Eels v Raiders
WHILE Parramatta look like a V8 spluttering around with only six of its cylinders firing, Canberra have been the most disappointing team over the opening two rounds of the 2009 season.
The Eels were overpowered by the Warriors in Round 1 before a flurry of late tries stamped some respectability into the 26-18 scoreline. That result was franked somewhat by the Warriors’ gritty win over premiers Manly last week. In Round 2 the Eels muscled up against the Rabbitohs with a stirring defensive effort to win 14-8 but their attack was still very much disjointed.
Still, new coach Daniel Anderson would have exhaled a huge sigh of relief at getting his first competition points for the blue-and-golds – two consecutive losses and the fickle media would have already been drafting “Coach Under Pressure” headlines.
The Eels retain their starting 17 from last week and will persist with their strategy of using Origin winger Jarryd Hayne at five-eighth.
The Raiders appear in trouble. After closing out last season with a dazzling late run to make the semi-finals they were able to shed their tag as perennial wooden spoon favourites heading into the new season.
But two very ordinary losses have the alarm bells ringing for new coach David Furner. He now finds himself a “Coach Under Pressure”.
They fell 34-26 away to the Wests Tigers in Round 1 – not scoring a second-half point while conceding 16 – before conceding 24 second-half points in a 28-4 drubbing at the hands of the Roosters in Canberra last week.
Furner has made some changes for this week; Adrian Purtell is gone, with Jarrod Croker taking his centre spot and Brett Kelly introduced to the wing. Stuart Flanagan start in the place of injured Glenn Buttriss, Joe Picker assumes Glen Turner’s second-row starting spot.
Watch out Eels: Raiders fullback David Milne is the key to getting the Green Machine on the front foot. While some team-mates are struggling he’s playing like a world-beater – last week he involved himself 31 times, running 17 times for 126 metres with four tackle-breaks and an offload.
If Terry Campese can weave the magic that elevated him to the forefront of national selectors’ minds last year then Canberra is a chance of reversing their fortunes.
The Eels’ defence also needs to be prepared for tireless battering ram prop David Shillington, whose 38 hit-ups rank him second in the NRL.
Watch out Raiders: Nathan Hindmarsh means business in 2009. Overlooked for rep honours in 2008, no forward has made a better start to the season. ‘Hindy’ has made 100 tackles in two games to rank second in the NRL behind the similarly robotic Storm lock Dallas Johnson (105). But as well as 53 tackles last week he added 100 metres from 13 powerful charges.
With those runs inspiring the likes of Fui Fui Moi Moi (14 runs last week) and Feleti Mateo (13 runs) it’s starting to give the Eels outside men some room to move. When that happens, watch Krisnan Inu come alive. Even Hayne will most likely shake off his shackles.
And watch for Ben Smith to shine – he’s bagged six tries in four games against the Raiders.
Where it will be won: The second half. The common thread in both of Canberra’s losses has been a massive surrender in each of their second halves. Whereas the Eels steamed home to fall short against the Warriors before repelling an honest South Sydney in the second stanza last start.
Going on those stats you’d have to say the Raiders will again be up against it.
The History: Played 43; Eels 23, Raiders 20. Honours are even four games apiece from their past eight games although the Eels have won three of the past four including a 30-12 pasting at Parra HQ last year. The Eels hold a 2:1 advantage at Parramatta Stadium, having won 12 of the 18 clashes there.
Conclusion: There’s a high chance this game might not go according to plan for one of the sides and could end up majorly lopsided – the average winning margin between the Eels and the Raiders in their past six games has been a whopping 24 points, with the Eels the victors on four occasions.
While the Eels still appear ring rusty there’s more to like about them than the lacklustre Raiders. David Furner may not like it but after this weekend they could find themselves joint favourites (with Penrith) for ‘honours’ at the wrong end of the ladder.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.