Parramatta CEO Jim Sarantinos has declared that the club’s first grand final appearance in over a decade is a deserved reward for all of the hard work that’s gone on over the years to get the Eels back to the summit of the game.
On Sunday they will clash with their western Sydney rivals, Penrith, for the fourth time this season, desperate to end a 36-year premiership drought.
“It’s really pleasing for everyone at the club to have the opportunity to go through this moment and just the excitement that surrounds grand final week,” Sarantinos said on SEN.
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The Eels managed to spring an upset by beating North Queensland on their home turf last week which booked their first grand final appearance for 13 years. It’s been a long time in between drinks, yet memories of their incredible late surge in 2009 still live long in the memory.
However, despite the manic fever that washed over the blue and gold faithful back then with Jarryd Hayne embarking on a run of form which will be difficult to ever eclipse, alongside the cult hero Fuifui Moimoi’s barnstorming displays, it never felt like it was built to last.
Indeed, it turned out to be a flash in the pan. An unlikely one-off where the Eels rose up the ladder, taking scalps from teams above them in glorious fashion as they worked their way into the top eight against all odds.
This time around it’s different with Sarantinos claiming the club’s infrastructure is much better than it used to be, allowing Parramatta to gradually become one of the powerhouses of the competition once again.
“For a long time, the club played out of facilities that really didn’t do justice for the scale of the club,” Sarantinos said.
“Parramatta Stadium was always great, but we now have what we think is the best rugby league stadium in the country [CommBank Stadium].
“There’s a lot of work still to be done to the new training faciality we’ve got…but it just provides the players with everything they need to prepare and perform at their best.
“They’re enjoyable places for our staff and players to work at.”
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Stability in the make-up of the staff has also been a major factor in Parramatta’s improvement, with the club attempting to keep a group together for the long-term.
“There have been a number of people who have been around the club for a number of years now, including the core of our playing group,” Sarantinos said.
“Brad’s [Brad Arthur] obviously in his ninth year as coach, we’ve got a number of assistant coaches, support staff, board and management who have been in and around the club for the last four or five years.
“We’ve been trying to get the club back to where it belongs. It does feel like this is a reward for all the hard work and perseverance that everyone has put in.
“Hopefully, with a win next week, the Parramatta Eels will be back where they belong.”
It has been a difficult task for the club to get themselves back amongst the elite. In 2022 alone, it has been a wild ride with Arthur’s position coming under question as recently as just a few months ago.
The pressure constantly cranked up on the coach with each unfathomable loss to a bottom-placed side during the regular season. The fact not lost on anybody that this current roster is the strongest the Eels have managed to assemble in decades.
“It’s an incredible achievement and I’m so happy for the boys to be getting this opportunity,” Sarantinos said.
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Parramatta held on during the frantic closing stages of last week’s win, defending their line while wave after wave of attack came from the Cowboys.
The defensive resolve on show in Townsville will need to be there again against the Panthers which Sarantinos believes will be the case.
“We scored some points and then the guys defended with everything they had,” the CEO said.
“I think you would have seen with the way they fell to the ground at the end of the game, that’s probably how I felt.
“We’ve shown an ability to come from behind late in games which demonstrates our resilience.
“We’ve started games very strongly and carried that through the 80 minutes, but to be able to win like that where the stakes were so high just shows how determined this playing group is. And their will to, hopefully, win a premiership.”
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