Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Roosters v Eels
Saturday 7.30pm (AEDT)
Someone call up a shrink, the opening round of footy has made us go unofficially insane.
How else would you explain last year's wooden-spooners running away with a 20-point win over the Warriors, just days after last year's defending premiers surprisingly suffered the same margin of defeat against South Sydney?
And how else would you justify grand final hero Sonny Bill Williams being rubbed out for three weeks for a shoulder charge, while little-known Eel Manu Ma'u all of a sudden secured a deal longer than the three months or so he was going to stick around for?
It's all resulted in - for one week at least, as we enter NRL Members' Round - the Eels occupying second rung on the ladder, while the Roosters experience life in the company of the cellar-dwellers. It's all a little strange and something neither fanbases are used to.
But as we all know in rugby league, a lot can happen in one week. We refuse to believe that you can go from NRL powerhouse to cannon fodder when you can just about field the same team you did when you won the grand final; nor do you instantly turn from being the joke of the league to the pride of it just by switching coaches.
If history tells us anything, we're all relatively sane and the answer lies somewhere in between. The Roosters were likely off the pace (they did lose the corresponding game last year) and maybe Parramatta caught their opposition off guard (they, too, scored the same result in the opening game of 2013).
Either way, it makes for an intriguing segue into a match-up that wouldn't exactly have had broadcasters worrying about overloading the system when the draw was announced. Now there's a reason to watch and – for you Sydneysiders – turn up: to figure out whether the rugby league world has officially lost the plot.
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Watch Out Roosters: There's every chance that meticulous coach Trent Robinson will be scouring the tapes for footage on powerhouse winger Semi Radradra. The Fijian's hat-trick against the Warriors lifted his tally to eight tries in as many games - not including the five times he crossed in 72 minutes during the Auckland Nines.
And if you include Parramatta's other hat-trick hero Vai Toutai almost matching the four he notched during last year's entire rookie campaign, that's six tries the Eels scored through their wing pair last Sunday.
The Warriors were guilty of not numbering up on Toutai's right edge while Radradra was an obvious target in the air on the left. Roosters need to take note.
Watch Out Eels: Losing Sonny Bill Williams is a blow for the defending premiers but Parramatta's one-game suspension of hooker Nathan Peats for an off-field incident last October poses an arguably bigger problem for coach Brad Arthur.
The ex-Rabbitoh showed off his endurance with an 80-minute, 43-tackle performance last Saturday but his ban has forced Arthur into selecting inexperienced hooker Kaysa Pritchard, who can expect to be heavily targeted during the 80 minutes he'll be expected to punch out on Saturday night.
Plays To Watch: The Eels found plenty of success in looking for Semi Radradra in the air and their right-side combination of Hopoate and Toutai showed some promising signs too.
Peats was one of their biggest dangers in the middle of the park but with him now sidelined, the Eels will now be relying on finding points on the fringes.
Where It Will Be Won: Robinson would've been upset with the way his uncharacteristically penetrable defence was exposed by the Rabbitohs last week.
If the home side can turn that around quick-smart – and do their homework on the aforementioned attacking areas of the Eels – then this should be a comprehensive victory for them.
The History: Played 140; Roosters 72, Eels 63, drawn 5. Parramatta's recent history against most teams is looking pretty dreary at this point, but against the Roosters it's particularly grim. The Eels have lost five of their past six and six of their past eight, including a two-game sweep in 2013 where they conceded 86 points. The 50-0 loss in Round 4, when Roosters winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck bagged a hat-trick, was Parramatta's lowest point of the year.
What Are The Odds: The early money at Sportsbet.com.au is pointing to a huge boilover, with money 55-45 in favour of the Eels. Yet the odds point to a different outcome, with the Roosters skinny at $1.28 and Parramatta out to $3.65. The Eels are getting a healthy 10-point head start ($1.90) at the line and punters have seen the value there, knocking the doors down to get on them.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Matt Noyen; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Matt Rodwell.
Televised: FoxSports 1 – Live 7.30pm (AEDT).
The Way We See It: Can you remember the last time the Roosters lost two games in a row? Well, it happened once last year – in Round 24 and 25 – but we can't see it happening this early in 2014.
There's a lot of pride in the defensive culture Trent Robinson has created out at Bondi – expect them to move back into the winner's list quick-smart. Roosters by 18.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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