Just a fortnight ago the Eels were down and out in the race for the 2009 premiership. But now, with two consecutive wins against the Bulldogs and the Storm, their title hopes are still alive. And they are the team with it all to play for in this match.
The Eels are in 12th place on the competition ladder, log-jammed with the other teams fighting to make the eight. The Sharks, on the other hand, have all but forgotten about the 2009 season. For them, the rest of the year is about building towards 2010 and beyond.
Watch out Sharks: Parramatta’s outside backs are ominously hitting form with the finals only a handful of weeks away. In their victories over the Storm and Bulldogs, Jarryd Hayne, Luke Burt and Eric Grothe have been electric – the Sharks will need to be on guard.
Fullback Hayne (19 line breaks, 10 tries, five try assists) has been particularly dangerous, and combined with Burt (seven line breaks, six tries and four try assists) and Grothe (10 line breaks, eight tries and four line-break assists), they form a potent backline.
Watch out Eels: Any success the Sharks have had in recent weeks has come off the enterprising play of their young guns – those players who’ve been given opportunities in 2009. The Sharks’ backline, in particular, reads like a who’s who of rugby league – in the future.
Former Toyota Cup stars Nathan Stapleton, Blake Ferguson and Matt Wright have had several highlight moments this season and are willing to back themselves. Quite frankly they’ve nothing to lose. Fullback Stapleton (seven line breaks and three tries) and Ferguson (eight line breaks and eight tries) have been particularly effective.
Where it will be won: The front-rowers. Last week Fuifui Moimoi (averaging 119 metres per match) ran rampant against the ’Dogs and provided his team with the platform needed for victory. He will need to be stopped by the Sharks if the home side is any chance of victory.
Moimoi’s prop pal Nathan Cayless (averaging 106 metres) is also a key contributor for the Parramatta side.
Cronulla’s Kade Snowden (averaging 96 metres) and Johnny Mannah (averaging 62 metres) have a lot of work to do. Starting hookers Corey Hughes (three line-break assists and three try assists) and Matthew Keating (three line breaks, two line-break assists and two try assists) will have significant parts to play, as will interchange rakes Terence Seu Seu (two line breaks, one line-break assist and one try assist) and Kevin Kingston (one line break and one line-break assist).
Complacency is another factor – the Eels are in no position to take this game lightly and look ahead to next week and beyond when they are scheduled to meet sides including the Knights, Panthers and Dragons.
If they do they will come unstuck in 2009 for good.
The History: Played 70; Sharks 37, Eels 33. The Sharks have won the past three clashes, stretching over two years. But the winning margin has never been more than three points (13-10 in 2009, 16-14 in 2008, 25-24 in 2007).
Conclusion: The Eels are on a roll and should have too much to play for in this clash. A Sharks win would be all the more surprising given their last strike weapon Trent Barrett is out for the remainder of the season.
It’s simply a must-win game for the Eels. Bet on them to win this match, but it’s sure to be more than competitive.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell and Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis and Grant Atkins; Video Referee – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 2pm.