Eels v Cowboys preliminary final, coach Brad Arthur, Andrew Johns

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Brad Arthur did his best to divert attention away from himself and in the direction of his charges after leading Parramatta to an NRL grand final berth.

But Andrew Johns made the Eels coach buckle, leaving him reflecting on his workmanlike journey from bush footy to an NRL decider.

After guiding the Eels to a 24-20 victory over the Cowboys in Townsville on Friday night, Arthur will pilot his troops in a grand final against the Panthers or Rabbitohs — whichever team wins the second preliminary final at Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday night.

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Arthur’s path to the hot seat at Parramatta took him via coaching jobs at the Batemans Bay Tigers, Cairns Brothers, Melbourne Storm, Eels and Manly Sea Eagles. He was an assistant at the Eels, spent a year as an assistant at the Sea Eagles and returned to Parramatta ahead of the 2014 season, replacing Ricky Stuart.

The Eels had collected the wooden spoon two years in a row when Arthur was handed the reins.

In 2016, he found himself engulfed in salary-cap dramas that had begun to fester during his stint at Manly.

Stream the NRL premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now

In more recent times, he’s weathered relentless pressure amid a grim finals record, and that pressure has only intensified as the departures of several key players loom.

Eels giant barges through for try

But in 80 minutes at Stadium Australia next Sunday night, the blue-collar coach will have a chance to lift his side to the NRL’s pinnacle.

“I’m excited,” Arthur told Nine.

“I’ve waited all my life to get this.

“I was lucky to get a job in the NRL. I coached in Cairns. I’m a bush coach. I got an opportunity through a friend. Bellyache (Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy) gave me an opportunity. What better way to learn my trade than through Melbourne Storm?

“So I’m just grateful that I’ve got this chance.”

Blind pass seals try

Arthur said the Eels would be sure to “give it a red-hot crack”.

“I haven’t been here before, so we’re just going to try to keep it as normal as we can,” Arthur added.

“I said to the boys, ‘Look, (you’ve) worked hard to get here’.

“I want them to enjoy it.

“Then we’ve got 80 minutes of a lifetime opportunity. I want us to go after it.”

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