It seems silly to use the word ‘crucial’ as early as Round 5 but this Monday night’s match between two flailing sides shapes up as just that.
One wonders how long it’s been since Parramatta was playing this poorly… oh wait, that’s right: they started last season just as atrociously, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at all.
While in 2009 they were 2-2 after four rounds (now they are 1-3), the Parramatta side had only won four games after Round 15 before they went on a streak all the way to the grand final.
Surely the Eels aren’t banking on this sort of run again in 2010, because if they are they could find themselves smack bang in the middle of a dogfight for the wooden spoon rather than the premiership trophy.
After failing to even score a point against a Cronulla side who had lost 13 on the trot, the Eels have slumped to 12th spot on the ladder and the wolves are barking at the door.
The Raiders surrendered a big lead against the Wests Tigers last weekend, pushing them down into the murky depths of 15th on the ladder. This is a side that clearly doesn’t travel well and if they have any thoughts of September football they must win some of these early games.
The Raiders have the luxury of seven home games in their final 11 to finish the year, but if they are off the pace before the run comes it will count for nothing.
Changes to the two sides read this way: Luke Burt in on the wing and Ben Smith back in the forwards for the Eels (Krisnan Inu and Justin Poore back to the bench) while for the Raiders Troy Thompson and Brett Kelly have been named to an extended bench, with Trevor Thurling in doubt.
Watch out Eels: The Raiders are busting significantly more tackles, which could lead to offloads, line-breaks and ultimately tries. So far in 2010 the Raiders have made 146 tackle-breaks as a team, 50 more than the Eels’ paltry sum of 96.
The Eels are entrenched in last place in this category, a full 20 tackle-breaks behind the next worst team.
The Parramatta defenders need to make tackles count and, quite simply, the Eels need to run harder. At the moment the team would have trouble breaking through a wet paper bag and if this continues the dreaded ‘s’ word (soft) could start to be uttered.
The Eels also need to be awake with their kick-chase, as the Raiders lead the NRL with three kick-return line-breaks.
Watch out Raiders: Watch for the Parramatta attack to put some focus on the left edge of the field. Having had some luck with four tries scored there this season, the Eels will have noticed the Raiders have conceded a mammoth eight tries already in the area.
That’s two tries a match coming through this corridor, giving the Eels a green light.
The Eels might also consider using their brains this week and stick to a kicking game that works. They began the match against the Sharks by bombing, and got a result (albeit no points), but then inexplicably put the tactic away.
However, with the Raiders defusing just 25 per cent of bombs and 40 per cent of cross-field kicks, if they leave these kicks in the kit bag again… well, they probably deserve to lose.
Where it will be won: Error reduction. Both of these teams are terrible when it comes to ball control, with Parramatta up at 61 errors already this season and the Raiders one worse at 62, which is more than 15 errors a match – ridiculous stuff for first grade teams.
Somehow these teams need to hold onto the ball because it is very hard to win a football game without it. The worst offenders in each team thus far have been Jarryd Hayne (10 errors), Daniel Mortimer (six errors), Feleti Mateo (six errors), Eric Grothe (five errors), Fuifui Moimoi (five errors) and Timana Tahu (five errors) for Parramatta, while for the Raiders Josh Dugan (10 errors), Jarrod Croker (eight errors), Bronson Harrison (six errors), Terry Campese (five errors), Josh McCrone (five errors) and Joel Thompson (five errors) are all averaging more than one mistake a match.
Perhaps the game plan should be to just ‘get to the kick’ – or, in other words, complete sets and wait for chances instead of making simple errors and building zero pressure.
The history: Played 44: Eels 24, Raiders 20. The Eels have won five of the past eight between the two clubs, including the past two encounters. In 2009 the sides played out a dreary encounter, won 18-16 by the Eels, which extended the Parramatta edge at the venue to 13-6.
Conclusion: These teams haven’t set the world on fire by any means this season but they still boast some exciting individuals who could light up the turf if they find form.
You can’t really tip with any confidence but surely the Eels can beat the Raiders at Parramatta, given how poorly the Raiders travel.
Then again, they didn’t even register a point against Cronulla and the Raiders should have beaten the Wests Tigers.
Honestly, the only reason to tip the Eels is last year’s form; they have shown next nothing this year… but the Raiders are no better. Hopefully both can turn it on.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.