PARRAMATTA halfback Chris Sandow has blamed a lack of camaraderie among the playing group as one of the main reasons for last season's failure, but is adamant the Eels have united under Ricky Stuart.
The enigmatic playmaker, who is undergoing a transformation under the former NSW coach, believes the steps Stuart has taken to mend the broken side will ensure the Eels avoid a repeat of the train-wreck that was 2012.
The Eels have repeatedly denied claims of a rift among the squad but Sandow's revelation that he joined a divided football team goes some way to explain why last season went pear-shaped for the wooden-spooners.
The 23-year-old described his former teammates at South Sydney as his ''second family'', and while he has seen an improvement at Parramatta since Stuart took control, Sandow admitted he was shocked at the lack of mateship when he arrived at the club a year ago.
''It was a bit different for me, especially coming from Souths,'' he said. ''Everyone got along really well there and we were like a second family because we spent a lot of time together away from footy. This time around at Parra we've been talking and spent a lot more time together than we did.
''I think the boys are closer than we were last year. We hardly talked to each other last year, which was strange. But this year it's all laughs and jokes, which is a good direction going forward. Everyone's getting along off the field, which will come on the field too.''
During his time at the helm of the NSW Blues, Stuart made no secret of his desire to coach a united football side, placing plenty of emphasis on team bonding sessions.
That message hasn't taken long to get across to the Eels players, who have bought into the former international's methodology.
''We're getting up each other at training and telling each other what we want and expect from each other,'' Sandow said. ''That stuff shows on the field. Last year when we made a mistake at training we'd just let it go. This year we're getting up each other trying to get the best out of everyone.
''The quieter blokes are talking more now. That's what 'Stick' [Stuart] wants. Everyone has to talk on and off the field.
''I'm not saying we didn't work hard last year, but we're working even harder this year to make a change for the club. Everyone's put their hand up and putting in the hard yards. Parramatta will be a different team to the one you've seen in recent years.''
Having been brought to the club on big dollars to turn the Eels into competition heavyweights, Sandow admitted he let the club down in his debut season. ''I 100 per cent felt responsible for last year,'' he said. ''I'm one of those people who doesn't like to let people down.''
He spent the off-season in his home town of Cherbourg, and has returned with a rejuvenated approach to the game.
The Queenslander, who at various times in his career has come under fire for his playing weight, has been working with the club's nutritionist on a healthy lifestyle.
He's hoping the off-field transformation will assist on it, with Stuart taking the besieged halfback under his wing in the off-season, providing him with plenty to work on in the lead-up to round one.
''It's a lot different working with a coach who was a halfback,'' Sandow said. ''That experience has been really handy. In previous years when I've gone to the line with the forwards running through and me behind the line, I've been too close.
''He's just told me to play a bit deeper. That gives me the option to run or pass and gives me a bit more time. I think that will help.''
And as for Jarryd Hayne? ''Jarryd won't play in the halves,'' Sandow said. ''I think Sticky wants him at the back. He's most dangerous there.''