The Parramatta Eels are preparing to kick off their season this weekend when they clash with the Penrith Panthers at a sold out Panthers Stadium on Sunday 11 March.
Speaking ahead of the clash, Blue & Gold co-captain Tim Mannah says the side is excited that footy is back and that they are able to kick off the season against with a great rivalry.
“It’s a great way to start the season. I think everyone is just excited that footy is back,” Mannah said.
“Obviously the Penrith game is always one that gets a great crowd, geographically we are both close to each other and there has been a great rivalry there for a long time but it doesn’t really matter who we are playing or where we are playing, we are just keen to get back and play some football.”
The Panthers suffered a pre-season trial defeat and there is speculation by the media of pressure on Head Coach Anthony Griffin, but Mannah knows the side still boasts plenty of dangers and will be dangerous.
“I think the Panthers have a really handy team. On paper, they are a great time that have a really solid line up. We are not buying into too much of the hype, we know we have a big game on Sunday and it’s important that we prepare our best and be at our best come Sunday afternoon,” Mannah said.
“It’s the same with any good halves, you don’t want to give them too much time. A big part of that is us forwards in the middle, we have to control the middle of the field the best we can, but they [James Maloney and Nathan Cleary] are really good players and it’s a matter of doing our best to restrict them.”
With plenty of off-field speculation surrounding the return of Jarryd Hayne heading into the season, Mannah says that the outside noises had not infiltrated the Blue & Gold inner sanctum.
Mannah says the Club is purely focused on their job, starting with this weekend’s clash against the Panthers.
“Outside noises and sources can say whatever they want about us. In years gone past, they have said bad things about us and more recently they are saying good things, but we have a really good culture here of not buying into what everyone says on the outside.” Mannah said.
“We have a lot of belief in what we can do as a team and we won’t get too affected by what everyone says from the outside.”
“We know we have a good team on our hands but its important we prepare the best we can every week.” He added.
“If we look too far down the track, we will lose focus on what’s important and what’s important at the moment is one more training session before we play Penrith.”
Jarryd Hayne will play his 200th NRL game milestone this weekend, and whilst Mannah says it will be great to get the win for his teammate and close friend, the entire Blue & Gold squad will be focused on getting the season off well.
“I think Jarryd is going to be great for us. Anyone of Jarryd’s calibre is great to have in a team and we all know what he can do. We are pretty excited to have him back at our Club and we know what kind of football he can play but we have 16 other guys on the field on Sunday who are wanting to play their part and have trained really hard all summer and want to have a big game on Sunday.” Mannah said.
“He has picked up where he left off. He has come back a lot more mature, has been a great help for me in terms of leadership and helping lead this team and he has some really great insight. He has some great contributions for our team and I am sure having him in our team this year is going to be a great thing for us.” Mannah added.
“It his 200th, a really special milestone for him to play this weekend and we want to really make sure that we get out there and play our best footy, not just for his 200th, but to put in a good performance to kick off the year as well.”
This week saw the Club re-sign Will Smith, Daniel Alvaro and Nathan Brown and Mannah says that the re-signings of these three young players is a great sign for the Blue & Gold moving forward.
“We are playing Round One, that is exciting and we have two forwards [Nathan Brown and Daniel Alvaro] who have re-signed which is great news for our Club. It is a really positive sign for the direction we are heading in,” Mannah said.
“A huge credit goes to Brad Arthur and his team for the team and culture they are building here.”
“We also had Will Smith re-sign as well so there is some really great young talent coming through that is showing their faith in the Club, and I am really excited about the direction this Club is heading in and I am really excited about taking the field in Round One.”
The Eels kick off against the Panthers at Panthers Stadium on Sunday 11 March, kick off at 4:10pm.
The clash has been officially sold out with the final tickets snapped up early on Friday morning, more than 48 hours before kick-off in the Battle of the West. Fans attending Sunday's game are encouraged to arrive early to avoid potential delays with finding parking and entering Panthers Stadium. With all three grades in action on Sunday, West Gate opens at 11.30am while North Gate and South Gate will open at 1.30pm.