BY CURTIS WOODWARD
No team does heartbreak like the Parramatta Eels – just ask their fans. On Saturday they play a sudden death semi against a team they should beat in the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Eels have been impressive thus far in 2017. North Queensland have seemingly been on tilt since their messiah Johnathan Thurston went down injured.
Yet here the Cowboys are.
On Saturday these two teams return to the scene of one of the great ambushes modern Australian sport has seen.
Forget the 2001 Grand Final where Andrew Johns and Steve Simpson went mad and knocked off the heavily favoured Eels.
This ambush came four years later.
The year was 2005 – week three of the Finals – the minor premiers against a bunch of rag tags from Townsville. And while the Cowboys may have boasted Dally M winner Johnathan Thurston – nobody expected them to beat the Eels.
This was Parramatta’s to lose.
The Eels earned a rest after smacking Manly in week one of the playoffs at Parramatta Stadium. Two nights earlier, Wests Tigers put 50 on the Cowboys at Homebush.
After edging Melbourne in week two, North QLD qualified for the preliminary final.
Then it all fell apart for Parramatta. North QLD romped home 29-0. The short-priced premiership favourites were hammered and kept scoreless for the first time that year.
“We have to figure out why we performed like we did,” Smith said at the time of the loss.
“That’s up to me and the senior players to work out.”
They never did.
But this piece isn’t about how the Eels will choke and fall over again. Only last week this writer was explaining why they were set to cause the upset of upsets at AAMI Park against Melbourne.
They almost did it.
The point however is that all the hard work they have done up to this point means nothing if they don’t beat the Cowboys and beat them well at ANZ Stadium.
They have created something and nothing all at the same time.
Coach Brad Arthur knows it.
In the Brian Smith era there was an expectation that things would just happen in the big games. It felt similar when his protégé Daniel Anderson was in charge.
Arthur is the hard nut that glues this squad together. He’s watched from the outside and seen Parramatta crumble plenty. He is now the reason they stand on the cusp of a preliminary final and a shot at the Sydney Roosters.
“I can’t rap the guy enough, what he’s done for the club over the years has lifted us from a very dark time to a place now where people love being involved and at,” Parramatta’s veteran leader Tim Mannah told NRL.com.
“It’s not an easy job to do that but he does it with a lot of class and has got a playing group that will do anything for him.
“The coach has been here now for four years and picked up the club in a dire time and it hasn’t happened overnight.”
The Cowboys should watch that 2005 semi for inspiration.
Parramatta should watch it as a reminder.