When Chris Sandow walked off Brookvale Oval after his side was humiliated 50-10 in round 17 last year, it appeared he did so for the final time as a first grader.
It has been a long way back. He learned the hard way that playing at Ringrose Oval every second week doesn’t shield you from scrutiny.
Eels overcome Panthers
Panthers inflict more pain on Rabbitohs
NSW captain spear tackled
Queensland win State of Origin 2016
Steve Mascord's Set of Six - Round 15
Titans back in the eight
Parker to retire on own terms
Warriors edge gritty Roosters
Eels overcome Panthers
Parramatta skipped away in the second half to overcome a determined Penrith side.
Having sorted his off-field issues, it was then time to work on the footy ones. In recent times has done the fitness work required to again become the smallest man on the field.
This was his chance to stand tall. The stage was set. A tight game, a local derby no less, just waiting for a Parramatta playmaker to prize it open.
Indeed one did – Jarryd Hayne. With the game on the line he was involved in the final three tries, scoring one of them himself.
But the talk afterwards was about the halfback.
‘‘There are still some things [where] he will need to get better, but he was solid,’’ said Eels coach Brad Arthur.
Asked why he had recalled him, Arthur said: ‘‘There were some things he had to work on. He’s been really positive around the place while he’s been doing that.
‘‘He went back to Wenty, had three good games and [his] goalkicking helps. He deserved his opportunity.’’
When it comes to goalkicking this season, the Eels couldn’t hit a barn door. Against Manly, their stroppyness proved decisive. To date, they have landed just five of their 13 attempts, while Sandow has missed just three from 17 for the Wentworthville Magpies. But the big question was would his teammates give him enough tries to convert?
That they did, six to be precise.
For Sandow, there were encouraging signs. The chip and regather was back. He nailed conversions, his two misses from wide out. He milked a crucial penalty late in the game as only the clever halves do. He appeared to throw the final pass in a magical movement which, had the video referee not deemed Peni Terepo offside in the lead-up, would have resulted in a try to another comeback kid, Will Hopoate.
Some of Sandow’s kicking was pinpoint but we are yet to see the form which made him such hot property at South Sydney. But it is still early days in his comeback. It was also the first time he had played with new halves partner Corey Norman.
‘‘It was good, it was free-flowing and I thought we played really well together,’’ Norman said.
‘‘It’s only going to get better each week. I’m looking forward to it.’’ Another influential member of the Eels spine, Nathan Peats, was outstanding. It was the first time he had played with Sandow since their Redfern days.
‘‘It was good to play with Chrissy; I haven’t played with him for a couple of years,’’ Peats said.
‘‘It was our first game back together and I enjoyed it a lot.
‘‘We’re still learning, it’s only our fourth game together as a spine and our first with Chrissy in it. It’s a work in progress, lots of games left to get it right.
‘‘He’s just Chrissy, he’s jovial and he’s everyone on the field. It’s good to have a livewire halfback on the field.’’
Penrith took on their neighbours without Tim Grant, a player considered good enough to represent his state less than two years ago.
He was named to take on the Eels but Sika Manu was preferred instead.
The demotion to the Penrith's NSW Cup team won’t stop rumours of Grant being squeezed out of the club. Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was coy when asked about the prop’s future at the foot of the mountains, ending the interrogation with: ‘‘I don’t have to justify selection.’’
PARRAMATTA 32 (J Hayne M Ma'u N Peats S Radradra K Sio W Tonga tries C Sandow 4 goals) bt PENRITH 16 (L Brown I John D Whare tries M Moylan 2 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Henry Perenara. Crowd: 14,448.