September 2022

The Dream Is Alive

History beckons for the Parramatta Eels as they head into a preliminary final against the heavily favoured North Queensland Cowboys.

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The match is lit, the gunpowder trail heads to Friday night in Townsville. The bannermen have been rallied, sigils unfurled, the drums are beating, horns blaring. The Blue and Gold Army marches north.

After casting out the Viking raiders, Parramatta’s next battle is to face the Cowboys on foreign soil. The fortress of Townsville is strong. It’s never been breached in the finals.

But even Troy fell. The Eels though won’t be using a canny bit of deception. They’ll come with the biggest battering ram they can find and belt in the front door.

Junior Paulo is the biggest skillful player in the game. But don’t let his light feet and soft hands fool you, he ran for 164 metres against the Raiders and busted three tackles.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard, moustache flaring, terrifying glint in his eye, scorpion tattoo on his hand, slams into the line with little thought of self-preservation. 

Marata Niukore. Brad Arthur’s seeming trump card this season. Called into the starting lock role. Every run he gets the legs pumping, head down and careens into the defence challenging them to stop him.

The Eels like to hustle and bustle, they like to challenge the intensity of their opposition middles. Canberra failed the challenge.

Conducting it all though is the more mature Mitchell Moses. Once the brilliant but erratic, he has grown into the number seven once seemingly too big for his shoulders and produced the most consistent footy of his career.

Against Penrith twice in the regular season he kicked the Eels to victory. Against Melbourne in round 25 he orchestrated the Storm’s demise and against the Raiders he showed what Parramatta missed when he went down in the first qualifying final.

His partner in crime. Dylan Brown. A kid earmarked for great things as a teenager is now the premier five-eighth in the comp.

He ran for a record 321 metres against the Raiders. He’s deadly on the left edge. The left foot step, the swerve, the fend and the ball skills. 

Shaun Lane is having a career year, and much of that is down to Brown giving the big man the space to terrorise the opposing half.

And while so much focus this year has been on Parramatta’s forward pack, Maika Sivo has seemingly gone under the radar despite scoring 12 tries in 14 games after coming back from a knee reconstruction.

The Fijian wrecking ball has just about played the best footy of his career on both sides of the ball.

All of this is fantastic but as the 29th week of the season dawns none of that matters in the end.

This is all about the here and now for the Eels. This group has the opportunity to do what so many before them have failed to complete.

The path to glory is straight forward from here.

160 minutes of excellent rugby league will see the trophy enter the historic halls of Parramatta for a fifth time.

For so long it has been just a dream.

Parramatta fans will be familiar with the dance though. 

It is time to get excited, it is time to dream, it is time to believe. But the pangs of pain, disappointment and despair of the ghosts of the past still hang in the air.

As an Eels fan it never leaves you.

Always that sense of trepidation that failure is only around the corner. That this couldn’t possibly be the year because so many disappointments have come before.

It’s that nervous energy that sits with you all week.

The thoughts of celebrations, of trophy lifts, of Clint Gutherson ascending the stage at Accor Stadium to present an acceptance speech flitter through before they’re batted to the back of the mind.

They’re replaced by a celebrating Newcastle Knights, a devastated Nathan Hindmarsh.

For so long hope has appeared before it is quashed. A snap back to reality. 

Twists and turns will present throughout the next week and hopefully into the following week.

A win in Townsville will catapult a side few thought would make it this far into a 50/50 chance to take home the Provan Summons Trophy.

Lose and it’s a feeling of de ja vu. But also of, why always us?

Why can’t we get there again? What is in the way? How do other sides manage to raise different eras of glory yet ours remains in the 1980s?

A win, and all those questions have answers. The millstone, as Peter Sterling has put it, is ground into dust.

No longer will we be asked to look at fading pictures and yellowing newspaper articles. Nor will we be shown footage recorded on VHS of our last truly great side.

That moment though is waiting on every man in the Eels dressing room. 

The 17 men who don the Blue and Gold jersey like more than 800 before them will determine where they go down in history.

Will they be just one of countless others to have come so close, or will they be one of just 10 other Eels teams to have made a grand final?

Could they become just one of five to win it?

This is all a dream for now.

But that dream remains alive for another week.

So, if you’re an Eels fan don that blue and gold armour, rally the realm and head north.

It’s time to raze Townsville.

History beckons.

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