Dynamic Eels forward Kenny Edwards says last week's qualifying final loss to Melbourne was the first time he's ever cried after an NRL game – but having shaken off his disappointment, believes not having a week off could be a blessing in disguise.
After taking a more chequered path than most to an NRL career, Edwards' five years of perseverance at the Eels was last week rewarded with his first finals appearance – in his 61st game and just before his 28th birthday.
Edwards was one of nine Eels making their NRL finals debut last week but you wouldn't have known it as the blue and golds came mighty close to upsetting the seemingly unbeatable Storm in a narrow 18-16 loss.
"We're all inexperienced [in finals footy] but with inexperience comes excitement and we were excited going into that game," Edwards told NRL.com.
"We let ourselves down [in the second half after leading 10-6 at half-time]; I was shattered walking off the field.
"I walked in the change rooms – it's the first time I've ever cried after a game. Mainly because we let ourselves down, we beat ourselves I think, that was the hardest thing to take, that we lost it ourselves.
"Errors and penalties killed us and it's no one else's fault but our own, that was the hardest thing to take."
The Eels maintained an 87 per cent completion rate across the match – the best of the eight finals team for the weekend – but a 6-1 second half penalty count against them proved tough to overcome.
Edwards said the team enjoyed going into that game as underdogs.
"We love our backs against the wall, no one giving us a hope, we love that sort of stuff. When no one gives us a chance that's when we play our best," he said.
Casting his mind ahead to this Saturday night and the Cowboys – who crept into the finals in eighth place before stunning the Cowboys in a 90-minute extra-time thriller – Edwards looked for the positives in last week's loss.
"I know it's not ideal playing this week but when we have played after a bye we're always coming out slow so maybe it's a blessing in disguise that we're playing every week," he said.
"All year when Brad's given us a week off we've come back the week after and been slow, been sluggish."
The team had the Sunday and Monday off after the Storm game before returning to training on Tuesday but Edwards says he was one of a half-dozen Eels who decided to come back in for extras on the Monday.
"I love being at this joint. I walked in [Tuesday] morning because all the coaches weren't here [Monday], there were five or six of us that came in and did our own work and I came in [Tuesday] morning," he said.
"I said 'I miss this place man, I've only been away for three days but I already miss it'. I don't know how I'm going to cope in the off season but hopefully it's short, hopefully we make it to the grand final!"
Edwards has arguably produced his best footy when allowed to inject some energy off the bench. He was on early against the Storm courtesy of a failed head injury assessment for fellow back-rower Tepai Moeroa and, while Moeroa has been named to start against the Cowboys, Edwards is ready to start if need be.
"I do love the bench role because I can come on and bring energy," he said.
"I'm not sure how Teps is going, I think I'll have to start, I think Teps is out this week and I'll have to start but against the Broncos a couple of weeks ago and I think I handled myself all right.
"We started really well that game and that's what I'll be looking to bring this week, like always, bring energy."