close to where I was sitting. Before the game started they were cheering for Parramatta; by the end they were leaning over the fence and giving the middle finger to the players.

After that particular loss I listened to “Fix You” by Coldplay for about a week.

But there’s one September memory that stands out above all these ones and it might surprise you to know it’s a happy one.

It was 2009 and things weren’t looking good. At the end of round 18, Parramatta had only been victorious in only five games and the only thing I thought we were going to win that year was the wooden spoon.

Nathan Cayless after the 2009 grand final.
Nathan Cayless after the 2009 grand final.©NRL Photos

Then something magical happened. Led by Jarryd Hayne, Daniel Mortimer, Kris Keating, Nathan Hindmarsh and Tim Mannah, Parramatta went on a winning streak. Seven a row to propelled the squad into eighth spot.

Their form surged continued through the finals and they booked their grand final spot against the Melbourne Storm by beating the Bulldogs 22-12 in front of a record 74,549 people at ANZ Stadium.

That’s still my favourite game of all time due to the incredible atmosphere created by Dogs and Eels fans.

At the end of the game, Dad drove us to Parramatta and we danced up and down Church Street with all the other jubilant fans.

The build-up that week to grand final day was not like the others. Parramatta were the underdogs and not many expected them to win.

I remember walking through the streets of a Parramatta in admiration of how a team could so beautifully unite a community – there were flags everywhere, people donning their jerseys and most importantly just a sense of joy.

I went to that grand final too with a group of friends dressed like a superhero. Each member in the group dressed up like a different underdog hero that had helped us make the final.

I had a T-shirt with Todd Lowrie on it. Other players we represented that day included Matt Keating and Joe Galuvao.

We know what happened next. Parramatta lost to the Storm that day 23-16 but at the end of the game, I felt nothing but pride for what my team had achieved.

We went out and celebrated that night like we had won a grand final. I can’t imagine what it will feel like when we finally do.

Later we were to discover that the year the Storm won that premiership they had been rorting the salary cap. Many suggested their title be stripped and be given to Parramatta. But I didn’t want that.

When Parramatta win a grand final I want to be there. I want that final siren to go and to cry and laugh and hug my family and sing “Click Go The Eels” at the top of my lungs. A retrospective change in premiers may change the result, but it’s not the grand final win I want.

I often say I just want one Parramatta Eels premiership before I die. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

But I know all the years of fantastical support and devastating losses will make it all the sweeter when it is my team’s turn to lift that shield. And I know I’ll be there in the stands wanting to savour that moment forever.