Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Warriors v Eels
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 5:30pm (AEST)
When these two sides met in the opening round of the competition five months ago Parramatta punished the Warriors 36-16, and their respective seasons looked headed in very different directions.
But such is the competitiveness of the NRL, they find themselves back in identical situations ahead of Saturday night’s clash at Mount Smart Stadium.
Stuck on 20 competition points along with five other teams, the Warriors and Eels are hardly in the ideal position as the back end of the season draws near, but remain right in the mix for finals football.
Both sides will be fresh after a week off, while the Warriors will play their third home game in a row.
The New Zealanders welcome back Ben Matulino, who has been one of their best performers in 2014, while Suaia Matagi starts in the front row, replacing Sam Rapira who has a back injury.
Parramatta have resisted naming NSW fullback Jarryd Hayne at this stage, with Chris Sandow to start at the back and Luke Kelly assuming the No.7 jersey.
It remains likely however that Hayne will back up, with the game too important for Parramatta to risk leaving their best player on the sideline.
Prop Tim Mannah is out with injury, which sees former Kiwi international Fuifui Moimoi come back into Brad Arthur’s side.
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Watch Out Warriors: Despite enjoying victory last up against the Panthers, the Warriors came up with 37 missed tackles which amounted to them missing over 12 per cent of their defensive assignments. A week earlier against the Broncos they also defied an ugly error count of nine to taste victory. Those mistakes don’t really matter when you still manage to win, but coming into the business end of the season will cost you competition points.
Provided he backs up, Hayne will likely be riding a glorious wave of confidence when he takes the field on Saturday, after completing his coming of age as an Origin fullback. The 26-year-old hardly needs extra fuel in a season where he is averaging a line break per game and has a total of 11 tries and 11 try assists to his name. When Hayne is on form you can try to contain him, but he will make his mark one way or another.
Watch Out Eels: When you board a plane bound for Mt Smart Stadium the last thing you want to take with you is an inability to stop offloads. The Warriors thrive in getting the ball away mid-tackle, and the Eels have been dreadful at containing it all season. Conceding a competition-high 12.5 offloads per game, Parra come up against a side on Saturday full of forwards who love to get their arm free, and backs who support well every time.
The Warriors’ backline loves putting on a show for the home crowd, and in three games at Mt Smart Stadium this year they have 11 tries. In all of those games a Warriors back has run for over 100 metres and as a group they have been the key to the club’s success of late.
Plays To Watch: The individual efforts of Shaun Johnson and Hayne are on the opposition’s tip sheet every time they take the field. Recently Johnson intercepts have delivered plenty of points and against the Panthers proved to be the play which killed off any chance of an opposition comeback. While Hayne threatens on every kick return, and in Parramatta’s last game ran one in from 90 metres.
With huge human beings in Manu Vatuvei and Semi Radradra, neither the Warriors or Eels need to find space every time on overlaps; their big boys can go over the top of would-be defenders, so look for early ball to go their way.
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Where It Will Be Won: The kicking game is a crucial tool for both sides. The Warriors will know it is essential to come up with something which removes Hayne from the game as much as possible, while their chase and first contact will also be vital. Parramatta need to control the flow of possession with smart options off the boot, which don’t gift the Warriors cheap field position. The New Zealanders know how to punish opponents for errors in their own half.
The History: Played 32; Eels 19, Warriors 13. Despite Parramatta’s well-documented struggles over the last couple of the years, the Warriors have failed to capitalise in their head-to-head confrontations, losing three of four over the past four seasons. The form between the two is fairly even overall, but the Eels haven’t won at Mount Smart Stadium since 2007, when Mark ‘Piggy’ Riddell was still their hooker.
What Are The Odds: Punters with Sportsbet.com.au are keen on the big price for the Eels ($3.60) - they're five times as popular despite having a woeful record away from home in 2014. Warriors are $1.29. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Anthony Eliott; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Phillips.
The Way We See It: Who would want to travel to Auckland right now and take on the Warriors? Probably no side. The Kiwis have plenty of momentum behind them, with six wins from their past eight games, and are flourishing since getting back to Mt Smart Stadium. There is plenty to like about Parramatta this season under their new coach too; big forwards, supremely talented backs and an unpredictable style thanks largely to Sandow. But right now the Warriors have all of that in bigger and better quantities, and should win this one by 10 points.