LET’S hope for some streaming sunshine Sunday afternoon in Sydney because there is nothing better than an old-fashioned Sunday arvo belter between the Bulldogs and the Eels.
Ladder positions have notoriously been irrelevant when these two rivals come at each other, with both sides pumped to get one over their inner-west Sydney foes.
For the record, the Bulldogs come into the contest in fifth place, despite being docked two competition points, while the Eels are currently sitting down in 12th, but just two points behind.
The Bulldogs come off a hard-fought win over South Sydney in the wet on Monday night while the Eels lost against the Dragons following a week of turmoil that saw halfback Brett Finch let go.
By all reports the mood is far from rosy in the Parramatta camp and they’ll need to dig extremely deep if they are to turn around their fortunes.
Former Eel and now Bulldogs captain Andrew Ryan will play his 150th match for the Bulldogs in an unchanged line-up from the one that defeated Souths.
The Eels have recalled winger Joel Reddy from injury with Taulima Tautai falling back to an extended bench but otherwise they have the same side.
This means Jeff Robson stays at halfback, Jarryd Hayne is now back in the centres, Ben Smith is in the back row and Feleti Mateo is at five-eighth.
Eels’ fans will be hoping the new combinations will hit their straps after a run together against St George Illawarra.
Watch out Eels: The new-look Bulldogs side is proving to be a potent one when it comes to breaking the line. The ’Dogs have amassed 23 line breaks so far this season (2nd in the NRL) including three from kick returns (1st in NRL).
The Eels have managed just 13 line breaks, which has them ranked 15th in the NRL. The major players for the Bulldogs have been winger Bryson Goodwin (five line breaks), back-rower Andrew Ryan (four) and centre Josh Morris (three) while Michael Ennis has expertly grabbed four line-break assists. Parramatta’s defenders must be on their game or the wall will be penetrated.
Watch out Bulldogs: Eels captain Nathan Cayless was brought into the innuendo surrounding players who may or may not be wanted at the Eels going forward. While coach Daniel Anderson rubbished the claims, that won’t stop Cayless looking to improve his input on the field, starting with a big one against the Bulldogs.
The New Zealand international is only averaging 83 metres a game this season, down from his 2008 average of 116 metres and well below some of the better props in the game. He is providing reasonable effort in defence with 26.4 tackles a game although he is ineffective just over 10 per cent of the time. But Cayless is a proud man and he is still capable of much more. So if the Bulldogs take their focus away from the big Kiwi then they might just get burned.
Where it will be won: Attitude. There is plenty of stress out Parramatta way but if the side is to be successful this season they need to put any possible fractures behind them and focus on their football.
These players are paid well to play the game they love and they should remember just that: they are playing a game they love. It’s admirable to feel sorry for a team-mate and a friend when he is forced out but life goes on and you only get so long in the game at this level… squandering a year on negative thoughts is just a mammoth waste.
The Bulldogs also need to stay on task as they have started to fade a little from their earlier form in recent games. They are still winning but if they drop their intensity even just a touch they’ll be inviting the Eels into not just the contest but possibly the season.
Coach Kevin Moore is showing in his selections that no-one is certain of a place in the Bulldogs’ 17, even if they are winning games.
Whichever side stays committed to their game plan, even when things are seemingly tough, will win this game. Should individuals have their minds elsewhere, they’ll pay the price.
The History: Played 123; Eels 53, Bulldogs 65, drawn 5. While the Eels are behind in the overall stakes they have won five of the past seven matches between the sides, including the past four in a row.
At ANZ Stadium the Bulldogs hold a slender 5-4 advantage over the Eels but haven’t beaten the Parramatta boys on the turf since 2006.
Conclusion: While Parramatta coach Daniel Anderson claimed there was plenty to get excited about in their last-start loss to the Dragons, he might be reaching just a little. Parramatta haven’t looked good this season, except maybe for the win over Souths. Their other win was extremely lucky against Canberra and the rest of their games have been poor.
The Bulldogs on the other hand haven’t been perfect, but they have won four of five games (lost the points v Penrith for interchange bungle) and look very crisp for at least long portions of each game.
Hooker Michael Ennis is playing wonderfully, halfback Brett Kimmorley is directing play nicely and the likes of Josh Morris are proving some great class out wide. Unless the Eels show significant improvement it’s the Bulldogs all the way here.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.