This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Parramatta’s semi-final loss brought back that familiar sense of melancholy for Eels fans but we can’t forget how far the club has come in the past four years.
Now it’s time to take it to the next level.
The knives are already out for Brad Arthur, suggesting he is not the coach to lead Parramatta to that long-awaited first premiership since 1986.
But that doesn’t acknowledge the turnaround the club has enjoyed under his reign.
That melancholy feeling of another finals exit that can last for a week was something I didn’t feel for almost a decade, because Parramatta didn’t play finals footy. Our club as a perennial cellar-dweller.
Under Arthur, that has changed. Parramatta have played finals footy three out of the past four years, twice finishing in the top four.
Five Eels are part of the NSW Blues squad. There was a point a couple of years ago where State of Origin would have no impact on the club, because none of our players were selected.
I’m pleased with the direction our club is heading, but the coming pre-season could be one of the most important in the club’s history.
Will the players learn from the mistakes made in that semi-final? Will the disappointment push them to work harder and train harder to avoid feeling that hurt again?
But there has also been a changing of the guard. Already, 11 players have departed the club which means the Eels do have some money to spend. The key positions in my view are in the middle forwards and also a centre in case Michael Jennings needs to be replaced.
What is very exciting though is that those departures put even more focus on the young group of core players at the Eels.
Players like Dylan Brown and Reed Mahoney are the future. They will be joined in 2020 by some more emerging players who will be included in the top 30 for the first time.
The future is bright and I can’t wait to be part of that journey.
It’s been almost one week since Parramatta’s season ended and I’m almost feeling like my old self again.
Footy fans know that familiar sinking feeling when your team bows out of the finals but truth be told, it’s been a couple of years since I have felt this sad.
Last year, Parramatta also bowed out of the finals in week two at the hands of Melbourne. The game was over within 10 minutes.
Losses are almost easier to take when they are so significant and when your team is so far off the pace. As a supporter you make an excuse about being beaten by a better team and move on.
This year, the disappointment is so much heavier because Parramatta were in the game, at half-time leading 18-8.
But there were a couple of game-changing moments.
The Mitch Moses conversion which I keep playing over and over in my head. Had that kick been a degree to the left or the right, it would likely have been a very different result.
Instead it led to an eight-point turnaround and at that moment, I knew the game was over. It did not feel like our night.
There was an unfortunate bounce for Clint Gutherson who led from the front all evening and put his heart into a performance which was one of his best in 2020.
The first 15 minutes of the second half was also crucial. Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo were off the field and our forwards struggled to keep pace, allowing Souths to fight their way back into the game.
Parramatta were also missing several key players and lost three-quarters of the backline in the space of a week. Haze Dunster still had a solid debut under very difficult circumstances and George Jennings, did well after a whirlwind 24 hours due to family reasons.
As for season 2020 overall, there has been plenty of discussion about how lucky our players are to have had the opportunity to play footy.
That might be the case, but it’s still important to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices that players have made.
For so long we have encouraged players to have interests away from rugby league to assist with balance and mental health. The pandemic has meant that for many players all they had was training, playing and being at home.
We’ll never know the full impact this has had and it will have impacted players differently.
It’s important to recognise the staff and players for the sacrifices they have all made this year so us, as fans, could celebrate our team.
It may not have ended how we wanted, but there’s always next year. I’ll be there (hopefully in person!) in round one wondering whether 2021 might be the year I finally see that elusive Parramatta Eels premiership.