Eels v Wests Tigers Preview

Eels v Wests Tigers
Parramatta Stadium
Monday 7pm

The time is here and now for both Parramatta and the Wests Tigers as season 2009 ticks into the back half of the regular season and the top eight starts to take shape without them in it.

They enter the round in 13th and 14th positions respectively – and the Tigers could find themselves even lower if the Sharks beat the Raiders on Sunday.

Parramatta surprised plenty by knocking off the Knights in Newcastle last week, snapping a long winning streak for the Knights at the venue, but they are still in a poor position being five competition points from eighth place.

They absolutely must win this match heading into the bye, as their next five games coming off the break are against teams currently in the top eight.

Thankfully for them this match is against an out-of-form Wests Tigers, a side they have a massive edge against having beaten them eight times straight!

Centre Krisnan Inu returns from suspension, moving Jonathan Wright back to the bench which has been extended with the addition of Etu Uaisele.

The Wests Tigers have lost five matches on the trot and entered camp in Kiama on the New South Wales south coast in a bid to reinvigorate their season – before a fourth straight year without a finals appearance becomes a foregone conclusion.

They are three wins back from the top eight and are well aware they need to get a run going soon; at the very least they must win against teams outside the top eight.

With matches against Melbourne (in Melbourne) and the Dragons (Sydney Football Stadium) coming up, the Wests Tigers simply can’t afford to let the Eels become loss number six in a row.

In a boost for the side, centre Chris Lawrence returns from injury, which sees Dene Halatau move to the bench.

Watch out Eels: The Tigers will be excited about the return of Chris Lawrence, with the young centre in line for a New South Wales Origin berth before an ankle injury curtailed his run.

The injury took care of his dreams for Game One but with Panthers centre Michael Jennings still out injured since the first state encounter, Lawrence could remind selectors of his case with a big match. He has six line breaks from eight matches so far and has scored five tries and added two line-break assists.

Lawrence has pace to burn and can be a match winner if given enough space, so the Eels need to keep a big eye out.

Watch out Wests Tigers: The time has come for their defence to muscle-up.

In what must be a very embarrassing statistic for the Tigers, only two squad members are effective in making tackles over 90 per cent of the time – and those two will probably drop below the 90 per cent mark with some more game time. Willie Mataka (92 per cent effective) has only played two games and Blake Ayshford (90 per cent effective) has just three games to his name.

The rest of the Tigers’ players are ineffective more than 10 per cent of the time, which is simply not good enough for an NRL unit. If they do not steel themselves for a better performance in defence, even the Eels’ one-dimensional offence (they showed glimpses of another dimension other than Jarryd Hayne against the Knights) will tear them apart.

Where it will be won: Attitude and commitment. When you are down on confidence and struggling to win games the best thing to do is return to basics and trust it will get you the chances you need to post points.

The Wests Tigers are an attack-driven team but they need to get themselves in good position to do so. That means reining it in a little and rolling up the sleeves to do the hard stuff in both attack and defence.

While the Eels did win last week they also need to stay focussed on the basics or risk returning to the error-riddled performances that have plagued their season.

This is a night game and as such the ball will be slippery, so forced passes aren’t going to stick. The forwards in both teams need to get tough and run hard and often, pushing themselves to the limit, instead of expecting someone else to get the job done.

The History: Played 18; Eels 13, Wests Tigers 4, drawn 1. The hoodoo is definitely on here. The Eels have won eight in a row against the Tigers and hold a massive psychological edge having not tasted defeat at their hands since 2004. In the past three encounters the Eels have beaten the Tigers by a combined 122-26! And at Parramatta Stadium the ledger is 7-2 to the Eels.

Conclusion: This really could go either way. The Tigers have some sort of mental block against the Eels but must bust it if they are to stay in this season. They are potentially the better team when Robbie Farah and Benji Marshall play well, but how can you have faith in them based on the past five matches?

The Eels complicated matters by winning last weekend so they come into the game with momentum. With that in mind maybe the Eels are the best pick, but surely the Tigers will aim up… won’t they?

You want to believe they will but you certainly can’t go to the bank on it.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.