Parramatta mentor Michael Hagan is still of the opinion that his team is “not far away” from achieving consistent, winning form similar to the 2007 NRL season, as the Eels remain hopeful they can still achieve a Top 4 spot come seasons end.
Parramatta have been highly inconsistent during the 2008 NRL season, with some average performances mixed with the occasional blockbuster. As it stands now however, the Eels have a handy run home to the finals, meeting only 3 Top 8 teams in their last ten matches, meaning the Eels are a possible chance of sneaking into the Top 4 if results fall their way.
With a narrow, hard fought 24-22 win over Origin-ravaged Storm rookies getting the Eels back into 8th spot on the ladder, they now must deal with 9th placed Penrith at Parramatta Stadium tomorrow.
A victory tomorrow will not only boost confidence, it will setup a 3 point gap over their Panthers neighbours and see a larger break in the ladder from the leading teams and the bottom half of the table.
“We’ve worked overtime this past month or so, to squeeze into the 8 and we’re seeing more confidence, we’re fairly healthy and I think that there’s nothing to say we can’t force our way a bit further up the table,” said Hagan.
“The start of the year was always going to be difficult for us and we didn’t have a few guys on deck at that time.
“We think if we stay healthy we can finish the year off pretty well.
“We’ve got 10 weeks of footy to do that and I think we’re in good shape at the moment.
“We’re not too far away (from our best) but it might still be another week or two until we get there.
“I have been pretty happy with the last probably five or six weeks the way we’ve played.
“I think we’ve got the majority of our players turning up with a good attitude to the tough part of the game and in this part of the season that is what you need.”
The Eels will be missing their tackling machine Nathan Hindmarsh with a foot injury this week, however prominent flanker Jarryd Hayne is set to backup after playing Origin during the week; adding more try scoring potency to the Eels backline.
Fuifui Moimoi returns after a 1 week suspension after colliding with Brett Kimmorley and should return from the Eels bench. Over at the Panthers they also see the return of Petero Civoniceva from Queensland Origin duties.
In top form at present, Origin rep Civoniceva means a massive amount to the rookie Panthers who at times lacked direction in last week’s 12-all draw with Brisbane.
Penrith are set to continue their rebuilding phase, looking to continue blooding under-20s stars Wade Graham, Masada Iosefa and Lachlan Coote against the Eels.
Hagan said naturally they would be keen to exploit the young rookies Penrith have in their ranks, but warned the young Panthers would also be a handful to contain.
“There’s certainly an opportunity to put some pressure on a couple of their key players and I think we would be remiss if we weren’t trying to do that,” he said.
“I think they’re going pretty well with the fact they have got a few of their better players out and a few of their young blokes seem to be going particularly well for them at the moment.
“They’ve got a bit of strike in them too in the way they play so I think defensively we’ve got a bit of work to do there.
“We think if we get our own house in order we will be capable of defending well and scoring enough points on Sunday.”