“The opposition we’re playing each week is helping us remain level-headed and focused.
“When we came back from COVID-19 we played against Brisbane, who were two from two and rated by most tipsters as a top-four team. Most picked them to beat us.
“But we beat them. We played Manly who are going really well and Tommy Trbojevic is leading the Dally M, and Penrith were undefeated and also playing good footy when we met.
“Now we’ve got the Roosters followed by Canberra. The boys know we’re going OK, but they know it’s still not good enough. The players are the ones driving the accountability and ownership, and while I see that I’m not concerned.”
The Eels thundered home in 2017 to grab fourth place but bowed out in straight sets to the Storm and North Queensland. That summer, Arthur sensed a few players believing the hype around the club heading into 2018 – but there has been nothing like that this time.
“You can see it and smell it at training, but it’s certainly not happening with this group,” Arthur said.
The Eels have not won a premiership in 34 years but will rocket to the top of betting if they beat the Roosters – who have one less day to prepare because of Canterbury’s COVID-19 scare – and title heavyweights the Raiders.
There was a spring in the step and lots of smiles as the Eels trained out west, with Andrew Johns making a cameo to help out from outside the clean zone.
Blake Ferguson shrugged off the blue-and-gold love-in, saying the Roosters were still the team to beat. He helped the tricolours win the 2018 grand final while playing most of the second half with a broken leg.
“They’ve come out of the COVID break humming … we’ll chat about what their strengths and weaknesses are, if there any,” Ferguson said.
“You have to play well against them, and if you don’t you’ll get an arse-whooping.”
Towering back-rower Shaun Lane said the Eels deserved top billing after five rounds.
“We’ve played quite well and deserve top spot on the ladder,” Lane said.
“We’ve played three games back [since COVID]. The issue our team has had is consistency, and what more consistent team than the Roosters to come up against to test out how much we’ll hang in there for the 80 minutes.”
Lane said the shortened preparation for the Roosters would benefit Parramatta, “but I’m sure they’ll still come out with plenty of energy”.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.