“Everything negative- pressure- challenges-are all an opportunity for me to rise.“
– Kobe Bryant
Like many businesses, the NRL has been under immense pressure. Supporters, members, players, officials and administration – few have been spared. There has been and, in many ways continues to be, so much uncertainty.
When will fans return to the ground?
Will all clubs survive and have the opportunity to thrive?
Will the gap between the struggling clubs and wealthy, stable and well supported clubs expand?
The answers to these questions are uncertain. But I do have much more certainty about my own club. The Parramatta Eels, the entire club, from its players, coaches, administration and supporters are in a much healthier position in June 2020 than I could ever have imagined back in the dark days of 2016. I can only think with dread how our club would have survived if the events of 2020 and the Covid pandemic had struck in 2016.
Undoubtedly, there is plenty going on behind the scenes to help stabilise our club and ensure its future financial viability. I have a strange confidence that it will be okay, and I will explain why later.
How did the players and coaches keep each other accountable during isolation? It’s now obvious that they did, but even before last Thursday I had a strange confidence that they had.
Our club, coaching staff and players have received some plaudits in this post, but the fans should not be forgotten.
I can only sit back and admire those fans that have done what they can to continue monetary and moral support for our club and team. It was easy for my family to pledge our membership as we have not been financially impacted by Covid-19, but fans across the NRL have embraced the challenge of supporting in different ways during challenging times.
For the Eels, individuals and families have made sacrifices to pledge memberships, purchase merchandise from the club store and even send in videos and messages of support. The loyalty of Parra fans has been demonstrated, and our faith was repaid by the team last Thursday.
The Eels return to training, and the communication and connection to fans during the isolation period has been open and honest. It had integrity. No empty promises were made. I have always and will always support our club but in past decades there have been times when such integrity was not apparent to me.
We have been told that players have trained hard. Last Thursday was a fast game and naturally the players got tired, but the ability to keep going, to maintain a high pace, to stay alive in support does not happen unless a team and its players have maintained fitness. They ran hard in the first set, chased every kick to the corner with a straight line and backed up all night.
We’ve been told that our players are developing leadership skills. We saw that in spades last Thursday. Mitchell Moses controlled our attack and kept us focussed on our game plan but he let Dylan Brown shine and play his natural game. His reaction to Brown’s brilliance and skill was the most pleasing thing I saw last Thursday. The maturity of Moses is a credit to himself and his coaches.
Junior Paulo, a member of our leadership group, is extremely fit and is playing with such skill. I was so happy when he returned to the club and to watch his game develop and see him transform into a leader is such a positive. His ability to influence the young Polynesian boys coming through our club by his actions can not be quantified.
Finally, let’s acknowledge some of last week’s standouts who have come from other clubs. They have been unwanted at other clubs or were seen as bench players. Recruits such as Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Waqa Blake, Shaun Lane, Maika Sivo and of course Gutho come to mind. Clubs happily let these players go, yet BA has transformed or re-energised their careers and been able to get this group to gel, and to play exciting, tough football. He allows them to use their talents and back themselves. It’s obvious that the players are being guided by intelligent football coaches who are also obviously good people managers.
Last Thursday I saw a happy, united, well prepared and enthusiastic team take the field. I saw them rise to the occasion. The results each week won’t always be the same, but as long as we can maintain the strong sense of openness, honesty and integrity that is evident throughout the entire club we can only improve and remain not just viable, but strong.