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Eels v Knights
Parramatta Stadium
Sunday 3pm

The season’s crunch games start here at Parramatta Stadium. These two teams, along with the Wests Tigers, are most likely to battle it out for eighth spot come finals time. A win here is imperative for the Eels, while Newcastle needs the two points or else risk falling into an overwhelming slump.

Since Brian Smith decided he was going to the Roosters next season, the Knights have battled on the field. Whether or not it’s related to Smith’s departure, the rot has to stop now.

Ironically, Smith needs to snap his troops into action against his former team, the Parramatta Eels. Led by brilliant fullback Jarryd Hayne, the blue-and-golds have been in a rare vein of form over the past month. They are finally playing to their strengths and watching them play is no longer like witnessing a horror car crash in the making.

A win for the Eels will elevate them just one point behind the Knights and within striking distance for a finals berth. However, while Parramatta will certainly go into this game with all the momentum, Newcastle are more than capable of winning the match. They have the more settled and experienced halfback in Jarrod Mullen – and that alone could prove an advantage.

Up front, Newcastle just need to find that rhythm that has seen them roll up the field so easily this season.

You get the feeling this match is make-or-break for the Knights: It’s not like they are out of the race if they lose, but they need to prove to themselves that they haven’t totally dropped their bundle.

In the name of confidence, taking the points away from Parramatta Stadium is absolutely essential.

Watch out Eels: Adam MacDougall is statistically one of the most dangerous players in the competition. Despite being “long in the tooth”, the Mad Dog has built up some quality touches this season and will be a handful again out wide.

In years past, MacDougall’s game was based on hard, straight running, with not a lot of ball play. But nowadays, he still runs hard but he seems to have a ball offload on him like Matt Gidley. MacDougall leads the NRL’s centres for most try assists this year with nine while he also has five line-break assists to his name.

Watch for Mullen’s long left-to-right passes to find him often and give him space to move. MacDougall also has the experience to help the Knights ride out the storm.

Watch out Knights: What’s the fullback’s name again? Umm, you know… the best player in the game at the moment? Jarryd something? That’s right, Jarryd Hayne. Pointing out that Hayne is the danger man for Parramatta, is like being told not to play with fire and not to swim with sharks. His statistics, particularly since the Origin period have been simply unbelievable and he is the most potent attacking player in the NRL.

He’s made 22 line breaks this year, more than any other player in the competition. At fullback he averages more metres per game than any other no.1 with 206 per game. Previously in his career, Hayne has been guilty of going missing in games, but his involvement at present is constant (averages 19 runs a match). He’s getting lots of touches and he has so many weapons at his disposal, he is impossible to fully defend against.

If the Eels win you can bet Hayne will be man of the match… and if Parramatta loses, well, he’ll be pretty damn close to best on ground anyway.

Where it will be won:
The middle of the ruck will be important in this match.

Parra’s Fuifui Moimoi has been dominant in recent weeks (averaging 121 metres and 14 runs) and the Knights’ starting pack can’t let Fui set the ascendancy for his side.

Also, this match could turn into a real battle out of dummy-half. Knight Isaac De Gois (averages 50 metres per match) has been one of the best no.9s of the season so far, but in recent weeks his props haven’t set enough of a platform for him to dash out and get opposition teams on the back foot. If De Gois can get some space out of the ruck, watch out because only Robbie Farah does it better.

The Eels are slightly under-rated at hooker, with young gun Matt Keating (average of 43 metres) interchanging with the experienced Kevin Kingston. Both Keating and Kingston have been impressive in recent weeks but neither has the same creative ability of De Gois.

Newcastle have chosen Danny Wicks (averages 71 metres) to start the match, with Mark Taufua (averages 76) back to the bench. This is a big challenge for Wicks who needs to take Moimoi on from the outset.

The History: Played 38; Eels 18, Knights 19, drawn 1. At Parramatta Stadium the Eels have a definitive advantage, winning 12 from 18, with the Knights managing five wins and a draw. The spoils have been fairly evenly shared in the past couple of years as well, so throw out the form guide for this one.

Conclusion: Teams such as Parramatta, the Knights, Penrith, Brisbane and the Wests Tigers all seem due to play against each other in the run home to the finals, which should make for a thrilling last few rounds.

It starts here, in this match, and it’s doubtful a game so far this year has had so much riding on it.

Mathematically it won’t be time to leave the country for the loser, but whoever drops this match has Everest to climb.

Expect a good deal of points – Hayne, Krisnan Inu and co. won’t be there to get tackled – but you can bet the Knights will fight fire with fire and Kurt Gidley and his lightning-quick backline will also be looking to strike.

Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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