In the hot seat: Eels No.6 Luke Kelly. Photo: Christopher De JongLuke Kelly is in the second of his three-year deal with Parramatta but, after missing most of his first season with the club because of a cheekbone injury, members of the Eels’ army of supporters will be forgiven if they struggle to pick his face out of a crowd.
The talented five-eighth plans to use Saturday’s home game against the Warriors as a springboard to remind the fans – and, indeed, his teammates – why his decision to leave Melbourne last year in the middle of the season was greeted with excitement.
“I really want to cement myself in this team,” Kelly said of his immediate focus. “It was really frustrating coming here last year and playing only [five] games and to be out with injury for the rest of the year. I aim to play well and to play the season out.”
Kelly’s reaction to the notion the Eels were certain to go through tough times this season, despite securing the highly regarded Ricky Stuart as coach, suggests he is the kind of scrapper Parramatta supporters have been waiting to see.
“When you play footy, you play to win,” he said. “The players who take the field on Saturday night . . . we’re not thinking about ‘tough times’ at all.
“We have a great group of supporters who turn up each week, and I can tell them that no one here is thinking ‘tough times’. We’re thinking ‘perform’ and hopefully we can do that.”
Kelly said the pre-season suggested there was a new era dawning. “Everyone is looking forward to starting our season on Saturday, we’re itching to play,” he said. “I can see a lot of similarities between Ricky and [Storm coach] Craig Bellamy. They’re all about hard work.
“We’re moving in the right direction and we’ll be hoping to show that [against the Warriors].”
While Kelly planned to reacquaint himself with the blue and gold army, club veteran Ben Smith acknowledged there was reason to be wary of the return of another “old boy” to Parramatta Stadium – Warriors playmaker Feleti Mateo.
“He’s a class act, Feleti . . . a danger every time he has the ball,” Smith said. “I’ve never been in that position but I understand when blokes play against their old team they want to get the better of them and they play their best football. So, him coming back here, he’ll be at the top of his game and starting the season fresh and ready to go.”
Smith said after the club’s recent history of “quiet” years, the arrival of Stuart and new coaching staff and players had rejuvenated the roster.
“It’s exciting to think we can start this new era – we want to start it on a win and get things rolling,” he said. “Ricky has his plans, [chief executive] Ken Edwards has his and it is exciting times. We [players] need to have the confidence to be successful. We know a team can have the best coach, the best training facilities and best infrastructure – but if they don’t put it together on the field for 80 minutes, it counts for nothing.
“It was great to see the Western Sydney Wanderers do so well. We came out here to watch a game and while it was good to see the stadium full, you couldn’t help but want to see it full of blue and gold.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.