General Resurgent Eels looking ominous

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How the New Zealand Warriors must wish they had struck Parramatta six weeks ago in the National Rugby League.


The Eels were in turmoil, veteran head coach Brian Smith had resigned and the drinking antics of their young stars was making all the wrong headlines in Sydney.

Bar room incidents included teenage winger Jarryd Hayne biting a woman on the arm and halfback Tim Smith having a shoving match with test cricketer Michael Clarke.

On the field the Eels, last year's minor premiers, had a run of six losses from seven matches and sat only above NRL no-hopers South Sydney on the points table.

It couldn't get any worse and, ominously for the Warriors, who they face in Auckland tomorrow, things have finally turned for the better under coach Jason Taylor.

Three wins on the trot, including a 46-12 hiding of the fading Newcastle Knights last weekend, have the Eels making a late run, alongside the Warriors, at the top eight.

Surprisingly for a team including tough nuts like Kiwis prop and captain Nathan Cayless, New South Wales forward Nathan Hindmarsh and a host of gifted individuals in the backs, they admit self-belief deserted them midseason.

"There's a good feeling around the joint (now). We were getting to the stage there where we were thinking, `Geez, are we good enough to win a game?'," Hindmarsh said.

"We had a couple of good starts against teams like North Queensland, 16-0 up, Manly 16-0 up. For some reason we just seemed to fall in a heap – we've only got ourselves to blame for that.

"Three in a row now (against) reasonably hard teams, it lifts the confidence a bit."

Cayless, who had to lead the team through the rough patches this year, agrees. "We've been bashed left, right and centre over the year – not on the field," Cayless said.

"A bit of that has come from us, but we are starting to get it together.

"We've come through that, a tough period, and we're playing some good footy again."

Like the Warriors, talk of the top-eight isn't dominating conversation at the Eels who insist on the cliched "one game at a time" as they desperately try to play catchup.

There is some New Zealand interest in the Eels camp, with halfback Jeremy Smith making his return after a month-long suspension for pushing referee Sean Hampstead.

The ban cost Smith a Kiwis debut against Great Britain last month, and ironically Hampstead has the whistle again tomorrow.

Also there is prop Fuifui Moimoi, who was blocked by the Eels from playing for the Kiwis, and fullback Wade McKinnon, who was recently signed by the Warriors to fill the boots of Brent Webb next year.

The disappointment of losing regular halfback Tim Smith for the season with a broken collarbone has been offset by the return of another Smith, centre Ben, from an ankle injury suffered in round four.

The Eels are two points ahead of the Warriors in 12th place and the loser of tomorrow's match will be at long odds to make the top eight.

Ben Smith said he could sense the Eels were starting to rediscover the team spirit. "We're starting to get that feeling that we had last year and now we just have to keep going and hopefully make a run to the semis," he said. "We know it's going to be hard but we made a goal a few weeks ago to win three out of the next four games and we've done that." – NZPA
 

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