It’s quite remarkable what Parramatta has been able to achieve so far this year.
Only six months ago the board was cleared out after they were found to have been involved in systemic rorting of the salary cap.
The club was in disarray and without proper leadership. Not only would they miss out on the finals in 2016, they would have to force out talented players like Nathan Peats, leaving them to sift through the remains of a shipwrecked club lacking direction.
Fast-forward twelve months and this is a different football club; a rejuvenated outfit with plenty to offer the 2017 finals campaign.
This weekend they face the toughest assignment in modern rugby league; tougher than getting out of bed hung-over after being woken by your alarm at 5am in the morning. They face Melbourne at AAMI Park in a game that looks a mismatch on paper in some departments but is destined to be bigger than Ben-Hur if the Eels perform to expectations.
Parramatta have shown glimpses of utter brilliance this season, and a second bite of the cherry is reward for their hard-fought wins against sides like Brisbane and Melbourne where they started as big outsiders but made the punters put their money where their mouth is.
Few have given Parramatta a chance of going close this year but their line-up is the closest to a premiership winning side they’ve had in some time.
This is a bold statement to make because they are missing two of their livewires in Clint Gutherson and Bevan French and have had to fill the void in key positions with fringe first graders and fallen stars.
Nathan Brown was given next to no chance of finding another first-grade club after an indifferent season at the Rabbitohs, yet he has proven to be one of the buys of the season.
Getting eighty minutes out of a prop in an age of reduced interchange and high tempo football is a luxury few coaches are afforded. Yet Brad Arthur has been able to rely on his front rower more than you can rely on forking out $1.30 per litre for petrol.
The halves’ pairing of Mitchell Moses and Corey Norman is another intriguing storyline in the Parramatta narrative.
Moses was in the middle of his own saga at the Tigers earlier this year and looked destined to be thrown to the scrapheap of footballers that showed glimpses of brilliance across their fleeting careers but never quite made the grade.
Now he has paired up with Norman and is playing the best football of his career. This speaks volumes about the Parramatta number seven as much as it does about his coach, Brad Arthur.
To get something out of a footballer with an ego the size of Texas looked as frivolous a task as drawing blood from a stone. But Arthur has risen from the coaching graveyard and defied the doubters.
Parramatta might be the most patchwork side in rugby league history, but they are also just a few small steps away from surpassing the untouchable Eels side of 2001.
Who knows what they’ll bring this Saturday night.
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