Eels coach Brad Arthur is never afraid to tell it like it is.
It’s why, after his side was trounced 26-0 at home by the Rabbitohs just four weeks ago, he lashed his forwards, saying “we lacked physicality”.
Some players would sulk after hearing those comments, but Parramatta’s veteran duo of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo embraced the challenge and have helped the Eels to three-straight wins to finish in the top four.
The Eels were never in that game against South Sydney, with Paulo (63m from seven carries) and Campbell-Gillard (84m from 11 runs) bashed by their rivals as Cam Murray toyed with them through the middle.
While halves can be the easy scapegoats when teams struggle, Parramatta’s up-and-down season has often come down to how their big boppers perform.
When they steamroll through the middle, the Eels generally rack up big scores. But when they’re dominated like when they combined for 142m against the Roosters and 181 against the Bulldogs, they invariably lose.
Campbell-Gillard (339m) and Paulo (346m) have been on fire in the past two weeks to ensure the Eels have two bites at the cherry, starting with Friday’s battle of the west in Penrith.
“I wouldn’t say it was a wake-up call – it was a whoopsie,” Campbell-Gillard said of the South Sydney loss.
“He (Arthur) won’t hold back on anything. He’s a big believer in his middles. Junior and I have been around for a while, so if our performances aren’t good then it reflects on the team.
“If our middles don’t play well, then you can see the performances. We can’t have an off day or an OK day because it bites us in the a**e.
“I think the games that we’ve lost, we’ve probably had one middle that has been good, but the other two have been sh*t.
“I wouldn’t say it’s about us holding each other accountable, it’s about making sure we’re actually doing our jobs.”
Consistency in the middle is something all teams want but very few get from their props, given they get bashed every time they carry the ball.
And while the role is theoretically the easiest on the field, it’s also the one that most people shy away from.
“It’s one of the toughest sports in the world,” Campbell-Gillard said.
“We’re playing a position that not many people want to do it.
“It’s a very easy role, but it’s hard to do consistently. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing our job. When we’re doing our job, then our halves are doing their job, and vice versa.
“We know what we’re good at. When we go outside that, those are the performances you’ve seen this year and it’s bad. If we stick to what works, then nine times out of 10 the result goes our way.”
The Eels are 2-0 against the Panthers this season and played the role of Brock Lesnar when they ended Penrith’s Undertaker-like streak of 21 wins in a row at home.
They also beat them a few weeks ago on the night Nathan Cleary was sent off and the spine players ran riot after their forwards dominated Penrith in the ruck.
“We’ve stayed with them and we’ve stayed in the fight,” halfback Mitch Moses said.
“They’re a great side and they have been all year. They suffocate teams, but we’ve stayed in the fight when we’ve played them.”
The Panthers will go into the qualifying final knowing they knocked their fiercest rivals out of the competition last year with a controversial 8-6 win in Mackay.
“It definitely burns,” Campbell-Gillard said.
“You’re going to get calls that go your way and you’re going to get calls that don’t. It’s just luck of the bounce.
“You never want to lose any game or any finals. I’d completely forgotten about it before you mentioned it. We had every opportunity to make that one a win.”
Campbell-Gillard’s relationship with some of his former Penrith teammates has been a hot topic since he was left out of the State of Origin squad after the series opener, but he couldn’t care less knowing he has Paulo by his side in the finals.
“Everything he does for this team gives me goosebumps just thinking about it,” the veteran prop said.
“He’s the ultimate leader who leads by his actions.
“Junior is our leader. I get excited when I suit up next to him. We have a very good chemistry going on, and what he does for this team is priceless.”