THE last time the Parramatta Eels held any piece of rugby league silverware, Brian Smith was their head coach, Makybe Diva won the first of three Melbourne Cups and England’s Jonny Wilkinson shattered the hearts of the Wallabies.
Having won the often overlooked World Sevens tournament in 2003, the Eels can finally make room in their trophy cabinet for the 2016 NRL Auckland Nines mantle after toppling the New Zealand Warriors in the final.
Stunning the bookies favourites and hometown heroes, Brad Arthur’s Eels pushed aside the torment of possibly starting the NRL season-proper minus four competition points due to a salary cap breach, with 48 hours of highly-skilled, intense and entertaining rugby league.
While it pales in comparison to the last of the four premierships Parramatta won in 1986, the Eels did pick up a $370,000 winner’s cheque and also unearthed a future star in fullback Bevan French.
The rookie finished as the tournament’s leading tryscorer after touching down eight times in six matches, including the opening four-pointer of the final.
Without the majority of their stars including Kieran Foran, Beau Scott, Anthony Watmough, Tim Mannah, Michael Gordon, Nathan Peats and Michael Jennings, the Eels powered through the Warriors in the decider with four tries.
But in the aftermath of the club’s first title in more than a decade, Arthur pointed to his side’s defence — highlighted by keeping the flamboyant Warriors to just four points — when asked why they will return to Sydney as victors.
In light of Parramatta's 22-4 win over hometown heroes the Warriors, Eels coach Brad Arthur hailed their Downer NRL Auckland Nines tournament victory as an important boost before season kick-off.
A victory chockfull of confidence the Eels mentor was adamant his side's defence was the telling factor in the end.
"Hopefully it builds a little bit of belief. We wanted to work really hard for each other in defence and I think we got through to the grand final being one of the better defensive teams and we won the grand final off the back of our defence," Arthur said.
"We got a bit lucky early with a bounce of the ball but to be the boys' credit they really aimed up the whole tournament.
"[The victory is] important. We come here and we want to be a team that strives to compete at everything we do. I think we showed plenty of competitiveness, we just need to go back, relax and get ready for a big year."
Parramatta captain and MVP of the Auckland Nines Corey Norman agreed with his coach's sentiments, with the club winning their first trophy since the 2003 World Sevens.