It was a welcome return to the positive when reflecting on my experience in the stands last Friday night.
The packed stadium provided a genuine hum of anticipation that could be heard and felt before the start of play.
All those in attendance will know what I mean. The excitement within the crowd who either anticipated or hoped for a great game was palpable.
There’s been plenty of talk over the last decade about the AFL taking over rugby league’s heartland. Anyone at the ground last Friday or in attendance at our previous meeting at Penrith earlier in the year, would certainly know that the passion for rugby league is very much alive in Sydney’s west.
On the field it was obvious from the outset that Parra was going to have a red hot crack.
They say that styles make fights and for whatever reason we are always in the fight when we take on the Panthers.
From the opening set, you could see our mindset was one based around winning. For me that was the most pleasing take away from the game.
Like every team, Parra has strengths and weaknesses. I think we need to embrace our strengths and believe in them more.
Against good teams, we must create offloads and run more often from dummy half. This creates that little extra space and time for our talented playmakers and backs to pick teams apart.
Maika’s try was beautifully set up in the previous 10 minutes. You could see that every time Dylan Brown went short to Shaun Lane the Panthers outside men came in a little more. Eventually they came in too far and Dylan, Shaun Lane, Tom Opacic and Maika all did their job beautifully to take full advantage.
It was a perfect example of being patient and believing in your plan, playing smart football.
On occasions this year I have been a little critical of Reed and Gutho. It was never a question of their want or desire, but at times they have made really ordinary choices in games.
But from the outset against the Panthers they played with energy and almost simplified their job.
The number 9 is so important in the modern game. I hope that Reed continues to selectively run from dummy half because that keeps the markers honest and engaged a little longer which will only benefit our outside men.
At the ground it was noticeable that Gutho positioned himself in the centre of the field much more. I think with Moses being out for the next few weeks that will be even more important as attacking through the middle may just be our best option for the foreseeable future.
Friday night’s game was worthy of much praise.
There were fine performances from Eels players. As for the Panthers, they were tenacious in the second half and Api Koroisau was so skilful around the ruck.
The care and protection James Fisher Harris showed towards Dylan Brown as he responded to the dangerous tackle by Cleary was also worthy of a mention. It was a genuinely caring response after an ugly tackle.
We then had the the courage of a young referee to make a challenging call which, though highly consequential was proven to be right.
Finally, the crowd and the good natured jibes between the rival supporters added to the atmosphere on the night.
I left the ground feeling nothing but happiness that I and the thousands around me had made the decision to make the trip to watch our team.
In the days following I was disappointed but not surprised to hear large sections of the league media find negatives in that game, most notably with our team.
Being at the ground and in the stands the last thing that anyone would think was that the home supporters, or at least the vast majority of the home supporters and players are disconnected, or that the players don’t care or respond positively to crowd support.
In recent years, journalists have even been critical of Parra’s inability to win away matches without their home ground support. Now we are supposed to believe that our team is disconnected from its fans and does not engage with them. You cannot argue both sides of this issue and maintain a credible position.
Over the next few weeks leading into the finals, all teams will have some ups and downs.
This season Parra lost two games to bottom eight teams. These were obviously two games which should have been won.
Like most fans I have been frustrated by the inconsistency. But we must never forget that up to this point in the season we have won two more games than the Roosters and Raiders and three more games than Manly. We have won one more game than the Rabbitohs and the same amount of games as Melbourne and the Broncos.
When are these teams called out for being inconsistent by these very same journalists and commentators who constantly find fault with Parra despite the achievement of beating the Panthers twice this season?
Finding only negatives to focus on from our game last Friday is nothing more than agenda driven bias.
I passionately support my Eels, but unlike certain journos I can put aside any bias to recognise the qualities of all teams. I’ll even acknowledge the consistency, toughness and skill in one of our fiercest rivals, the Panthers.
Is it too much to expect paid professionals to do similarly?
The next few weeks our team will face tough games against a desperate Manly, and our kryptonite in the Rabbitohs. It won’t be easy, especially without Mitch Moses.
As a fan I can fear the opposition or I can unconditionally support our boys. I choose the latter.
Just as I am sure that certain league commentators will criticise our team no matter the result, I also know that the vast majority of the Blue and Gold Army will get behind our boys, and cheer every single one of them to victory.