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The Parramatta Eels have got some major selection decisions as the club prepares to try and smash the NRL’s longest premiership drought of 36 seasons.
Taking nothing away from the Eels, it’s been a brilliant display of grit and will power to qualify for the club’s first grand final since 2009.
But now that they’ve made it coach Brad Arthur has some major selection calls ahead as the Eels try and find a way to halt the juggernaut of the Penrith Panthers.
Can the Eels still afford to carry Jake Arthur on the bench if he’s not going to see any game time? Especially if they’ve also got Bryce Cartwright on the bench who can provide cover in the halves at a pinch.
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And what about right winger Waqa Blake who is a classic diamonds and stones player? Nathan Cleary tormented him into dropping four bombs in week one of the finals and the Cowboys got a similar result with one spilled kick in the preliminary final.
In fairness Blake has scored 12 tries in 21 games for the Eels this year and has come up with some big plays.
But there’s no question the Panthers will be game planning to throw an aerial assault his way again on Sunday.
Listening to an array of retired champion players, most are declaring the Panthers as almost unbeatable.
So for the Eels to orchestrate one of the great grand final upsets against their western Sydney arch-rivals then coach Arthur needs to pick his absolute best 17.
Can you beat the Panthers with a rotation of only 16 players if halfback Mitch Moses gets through the game without issue and Jakob Arthur is once again left on the bench for 80 minutes?
Does ex-NSW forward Nathan Brown get a look in on the bench and get the job of trying to pin a target on Cleary when it comes to his fifth tackle kicking options?
The Eels deserve enormous credit for turning around their week one finals loss to the Panthers to qualify for Sunday’s NRL decider.
Coach Arthur has also removed a giant finals hoodoo gorilla from his back by taking his finals record to four wins from 11 appearances in September.
The way the Eels fought back from 20-12 down with 25 minutes remaining against the Cowboys in Townsville was nothing short of extraordinary.
The same goes for the way the club has embraced the siege mentality attitude about some of the outside noise being aimed at the Eels over the course of the last month.
If – and at this point it’s a mighty big IF – Parramatta can smash a 36-season drought on Sunday it will rank as one of the best storylines in the NRL era.
From the heartbreak of 2001 and 2009 to Arthur re-building the club off the back of the 2016 salary cap scandal the Eels have had to do it the hard way to make it all the way to the club’s first grand final in 13 seasons.
It’s the best underdog narrative since their opponents the Penrith Panthers upset the Sydney Roosters in 2003 or the Wests Tigers went on their magic carpet ride in 2005.
The scenes in Parramatta will be off the charts if the Eels can do it.
The issue is the team standing between the Eels and immortality is arguably one of the most well-oiled juggernauts in the NRL era.
Who do you think wins Sunday’s grand final?
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