As the losses piled up and Parramatta’s NRLW season looked more and more wretched by the week, the Eels clung to the same mantra.
- Parramatta have qualified for the NRLW finals despite winning just one regular season match
- The Eels will take on the undefeated Roosters in this weekend’s preliminary final
- Prop Kennedy Cherrington believes the Eels have what it takes to down the Tricolours
Even as they went into the last regular season round without a win to their name, the blue and golds stayed the course.
“To make the finals was always the plan, we just had to keep saying ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’,” said prop Kennedy Cherrington.
“What Deano (coach Dean Widders) said to us is we want to be the most improved team throughout this comp. A team that’s going to improve is a team that’s going to win.”
Now, after downing the Broncos 28-16 and with a few quirks of the draw on their side, the Eels have snuck into the NRLW finals for the first time with a record of one win and four losses.
They’ll face the unbeaten Roosters on Sunday for a place in the grand final and despite their struggles, they’re planning to pull off the most ambitious heist of the season to ensure they’re more than one-win wonders.
It’s a funhouse-mirror version of their campaign in this year’s first season.
Back then, as now, the Eels went into a final-round clash with Brisbane with their destiny in their own hands.
They didn’t need to win in order to qualify for the play-offs, they just had to avoid losing by more than 19 points but a disastrous 38-4 loss put paid to any hopes of finals football.
Such a loss could have been crippling, and with Parramatta opening this season with four straight losses, it seemed as though it was.
But Cherrington believes the hard-won wisdom from that harrowing day put the Eels on the path to the redemption they’ve now found.
“We could’ve lost that game and still made the finals, but our for and against became a real issue. It was a messy one. We took a lot of lessons from that season, and it was our first one,” Cherrington said.
“We had a fresh team, then had a lot more changes to this season again. It takes time to find combinations, and it probably took the first three games to find our best team.
“In glimpses, you could see us dominate at times. We were up at half time in each of our first three games but we couldn’t play for 70 minutes and in the women’s game momentum can swing so quickly.”
The Eels don’t need to look far for proof they can win it all. That loss to the Broncos back in March opened the door for the Roosters to make the finals with an unenviable 2-3 record.
The Tricolours went on to win the premiership, and they’ve hit a new gear this season where they’ve won every match – including a 38-16 win over Parramatta in their season opener.
But the Eels are certain they have the inspiration and motivation to trouble the defending premiers.
“We look to the Roosters and we see it’s possible. You can win one regular season game and win the grand final. It can happen,” Cherrington said.
“We gave them the golden ticket with our for and against in the Broncos game. It’s a similar pathway.
“In the first game we played them I felt their outside backs were quite dominant but the middle held up quite well.
“Stopping their centres (Isabelle Kelly and Jess Sergis) and fullback (Sam Bremner) will be important, but that game is in the past.
“We’re a completely different team now, we debuted nine girls and it was my first game back from injury.
“They’ve grown, but we’ve grown as well.”
Regardless, this is the last NRLW season where a team could be in Parramatta’s position.
With the competition expanding to ten teams for next season, there will be no more room for fairytales like this. A nine-match season is too long for such miracles.
And according to Cherrington, that will be for the best given a five-week season isn’t long enough for some teams to find top gear.
But right now, she makes no apologies for Parramatta’s unusual path to their first finals series.
A grand final is still a grand final, no matter how you get there.
“Next year, with the expansion, we’re going to see squads hit their full potential. I don’t think you can see the full potential of a squad in five regular season games. I’m really looking forward to that,” Cherrington said.
“We talk about wanting to leave the jersey in a better place than where we found it, and we’re creating history and turning the pages as we go.
“We’re the only team from Western Sydney, the majority of the team is from Polynesian background so we’re at the forefront of that community, so there’s so much to play for.
“We’re writing the pages of history as we go on.”