A loss after being on the brink of victory was not a good feeling. It hurt both the players and fans. Being at the ground maybe made it even worse. It just feels so symptomatic of this season.
For Eels supporters, and for the football staff, it must feel as if nothing positive can be found in such a loss.
However, I would argue strongly that we can take something from that hurt and frustration. But along with taking something positive, I feel just as strongly that we need to be brave enough to heed the lessons we learnt from Thursday night. Only then can we can get something from this season that can help launch us into next year. And if it’s about benchmarks, then surely we are also learning about which players can take us forward in 2019.
The Eels were in a not too dissimilar place back in 2016.
Casting the football memory bank all the way back to Round 10 of that season, my family and I were part of the 16,000 crowd that turned up to Parramatta when Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds broke our collective hearts by stealing victory on the siren. This was the Eels first game after losing points and the players looked down and out after the loss.
I remember the players sitting on the stadium turf after the game and I felt so sorry for them. You could see they really wanted to win. They’d left nothing in the tank effort-wise but it just wasn’t enough.
Both last Thursday, and back in 2016, we all left deflated but also hopeful that our team would keep trying and things could only get better. In 2016 we managed to split our remaining games between wins and loses but I would argue that the wins didn’t really matter. We actually won even when defeated on the scoreboard.
It was a tough time back then. There were games like the ones against the Sharks and Panthers when it was a cruel hand we had been dealt. And what about the adversity – Foran coming and going, Norman being stood down, players injured, players leaving or switching clubs, forwards playing in the backs, unknown players like Gutherson and French being thrown into the spotlight, probably too early but still delivering. We did not complain or look back but rather looked forward. We found players capable of dealing with adversity.
Last Thursday I saw many of the same signs.
I saw a willingness to cover defend, from players who are not really known for having high work rates, a willingness to take calculated and well-practised risks in attack. I saw players who really care.
After the loss, the team looked upset and angry, not frustrated. However, from the stands there was one very big difference between 2016 and what I have seen to date in 2018. It relates to effort.
In the last 15 games in 2016 I could rightly praise every single player on the field. Sure they all at times made mistakes, they dropped balls, they gave penalties away, they deviated from the game plan but they all, each and every one of them, gave everything they had each game. They knew the club, fans and fellow players needed them to and they delivered.
Back then, the players, coaches and fans collectively developed a bond and strength through adversity. We developed a desire to prove people wrong.
Last Thursday night, the vast majority of players stepped up and silenced a few critics. There was absolute commitment, pride and effort. However, I would argue that if we want to rebound from 2018 in 2019 then we need to be brave enough to make choices.
If it’s only the vast majority, when it should be all, then we need to make choices about who wears the Parramatta jersey.
From the stands I care little for reasons and I cast no blame. I have no ideas why players are retained, let go, dropped or sanctioned and nor should I. I only know what I see on the field and for the most part what I saw on Thursday had as much hope and promise as the end of 2016.
But is “for the most part” good enough?
To me, our final table position this year matters little. It won’t determine how we go next year. However, what matters is how my team plays. How committed the players are in their performance.
BA said in the post-match press conference, that the attitude, effort and commitment that was displayed against the Dragons is the benchmark going forward and is non-negotiable.
With that said by BA, my expectation is that if he has defined a benchmark, it must now must be made so.
I will paraphrase what Sixties said after our Rd 6 loss to the Raiders. If a player cannot for whatever reason get themselves to play to their best, to give their all, then they cannot play.
Just as we needed to find new halves when Norman and Foran could not play at the end of the year in 2016, if a player cannot play with sustained effort and commitment and show some pride in themselves and this jumper, then I consider them unavailable for selection. That is the benchmark.
Being injured physically and or emotionally manifests itself on the field in the same way – it shows up as poor decision making and execution. When someone is unavailable you find a replacement, the best one you have.
We did in 2016 and we can again in 2018 – we just need to be willing.