Sydney Football Stadium
If you have something to do this Friday night other than being at the Sydney Football Stadium (you can have a leave pass if you’ll be at WIN Stadium in Wollongong), cancel it!
For if ever a match deserved the “house full” sign it is this one, so fans should drop everything and rush down to the ground to witness the action first hand as these two sides battle it out for what’s likely to be just one available place in the finals.
Such is the make-up of the top eight the winner here could seriously have one foot in the door of the post-season, while the loser could be trying to get up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Both teams are in sensational form, with the Wests Tigers destroying the Sharks last weekend to make it six wins on the trot and the Eels pummelling the Warriors to make it a flashy five in a row.
Tim Sheens’ boys have roared all the way up to fifth place on the ladder – and could still even make a play at a home final if they keep winning and the Storm falter in the final few rounds.
But success can be so fleeting in the lower half of the eight; the Tigers are well aware they are joined by three other teams on 26 competition points, with the Eels ready to pounce in ninth, just a solitary point outside the finals zone.
So close is the ladder it is possible the Tigers could go from fifth to 10th with a loss… while the Eels could drop as low as 11th if they can’t come up with the goods.
The home side has lost stalwart bench prop John Skandalis to injury with his place on the bench taken by Alan Schirnack. They have also pushed Keith Galloway to the bench with Todd Payten moving up to play prop and Danny Galea starting in the second row.
Parramatta have a minor change to the side that accounted for the Warriors, with Nathan Cayless returning from injury at prop; this pushes Tim Mannah to the bench while Broderick Wright misses out. (Wright suffered minor knee cartilage damage anyway and will miss a few weeks recovering.)
Watch out Wests Tigers: It is far from a secret but the Eels’ success can be traced to the prolific nature and the quality of their offloads in recent times. Parramatta’s second-phase play has been by far the best in the league and with 336 offloads for the year they lead the competition by a long way. (Canberra are the only other side with more than 300 offloads but even the Raiders are 24 offloads behind the Eels.)
The Wests Tigers have just 207 offloads for the year, which is way down in 11th in the category.
The leading Eels offloaders are Nathan Hindmarsh (44 offloads), Krisnan Inu (35), Nathan Cayless (30), Matthew Keating (23) and Eric Grothe (23) and should Feliti Mateo return to the side (31) in the near future he will add another offloading dimension.
The Tigers need to find a way to complete the tackle without allowing second-phase or they will be backpedalling all evening… and the likes of Jarryd Hayne will tear them apart.
Watch out Eels: The Wests Tigers’ backline is making plenty of waves but as the season gets longer it’s the form of English import second-rower Gareth Ellis that’s the standout.
While Ellis is one of the poor unfortunate players who are yet to score a try this season, he has still been quite brilliant, particularly recently. His defence is strong and bone-rattling and his decoy running and pre-line passing have featured in plenty of try-scoring opportunities. The Eels need to give the Englishman plenty of respect or they will be nursing some big bruises.
Speaking of bruises, the number dished out by Taniela Tuiaki must now be in the thousands. The mammoth winger has 21 tries from as many games and needs to be contained or the Eels will walk away black, blue and gold.
Where it will be won: Making the most of momentum shifts. It would be easy to suggest this game will come down to the scintillating attack of both sides, or consequently the defence needed to thwart it, but on a deeper level it will be how they perform in their periods of prosperity that will decide the result.
Each and every match has its periods of momentum for either side, which can come from repeat sets or even just a few sets in a row of good gains. The side that can post points in these times, and therefore capitalise on the ebb and flow of possession and field position, will get the cookies and cream – and probably a finals berth.
To get momentum in a match it takes discipline and a willingness to build pressure. For both of these sides this is easier said than done, as they love to throw the ball around and make something from nothing.
But whoever finds the balance between the odd ‘power play’ and building real pressure will be on the front foot.
The history: Played 19; Wests Tigers 5, Eels 13, drawn 1. The Wests Tigers prevailed 23-6 at Parramatta Stadium earlier this season, which was their first win over the Eels in almost forever. The Eels have still won seven of the past eight and until earlier in the season well and truly had the wood over the joint-venture side.
The two sides have never come face to face at the Sydney Football Stadium.
Conclusion: There is no easy way to tip a winner here. If you had a magic eight ball, the result would be ‘outlook hazy’ or ‘try again later’ as it is certainly is a 50/50 call.
If the Wests Tigers have an edge it is in the fact their attack has a few more dimensions than the Eels. That said, the Parramatta defence has been tight in recent times.
Take a stab in the dark as there are merits to both teams!
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 3.30am.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.