Brad Arthur says he "doesn't know whether to cry or smile" after Parramatta saved their best performance of the year for their first game since being effectively eliminated from finals contention.
The Eels dominated back-to-back reigning premiers Penrith for a convincing 32-18 victory away from home on Thursday night.
In the absence of injured halfback Mitch Moses, captain and fullback Clint Gutherson starred as the Eels picked the Panthers' right edge to pieces.
Not since July of 2015 had a visiting team scored more points at Penrith Stadium.
Defence had been a glaring issue for the Eels since their round-18 bye as they conceded an average of 35.4 points across the seven clashes before the Panthers fixture.
But Parramatta miraculously tightened their act up to frustrate Penrith's usually potent attack and conceded their fewest points since mid-June.
The masterful performance looks to have come a week too late for Parramatta, whose loss to the Sydney Roosters last Friday all but precluded them from the finals.
Even after completely outplaying the team that has set the benchmark for the last four years, last year's runners-up would require a handful of results falling their way to squeak into the top eight from here.
They would need last-placed Wests Tigers to upset the Roosters this Saturday, the Roosters to beat South Sydney by more than 60 points the week after that, and North Queensland to lose at least one of their last two games.
"I don't know whether to cry or smile," coach Arthur said.
"We're going to miss out by a game. We fought until the end, we fought every game.
"But it's better to finish this way and the hurt will be there even more knowing that we just had to find one more win somewhere.
"I know what the team can do if we get in the eight. I'm sure there's probably a few teams that were glad that we're not in the eight. We're going to have to wear it."
Aside from their late run of poor defensive performances, the Eels were left to rue a 1-4 start to the year, with all four losses coming by fewer than 10 points.
"We've got to learn how important each game is," Arthur said.
"At the start of the year, scoring the same amount of tries as the opposition and not finding the way to get that one win that we've missed out on."
A run of suspensions did not help Parramatta's case, either.
Key men Reagan Campbell-Gillard (four games) Maika Sivo (four), Ryan Matterson (three) and Dylan Brown (seven) all missed significant time suspended.
"Injuries happen and every club's got to deal with it but the suspensions are self-inflicted," Arthur said.
"We can control that. We've got no-one to blame but ourselves because 23 weeks of players missing through suspension is not good enough."