Dyldam Parramatta Eels Head Coach Brad Arthur has confirmed centre John Folau will return to first grade this week following Manu Ma’u’s one week suspension for a Grade 1 Dangerous Throw.
Folau was sidelined for five weeks with a fracture to his hand, and has just one game under his belt since the injury, turning out for the Wentworthville Magpies in Round 20.
“He had his first hit out with reserve grade last week and did a fair job for us so he’ll get an opportunity,” Arthur said.
“He’s trained really well the last 6 weeks; he had a hand injury, which hasn’t stopped him from being able to run. He’s really trimmed down and while he’ll be lacking a bit of match fitness, his running and his conditioning work has been pretty strong.”
Folau’s injury coincided with hamstring injuries to fellow centres Vai Toutai and Brad Takairangi, as well as a strain that ruled State of Origin centre Michael Jennings out of the Eels’ Round 20 clash with the Gold Coast Titans.
“We’ve had him and Vai out [at a time when] we’ve probably had a few opportunities for them to step up, and we’ve had to put Manu in there [instead].”
Winger Semi Radradra has also been sidelined with a medial ligament injury, leaving the ranks out outside backs at the Eels sorely depleted. But Toutai is set to make his return to the field in Round 21, and Arthur is optimistic that Jennings and Radradra’s returns are not too far away.
“Maybe Jenko (Michael Jennings) next week, and Semi the following week,” Arthur said.
“He’s a pretty good and pretty quick healer Semi, so hopefully we’ll get him right for the Broncos game.”
The Blue and Gold face a challenge on Saturday afternoon from the in-form Wests Tigers, whose young halves and backline have been instrumental in rolling the St George Illawarra Dragons and keeping the side’s finals hopes alive.
“We’re going to have to be really good defensively,” Arthur said.
“We weren’t great last week in defence, so we’re going have to be at our best. They throw the ball around, they’ll ask plenty of questions of you, they’re very exciting with their attack.”
“Their young halves play nice and fast and direct, and they’ve got a big threat out the back there [in James Tedesco].”
“We have to be strong through the middle, and it’s important that we make our tackles and make sure we finish our tackles off, and we’re really good with our ground work to try and limit their opportunities and the speed they can play with.”
Despite the acknowledgment that finals are now out of reach for the Blue and Gold, Arthur says he expects nothing less than commitment from the Parramatta side in the final six weeks of the 2016 season. And the Eels supporters have shown the same commitment: during the week, the club reached a record 23,032 Members, the most in the club’s history.
“We’ve still got to play for some pride,” Arthur said.
“We’ve done a lot of good things this year, and we’ve got to make sure we don’t undo them. I’d be disappointed if we’ve got to to find reasons to be motivated to play: we should want to win every time we take the field, and we should want to perform at our best every time we take the field as well.”
“They’ve stayed loyal and they’ve stayed strong (the Blue and Gold Army),” Arthur said.
“Hopefully we can finish the year with some good football and repay them for their faith in us.”