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Dyldam Parramatta Eels Head Coach Brad Arthur has labelled the prospect of selecting his final 17 players for the NRL season opener as the hardest decision of his coaching career.

As the Eels prepare for their final trial game against the Penrith Panthers on Saturday, February 20, Arthur said the side’s preparation has been as much about attitude as it has about the traditional hard slog.

“I think our players have had enough of pre-season right now,” he said.

“They are at the time of the year now where they are getting a bit cranky and had enough of pre-season training and just want to get out there and play.”

“But I think they really enjoy coming to training. We have created an environment for them that is conducive to hard work but also where they have to take ownership of what direction they want to take the team.”

“Our boys are tremendous with their professionalism, and it’s an area where we have worked on really hard. I know we will ultimately be judged by our results on the field, and we know that and it’s important to us. But while we are happy with the quality we have established as a playing group, we have an even better quality of people in our squad.”

“We are tremendously proud of what they do in the community, how they hold themselves and how they carry themselves in public. If we can be really good and disciplined people off the field, it is going to help us a long way on the field.”

The theme has run across the Blue and Gold’s pre-season, fuelled by the need to improve drastically in the side’s on-field discipline from 2015.

“We received the least amount of penalties and gave away the most amount of penalities [in 2015],” Arthur said.

“It has been a massive focus for us this pre-season and having a facility that is conducive to that and having a bit of ownership for the players has helped: if we can improve our discipline, that will put us in a good place.”

And while the majority of the Eels’ new-season recruits will hit the field for Saturday’s game, Arthur pointed to some less high-profile footballers as players who’d excelled over the past four months.

“Some of the younger boys have really stepped up,” Arthur said.

“They have grown, matured into their bodies, they really know what hard work is about, they are dedicated, disciplined and they have a real vision and direction of what they want to get out of themselves which is going to help us as a team.”

“All the indications throughout the pre-season are that they are hungry [to play first grade]."

“You just want to see them get out there, because sometimes you fall in love with players at training but it’s different on the field, so it is a good learning tool for me as well."

“We have our trial this week in Penrith and I think will be faced with my most difficult decision I have had to make. It has only been two years as a coach but it will be the most difficult decision I have had to come up with our final 17 ahead of Round One.”

The Dyldam Parramatta Eels v Panthers trial kicks off at 7.10pm at Pepper Stadium, Penrith as part of a triple-header on Saturday, February 20. Tickets are available through Ticketek, with the match broadcast live on FoxSports 1. Click through to see the team Brad Arthur has named.

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Parramatta Eels respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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