Raiders v Eels
This is it Eels fans. A year of such promise and excitement could all come to an end in the nation’s capital on Saturday night.
Parramatta blew a great chance to entrench themselves in the top eight last week against Newcastle, eventually going down 42-12 at Hunter Stadium.
In order to make the finals for the first time since 2009, here’s the equation:
Parramatta must win in Canberra, and hope that the Storm beat the Broncos at AAMI Park on Friday, and that western Sydney rivals Penrith defeat the Warriors at Sportingbet Stadium in the final match of the regular season on Sunday night.
Standing in their way is none other than former coach Ricky Stuart and his resurgent Canberra Raiders side.
Back-to-back wins for the first time this season has the Green Machine brimming with confidence, and there’d be no better way to finish their year with a third in front of the Canberra faithful at GIO Stadium.
The home side welcome back retiring prop Brett White for his final NRL game, with Dane Tilse moving to the bench and Kyle O’Donnell back to Mounties, who will play in the first week of the NSW Cup finals.
Meanwhile the Eels have named an unchanged 17, but with Ben Smith accepting an early guilty plea for a crusher tackle, he will miss this match and two finals (if the Eels progress that far), with his replacement to be announced an hour before kick-off.
Watch Out Raiders: Naming Smith seems an odd move by the Eels, particularly when they could quite easily have named Pauli Pauli or another forward as his replacement. But Smith’s inclusion on the team sheet certainly has us thinking that there might be a sneaky return by one of the Eels’ shining lights from earlier in the season. Manu Ma’u has been out of action since breaking his arm in Round 14, but prior to his injury, was proving to be one of the finds of the season. If we discard his injury-affected Round 14 statistics, he was averaging almost 28 tackles and just over 113 metres per game from 12 starts. If he does indeed return, he’ll add plenty of impact for the Parramatta forwards, who will need to outmuscle the big Canberra pack if they’re any chance of victory.
Watch Out Eels: Of course, the Raiders have a genuine enforcer of their own, in the form of Queensland representative Josh Papalii. The second-rower recorded his best numbers for some time against the Tigers last week, running for 133 metres, making 22 tackles, six tackle breaks, a try assist, line break, line break assist and grabbing a four-pointer of his own. With other experienced heads missing from the Raiders pack, it will be up to Papalii to again lead from the front. If he gets in a mood, he’ll be a handful for the Eels defence.
Plays To Watch: The Raiders’ backline really fired against the Tigers, with Bill Tupou finding form and co-captain Jarrod Croker seemingly relishing the added responsibility. Don’t forget Anthony Milford and Jack Wighton, with the latter perhaps finding a permanent home at fullback. The Eels have conceded the most offloads (271) of any side in the NRL this season, so expect the aforementioned Canberra backline to be sniffing around the ruck all night, keenly anticipating an offload.
Chris Sandow has kicked six 40/20s this season, double that of his nearest rivals in Daly Cherry-Evans, Jamie Soward, and Adam Reynolds. With their season on the line, don’t expect Sandow to go into his shell. The halfback is all about the high risk, high reward play, and a seventh 40/20 of the year wouldn’t be out of the question.
Where It Will Be Won: Execution – both the Raiders and Eels have been guilty of shooting themselves in the foot at times throughout the season. Rather bizarrely, the Eels average the least runs (154.5) and tackles (289.6) per game for any side in the competition this year, perhaps indicative of the sporadic season they’ve had. But the Raiders have conceded the most tries (109) in the NRL in 2014, so points are definitely there for the taking in the Eels can hit their straps. Whoever can remain composed for longer periods is likely to take this one out.
The History: Played 49; Raiders 24, Eels 25. While the Eels got the win in their most recent encounter in Round 22 in a come-from-behind effort in Darwin, the Raiders have had the wood over Parramatta prior to that, winning their previous five encounters dating back to 2010.
What Are The Odds:
The Eels ($1.41) are firm favourites with punters, with the home side $2.90 outsiders. There’s plenty of action in the first try-scorer market with Jarryd Hayne, Semi Radradra and Jarrod Croker all fancied to come up with the opening four-pointer of the game. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Touch Judges – Adam Reid & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: In Jarryd Hayne and Anthony Milford, this game will contain two of the most exciting players the NRL has to offer. Given it will be Milford’s last game for the Green Machine and with Parramatta’s season on the line, both should be primed for a big performance.
Points should flow at GIO Stadium, but it shouldn’t be a blowout to either side. We’re leaning towards the Eels atoning for last week’s loss and keeping their finals hopes alive by the slimmest of margins – Parramatta by 1 point.