A “disappointed” Brad Arthur conceded “maybe the tough road took its toll on us” after the Eels were completely outclassed by the Panthers in the grand final.
Penrith shot out to a 28-nil lead before Parramatta scored two consolation tries in the final four minutes.
The Eels’ big men were missing in action, while their halves were suffocated by the Panthers’ relentless defence.
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Arthur didn’t look for excuses when he fronted the media after the 28-12 loss, but he did admit that his side’s journey to the decider may have caught up to them.
While the Eels finished in the top four, they had to take the long route to the grand final after losing to Penrith in the qualifying final. They smashed the Raiders in the semi-final before clawing their way back into the preliminary final with the Cowboys to escape with a four-point win.
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“They’re a very good team, they just played too fast for us,” Arthur said.
“We’re disappointed but I just said to the boys now is not the time to try and review or dissect that game — we were just beaten by a better team.
“I’m extremely proud of the team, the staff, the club. It’s a tough road to get here and maybe the tough road took its toll on us.
“It’s a big achievement, we’re not just putting the cue in the rack and saying we’re content with that, but I just want to focus on how proud I am of the guys as individuals and as men.”
Arthur was asked about how much impact the battle with the Cowboys in Townsville impacted the side on Sunday night.
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Skipper Clint Gutherson was heard saying “none” under his breath before Arthur added: “We can’t be looking for excuses, we were just beaten by a better team.”
Gutherson conceded the loss is “obviously really disappointing” and not being able to stop the Panthers’ momentum in the game was “frustrating.”
But he believes the loss can be a springboard for going one better next season after already proving some wrong this year.
“You’d like to think this feeling gives you a lot of motivation. None of us have felt this, so it makes you want to get back here,” he said.
“Even a few of the Penrith boys said that was a lot of motivation for them when they lost a couple of years ago.
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“We’re losing a couple of great players but whoever steps up is going to do a job for us next year.
“We’re not going to think about that now, we’re going to get in there, enjoy each other’s company and probably sit back and enjoy what we’ve achieved as a team, as a club and as people this year.
“Not many people gave us a chance to get here four, five six weeks ago and to prove them wrong (it’s) pretty good.”
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