Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Roosters v Eels
One of these cross-Sydney rivals will emerge with the overall lead in head-to-head battles following this Easter Monday showdown – although the winning form of the up-tempo Roosters would seem to indicate they are the team in the box seat given the Eels’ disappointing lack of intensity in falling to the Wests Tigers last Friday.
Certainly this game has the potential to be looked back on as season-defining for both clubs: with a victory the Roosters can trampoline off a 3-1 start to the season; should Parramatta lose they’ll face a tough road back from a 1-3 start.
Parramatta all but silenced their critics when they first walloped the Warriors in Round 1 and then very nearly got the better of 2012 premiership runners-up Canterbury in Round 2, before the prophets of doom started nodding their heads knowingly again following their 2012-like display when defeated 31-18 by the Wests Tigers.
There have been encouraging signs from the usual suspects – Jarryd Hayne (who has signed on again at Parramatta through 2015), Chris Sandow, Tim Mannah and Fuifui Moimoi – but they will need more from their supporting cast.
Meanwhile the Roosters have improved week on week so far, bouncing back from a comprehensive thumping (28-10) at the hands of the Rabbitohs in Round 1 to defeat the Warriors and then the Broncos in an 8-nil shutout last Saturday. Crucially the shoddy defence that let them down so often last season appears a lot more robust under new coach Trent Robinson, while new recruits James Maloney, Sonny Bill Williams and Michael Jennings have wasted no time in leaving their marks on the field.
Coach Robinson has shown he won’t be settling for anything less than total professionalism, dropping Luke O’Donnell this week after the interchange forward showed up late to training; O’Donnell’s place has been filled by Aidan Guerra, with rookie prop Kane Evans named in jersey No.18.
Meanwhile Eels coach Ricky Stuart has made some changes: boom winger Ken Sio replaces Cheyse Blair; Luke Kelly starts at five-eighth (with Ben Roberts relegated to the interchange); while Matt Ryan’s knee injury sees Ben Smith shift to the second row and Joseph Paulo slated to start at lock.
With the Roosters having nine days to prepare and the Eels on a 10-day back-up, there will be no excuses for fatigue or complacency.
In a wonderful gesture from both clubs, children under the age of 12 will be admitted free of charge.
Watch Out Roosters: Chris Sandow is playing with new-found confidence under Ricky Stuart and the Roosters’ defensive line speed will need to be on-task or else he’ll punish them with his deep and short attacking kicks, pinpoint passes and stunning bursts of acceleration.
Sandow leads all players for try assists (four) and has three line-breaks and eight tackle-breaks. He also has two 40/20s. Sandow was a key contributor in the Eels’ win the last time these sides met, bamboozling the tricolours’ left-edge defence to score twice – once from a grubber through the defensive line and the other from a dummy to a decoy runner on the inside.
Don’t be surprised if he roams across to the left edge and tests out the defence of the Roosters’ right-side centre Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who has missed nine tackles so far (second most by a centre).
If the Roosters think they’ll be able to brush past Parramatta they’d better think again; the last time they met, the Eels missed 35 tackles. To date they have missed just 19 on average – the third best record in the NRL.
Watch Out Eels: Centre Michael Jennings is in explosive form for the Roosters on the left side of the field and the fact this renowned scorer of tries (10 in 17 games in 2012) has yet to cross the stripe in 2013 would be concern to Ricky Stuart this week. Jennings leads the NRL for line-breaks (with five) and territory gained by a centre (138 metres a match) plus he’s busted his way through 12 would-be tackles.
After being away from rugby league for four seasons Sonny Bill Williams has adapted a lot quicker than most experts figured – he’s showing no difficulty in putting in 80-minute efforts and they are full of quality. SBW is averaging more than an offload a game and his precise passes have resulted in a try assist and pair of line-break assists for teammates.
Plays To Watch: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves charging into the defence without thought of self-preservation (14 hit-ups against the Broncos); Eels centre Jacob Loko winding up and pushing off Roosters tacklers (his 18 tackle-breaks so far is the benchmark for 2013); Anthony Minichiello bouncing around like a pinball at the back for the tri-colours; Eels co-captain Jarryd Hayne delivering a top-shelf effort after re-signing with the club – can he do better than his two try assists, two line-break assists and 15 runs for 153 metres from last week?
Key Match-Up: James Maloney v Luke Kelly. Roosters five-eighth Maloney has a keen eye for making a break (three line busts so far) while his passing has resulted in two line-break assists and a try assist. Meanwhile much responsibility falls on the shoulders of Luke Kelly on the left side of the field for the Eels. He has played just 30 minutes of first grade in 2013 but that short period yielded a try assist and line-break. If he can get some combinations flowing with his outside men including Jarryd Hayne and Vai Toutai, the Eels have plenty of points in them.
Where It Will Be Won: Ruck speed is crucial in 2013 and it will play a decisive role again here. To date the Roosters have managed 80 fast play-the-balls, including 39 against the Broncos last week. By comparison the Eels have totalled just 42 in three matches. That’s almost half the number of the Roosters. They will either need to play faster this week or find a legitimate way of slowing down the Roosters at the ruck.
The History: Played 123; Eels 59, Roosters 59, drawn 5. The Roosters have the wood on their opponent recently, winning the past four games straight (they are poised for five in a row over the Eels for the first time since 2000).
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Gee; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Justin Morgan.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Parramatta have shown some promise to date and fans will be hoping their mediocre effort last week was just an aberration. However, the Roosters appear on a roll and at home they will prove tough to beat. Roosters by eight points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats