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Injury crisis hits Parramatta

Eels v Rabbitohs
ANZ Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Season 2009 seems set to be a long one for Parramatta fans, as injuries continue to devastate a team that is already struggling. But with nothing to lose, maybe, just maybe, they can repeat their efforts from Round 2 and put the higher-flying Rabbitohs to the sword.

After Round 1 action the Rabbitohs came into a clash against Parramatta with great confidence having belted the Roosters, while the Eels had looked pretty pedestrian against the Warriors; most expected the Bunnies to prevail. But through sheer grit and determination the Eels posted a 14-8 victory and it’s that resolve that is needed as they face up to the Rabbitohs this time around, once again flush with confidence after a last-second win over the Wests Tigers.

The Eels come off a large loss to Manly and are stuck down in 13th place on the ladder, while the Rabbitohs enjoy sixth place on the standings.

But it is the loss of Feleti Mateo, Kris Keating and Weller Hauraki to long-term injuries that has made life even more difficult for the blue-and-gold army.

Joel Reddy will move from centre to five-eighth, with Taulima Tautai coming in to start at centre. Jeff Robson will get another chance at halfback in place of Keating.

Ben Smith is also out of the back row, with Joe Galuvao coming into the starting side, while Hauraki’s absence allows for a new-look bench which contains Kevin Kingston, Josh Cordoba, Brendan Oake and whiz kid Daniel Mortimer.

South Sydney have named the same side as last week, with the addition of Scott Geddes on the bench of five.

Watch out Eels: Rookie halfback Chris Sandow has been struggling a little this season, failing to continue the great form which had him selected as rookie of the year in 2008. But one gets the sense he is about to have a break-out game some time soon. He is enigmatic and needs confidence to be at his best but the challenge of coming up against a disjointed Eels’ side with a new halves pairing should have him licking his lips.

Sandow has the opportunity to dominate this Parramatta side and prove that while he might not be the best defender in the world, he can hold his own, and his attacking brilliance can more than make up for it.

It is surprising to note Sandow is yet to break the line this year and he only has one line-break assist, and two try assists plus two tries. It is time for the youngster to take a firm grip of this side and back his ability to direct and dominate rather than rely on the likes of Craig Wing to do so.

Watch out Rabbitohs: Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne was close to the player of the match against Manly, despite the fact his side was comfortably beaten. With Origin coming up Hayne needs to continue his form if he is to be considered for a place in the Blues’ line-up.

The elusive youngster is averaging 119 metres gained a match and now has 10 line-breaks to his name, to co-lead the NRL in the statistic. He also has seven tries, two try assists and 36 broken tackles, making him a real threat for the Rabbitohs’ defence.

The next-best fit Eel has just three line-breaks to their name, making it obvious the Bunnies need to hunt down Hayne and take him out of the match as much as possible.

Where it will be won: This match comes down to simple, basic football and who is prepared to knuckle down and play to the game plan.

The only way the Eels are going to be able to approach this match, with so many changes in their attacking structure, is to go back to simple yet effective footy. They need to covet possession and the forwards need to push through the line harder and fight to get up quicker. They need to wait until they are in good position before chancing their arm and they need to make sure their execution is clinical.

Kick chase needs to be spot on and commitment to defence needs to be first class and constant.

Chances to score will come if they get into the grind, but if they don’t, if they try to be too fancy too quickly, mistakes will come and the Rabbitohs will have the opportunities to pull away.

The Eels don’t have the skill to score a bunch of tries from anywhere on the park and as soon as they acknowledge that and play disciplined, results will come.

If recent times are anything to go by, Souths know they can play simple footy and expect the Eels to falter, thereby giving them plenty of chances to take the points. If they get too fancy and make errors, they will be inviting the home side to build confidence, and points, and their momentum built from last week will be shot.

The History: Played 109; Eels 49, Rabbitohs 58, Drawn 2. The Eels are shooting for their 50th victory against the Rabbitohs and only need to think back to Round 2 to draw on some inspiration, having beaten the Bunnies 14-8. Parramatta have won five of the past eight but of the three matches at ANZ Stadium, it’s 2-1 to Souths with this season’s earlier win Parramatta’s only one at the venue against the Rabbitohs.

Conclusion: South Sydney should win this match – and quite frankly they will be royally annoyed if they don’t. The Eels aren’t playing good football and they have been devastated by injuries so they are ripe for the picking.

South Sydney, though, have lost plenty of matches like this one in the past. Just when people think the Rabbitohs are on the rise, they perform in a manner not worthy of their ladder position and their bubble bursts.

Just how strong is this season’s bubble? Guess we’re about to find out…

Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed – 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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