Wait. Hold the phone. Really? I mean really? Are the Eels seriously pushing for a finals berth?
It appears they are after they demolished the Knights to post a fourth consecutive win and move themselves to just a single competition point behind sixth place.
Sure they might still be 12th on the NRL ladder but such is the congestion between fifth and 12th the reality is the Eels could end this round inside the finals zone!
Yep, that’s correct. The team that looked like a shell of an NRL side at times earlier this season and who just over a month ago had concerns they might finish last, is one of the form sides of the competition.
And now they get to play at home, against a side they really should beat, for the chance to enter the top eight and therefore put destiny in their own hands.
It might be easy to get caught up in the hysteria surrounding the late charge, and the Eels’ football deserves plaudits – but they must win here to keep the dream alive.
While it is true 28 points will probably be the cut-off point for the finals and as such the Eels could possibly lose one more match and still make it with 29 points, after this clash against the 14th-placed Warriors, they tackle the in-form Wests Tigers away, then the currently fifth-placed Panthers at home, before finishing with the table-topping Dragons away.
They enter this match without captain Nathan Cayless, who is out injured, with his place in the starting side set to be taken by Tim Mannah.
Jeremy Latimore is the name slated to come onto the bench although the whispers are pretty loud suggesting Feleti Mateo may return from injury in this match.
So just what sort of resistance will the Warriors throw up against the Eels?
They haven’t been much good all season and are coming off the back of another heavy defeat at the hands of the Titans. Plus they have very little other than pride to play for, considering they are most likely safe from the wooden spoon.
They welcome back Wade McKinnon at fullback after his one-week club suspension for missing training, which sees Kevin Locke go back to the wing and Patrick Ah Van miss out.
Jerome Ropati is also due back at centre, which pushes Lance Hohaia back to the interchange bench, while Ian Henderson has been recalled as starting hooker with Lewis Brown starting from the reserves list.
Evarn Tuimavave has also earned a starting jersey at prop, with Russell Packer dropping back to the bench and Ukuma Ta’ai also gets to start in the second row with Ben Matulino missing out all together.
Watch out Eels: Warriors fullback and former Eel Wade McKinnon will no doubt be up for a big match. Having been stood down last week for missing a recovery session McKinnon will be making up for lost time.
He is still one of the game’s best fullbacks but with Jarryd Hayne lighting up the NRL with the number one on his back, McKinnon has something to pit himself against. He is now averaging 135 metres a match but unlike previous seasons has failed to crack the line often, with just five line breaks to his name. Look for him to be heavily involved.
Watch out Warriors: It’s all about Jarryd Hayne right now. The Parramatta custodian has been sensational since moving from five-eighth and is carrying his side on this streak to potential history.
He is averaging an incredible 164 metres a match, has 23 line breaks – including some from dummy-half, some clean, some through tackle busts and some on kick-returns – plus he has seven try assists and 12 tries. He has also now racked up a phenomenal 111 tackle breaks.
If the Warriors can find some way to shut him down then they go a long way to shutting the Eels down. But it is easier said than done.
Where it will be won: Attitude. The Eels have been well and truly ‘up’ for wins against Melbourne, the Bulldogs, Cronulla and the Knights. But they now must continue the rage against a side they are expected to beat.
When they played the Sharks, the Eels basically got home on some Jarryd Hayne brilliance against a side littered with fringe first graders. If they do not bring the intensity of the other wins to this contest the Warriors could easily punish them. The Kiwi side showed a fortnight ago against Penrith they can pile on the points (granted they also showed they can leak them in quick succession also) if they are taken lightly and with their finals chances hanging so precariously the Eels cannot afford for this to happen.
Daniel Anderson has to ensure his men are primed and that they are prepared to start well. If they give the opposition a sniff, the Warriors will throw the ball around and have some fun. A ruthless side would put the Warriors away; a fragile one can kiss their fairytale goodbye.
Obviously attitude is also crucial for the Warriors. They have to at least come with a willingness to compete. If they are ready to play and have some fun, they are a chance. If they come across the Tasman to go through the motions, well they might as well not board the plane.
The history: Played 25; Eels 15, Warriors 10. The Warriors beat the Eels 26-18 earlier this season but this was way, way, way back in Round 1. The result did however extend the Warriors streak to three wins in a row over the Eels, with Parramatta not being victorious since 2007. But the home side does have an 80 per cent success rate against the Warriors at Parramatta Stadium, having won eight of 10 clashes between the clubs.
Conclusion: Tip the Eels here. The Warriors are going through the motions and the Eels have everything to play for. If they can’t get a win up here then all of this hoopla has been for nought and they can just about go ahead and plan their end-of-season trip… something the Warriors players are no doubt already doing.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Peter Kirby & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Delayed 9.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.