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Lay off Tim Smith, say Eels players
It was almost as if his Parramatta teammates knew Tim Smith had reached breaking point.
Less than two hours before Smith asked the Eels for indefinite leave to deal with his mental illness, Parramatta skipper Nathan Cayless and halves partner Brett Finch were again launching a vigorous defence of their star teammate.
Finch, himself the victim of unrelenting criticism, said he "felt sorry" for Smith after the 23-year-old had been lumped with the blame for the Eels successive losses.
"I feel sorry for him because I know what he is going through, you certainly don't like to see your teammates cop that criticism all the time," said Finch.
"The continual criticism, I've had it myself in my career and it certainly gets you down and you get sick of hearing it."
Finch said too much had been expected of Smith so soon after his offseason shoulder reconstructions.
He pointed to North Queensland star Johnathan Thurston who took a few weeks to regain touch after his double shoulder surgery last year.
"Thurston is probably the best player in the world and he took a couple of weeks to find his feet when he came back from shoulder surgery," said Finch.
"We certainly know Tim is going to take a few weeks to find his feet."
Cayless said Smith had been made the scapegoat when really it was poor defence that had cost Parramatta in their losses.
"I think it is very unfair but that's the nature of the sport," said Cayless.
"Everyone has got to blame someone. There's got to be a scapegoat and unfortunately Timmy seems to be copping that which I think is a bit unfair.
"Obviously against the Cowboys the whole team was woeful. If your team doesn't go forward your halfback has got no opportunity to put anything on."
The Eels are ranked last in the NRL for defence and Cayless says it is up to each individual in the team to lift their attitude and turn their season around.
"I think it is coming down to individual errors, maybe guys just slackening off for a second or two and that's costly at this level of footy," he said.
"I know everyone out on the field is trying as hard as they can it's just a matter of probably doing it a bit more effectively as a team.
"The NRL is so close if you're off your game by five or 10 per cent you're going to get beat.
"We're leaking too many points and I'm sure that is one of the main things we're going to be working on this week against Manly.
"Our defence has got to work well for us so we can give ourselves a chance of winning the game."