From the stands there was something a little special about last Sunday.
I’ve been a part of bigger crowds at ANZ, and I’ve seen the Eels play better matches, but in terms of a regular season game that Tiger’s clash was one for my memory bank. The noise and atmosphere was simply brilliant.
This was a game in which the supporters and the players were as one. The Parramatta team, through pure effort and determination, dragged the fans into the game. In turn, the fans yelled themselves hoarse and helped the team to get over the line. It’s the jewel in the crown when everyone contributes in a total club victory.
From the stands there was a huge difference between Round 7 and Round 8. Against Manly, the team finally found their attacking mojo but the reality is that the opposition were a dispirited outfit. Some observers have even claimed that Manly played the Eels into form. Nonetheless, a win was all we really wanted so it was like winning the lottery.
On Sunday, the Eels showed a desire to play well individually, back themselves and ultimately back each other. They were disciplined. They took calculated risks, backing their team mates to execute. Importantly, when mistakes were made, especially with some really poor defensive reads, they didn’t drop their heads. As Brad Arthur demands – they made up for it. That’s my team and that’s a team I will always support and defend no matter the result.
Nothing exemplified this reborn spirit, desire, confidence and determination better than that Bevan French try.
Yes, it was brilliant to watch and ultimately very important – but my joy did not purely come from the brilliance. This young man has spent the last two weeks being crucified by many. In some circles his desire and attitude was questioned, very unjustly in my opinion. It was hard to watch and listen to commentators and some supporters question a young man who has demonstrated nothing but great skill, desire, humility, guts and team spirit from his very first game in 2016.
French responded the way any good sportsperson should, on the field. During the match, he got involved, went looking for work, backed his skill and answered the critics. Just as importantly, his team mates clearly showed how important Bevan is for this team and to them. They continually got him into the game and, while his skill was enough to nail that try, the work done by his teammates beforehand to give him the opportunity was just as exciting for me. To see how excited the other players were for Bevan when they rushed over to congratulate him showed me that my team is back from whatever strange place they visited in the first six rounds, so I’m going to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.
Realistically, the hole we have dug for ourselves is still very deep. The up side is that we’ve started climbing back towards the light and given ourselves a chance to salvage something from a season that promised so much, but up until the last two weeks delivered nothing but misery.
The salvage may not end up with finals footy, even though the dream is still alive, but it could uncover some hidden gems.
Look no further than a player whom, just four weeks ago, was known by most as simply Michael Jennings’ brother. He’s now earning his stripes as a very talented footballer in his own right. Indeed from the stands, George Jennings proved that he can handle the pressure of a tight NRL contest. He may just be one of the shining lights in what has, so far, been a somewhat dark year.
I have the belief that we may experience more light in the weeks to come.