How Eels found life in NRL salary cap mess

Sep 15, 2017 - 2:44 AM Friday July 8, 2016 should have been Parramatta's darkest day in an era full of off- and on-field embarrassment.

Wallowing already in the depths of a provisional salary cap crisis, the Eels were about to be rocked twice in 24 hours.

The day began with reports star halfback Kieran Foran - the man supposed to lead them out of the mire - had quit the club.

Already out for the year with a shoulder injury, the Kiwi international had previously been granted leave for personal matters and was then sanctioned for missing rehabilitation sessions.

Within weeks Foran's release would be confirmed and, indeed, he wouldn't be seen in Parramatta colours again.

That morning, though, the Eels denied all.

Yet it was the least of their worries.

Hours later, rumours began swirling the league was set to finalise the club's cap punishments.

Provisionally sanctioned over the salary rorts in May, the Eels had submitted a response to the NRL's breach notice that they hoped would keep their season alive.

But by then it was clear their pleas had fallen on deaf ears. Within 24 hours the club would be stripped of 12 premiership points and fined $1 million.

When their players took to the field that night against the Sydney Roosters, it meant they knew they were playing without hope of taking part in September's finals.

However somewhere out of the rubble of that Friday, Eels' captain Tim Mannah still identifies it as the day he knew the club had turned a corner and would return to finals footy in 2017.

"There were a few games last year that really impressed me," Mannah told AAP.

"There was (that) Roosters game at Parramatta Stadium last year and the boys showed a lot of fight.

"It just showed me that we had turned the corner and we were a different kind of Parramatta team than we had been in the past."

The Eels trailed 18-6 shortly after half-time against the Chooks but when Corey Norman made a scrambling last-ditch tackle in his own in-goal to force Joseph Manu out, they claimed a 22-18 victory.

In reality, the round-18 win meant nothing in terms of their season but in the minds of the players, it put them on course for a shot at glory in 2017.

"We knew with all the dramas happening last year it was going to take an extra 12 months to get to where we wanted," Mannah said.

"We're here now and we're not surprised by where we are."

If Mannah could have his time over, he concedes he would rather not have gone through the pain of 2016.

But in line with the fighting spirit of Parramatta this season, he's quick to see the silver lining in the Eels' annus horribilis.

Effectively, he says, they were granted an extra four months of preparation ahead of every other team this season.

And as they look to their first finals game in Sydney against North Queensland on Saturday night, the club's captain believes it has paid off in the long run.

"The lessons we learnt along the way, there was a lot of resilience there," Mannah said.

"We were able to prepare for this year. You look at guys like Clint Gutherson in games that didn't really have too much on the line.

"And you look at the benefits he got out of it and the player he is now; I'm sure the opportunities at the end of last year really helped."

Mannah is the only player to have ridden the lows of Parramatta's 2009-2016 journey but he isn't alone in his assessment of last year.

Five-eighth Norman, who would be suspended for eight weeks later in 2016 for off-field matters to add to the Eels' pain, agrees the new-found resoluteness at the club was born that season.

"That's the kind of culture that is here at the moment," he said.

"That never-give-up kind of attitude. That rollercoaster last year really helped us for this year.

"We knew we just had to get this season and put our best foot forward and we would be in the finals."

Melbourne and Canterbury both felt premiership glory two years after their salary cap sagas of 2010 and 2002.

Whether the Eels buck that trend or have to wait another year remains to be seen. But they too could be thanking the dramas of the cap if they end their three-decade title drought in 2017.

Source: AAP

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