He left his blood, sweat and tears on the field for 259 games across a 14-year span for Parramatta, but Nathan Cayless is a man who keeps on giving, answering a mid-season call to take the reins of the Wentworthville Magpies.
It would be easy to stay away from the Eels given the drama-fuelled year they have endured, but the club-legend coached the Parramatta SG Ball team to the finals earlier in the year, oversaw the under-20s program, and now is the head coach of the Magpies.
He took over the well-respected Joe Grima in the middle of the season, and despite going down to the Wests Tigers yesterday, he has enjoyed some recent success with what was his junior club.
“It was obviously a bit of a challenge as Joey Grima was doing a really good job with the boys,” Cayless tells NSWRL.com.au.
“I looked after the junior representative program at the Eels, looking after all of our staff and all of the kids and coaching the SG Ball at the start of the year, and once that finished in May I did a little bit of work with Burty [Parramatta under-20s coach Luke Burt], just doing bits and pieces with him.
“Then this opportunity came up. I didn’t know many of the players I didn’t know what things they’ve been working on so it took a bit of time.”
The Magpies claimed the wooden spoon last season, but started 2016 with incredible positivity, having won four of their first five encounters.
They then went on to lose nine matches in a row, and during this period was when the Eels roster-shifting salary-cap drama was at its lowest point, as well as when Cayless took over as head coach.
He has well and truly turned the side around after a tough start, having come into yesterday’s clash with the Wests Tigers on a five-match winning streak, and currently sitting just outside the top eight.
“It was quite tough at the start, but the boys were able to turn it around, a few things happened with the club and players resources got a bit strained there with injuries among other things,” Cayless said.
“The boys were able to turn it around, they’ve been able to do that with a lot of effort and they’ve worked really hard, obviously yesterday was disappointing but they’ve had a big six weeks.
“I’ve been coaching a lot of the junior reps up until now, and I’ve found that coaching the men is a little bit different, but most of these guys are professionals so you don’t have to tell them too many times to do certain things.”
Yesterday’s 39-14 defeat was largely thanks to the dominance Robbie Farah, but Cayless admitted his team were certainly down on previous form.
The Wests Tigers head coach, Paul Stringer, is an old teammate of Cayless and is doing an amazing job for the club, and he is certainly disappointed at not being able to get one up on him.
“[There was] no sledging but it’s always good to get one over your old teammate, he’s doing a really good job and they’ve got a fair bit of class in their team,” Cayless said.
“Our boys never stopped trying but we couldn’t build any pressure and our execution was quite poor, a lot of our areas were down as well, our missed tackles were high, our attacking wins were not very high.
“Today was just a day where we couldn’t build any pressure and we just came up with dumb plays, so that was a bit disappointing, but we need to dust ourselves off and get back into it next week.”
The Magpies are currently sitting in ninth position on 24 competition points, but the Penrith Panthers and North Sydney Bears – who sit in seventh and eighth respectively – are also on the same amount of points.
That could change today when the Bears take on the Illawarra Cutters, but the congested mid-table means that every game is incredibly important for teams in finals contention.
Due to their poor for-and-against, the Magpies’ next two matches against the Cutters and Mounties are vital, and Cayless is ready for the challenge.
“Hopefully we haven’t left our run too late, we’ve got a couple of massive games to finish the season off,” Cayless said.
“I just say the same thing to the boys every week, go out with our best actions and really rip in and play your best footy, if the other team are too good for you, then so be it.
“If we play our best footy then we give ourselves a good chance.”