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Eels v Bulldogs
ANZ Stadium
Friday, 7.35pm

There’s been no love lost between Parramatta and Canterbury-Bankstown over the years – there have been plenty of finals games played between them and plenty of edge-of-your-seat action played out. This Friday night’s game promises to be no different. Though they sit in eighth (Bulldogs) and ninth spots, they both appear to have put shaky starts to 2010 behind them and to be building some momentum for this season’s tilt.

The last time they met, Parramatta’s 22-12 win over Canterbury put them through to the grand final, so there’s more at stake in this season’s early encounter than just two premiership points and third win on the trot. Parramatta will be out for a win over a rival finals contender to prove they really have shaken off some of the pre-season cobwebs, while the Bulldogs will want to get one back on the side that ended their dream 2009 one game short. Expect lots of big hits as they wrestle for supremacy.

These two western Sydney clubs seem to have been running a similar course this season. They now have a ‘3’ in the wins column and have been hot and cold in early performances, going down to lower-estimated sides like the Sharks and Raiders, but snatching wins from premiership hopefuls Manly. Similarly, Canterbury slipped up against Newcastle, but comfortably disposed of the Roosters and Wests Tigers. So now both face a real test in opponents at almost exactly the same point as the other.

The Bulldogs have shown this season they’re a team capable of scoring tries (they lead the comp with 34) and the Eels will need to be sharp; 10 have come from kicks while a whopping 16 were on the back of line-breaks. If Parramatta can continue their performance under the high ball (they’ve defused nearly 80 per cent of bombs and cross-field bombs this season), shut down grubbers (72 per cent defused) and maintain their league-topping tackling effectiveness (87.6 per cent), they’ll go some way to nullifying the Bulldogs’ probes, as these are the types of kicks they favour.

Canterbury, on the other hand, have been hurt this season when not wrapping up the ball. Indeed, when these two played the preliminary final last September the Eels blew them away with a staggering 41 offloads to 12 and nine line-breaks to just one. While the Eels’ second-phase play hasn’t been nearly as potent this season, don’t be surprised if their talented backs start finding their way onto more offloaded balls (their past two matches they’ve offloaded at least 20 times) and they rediscover that continuity of play that shot them to the decider last year.

Timana Tahu has started to settle back into the league swing of things and leads the Eels’ try-scorers with Luke Burt on four. They’re also the side’s leading line-breakers (three, along with Joel Reddy), so it’s a potent left side that faces off against the pairing of Steve Turner and Jamal Idris.

Watch out Bulldogs: Does anyone else get the feeling Jarryd Hayne is about to let loose a performance that became so synonymous with him last season?

Whether it’s that teams have figured out how to keep him quiet, or he’s started a bit slow like his club, a Hayne ‘slump’ surely can’t go on forever.

He terrorised the Bulldogs last time they met, recording two try assists, 11 tackle-breaks and five offloads and with his stats somewhat down on 2009 (he’s registered two line-breaks and zero tries in the opening seven rounds), a big game must be on the cards.

Last week was his first error-free match for 2010, so expect some magic from the yellow boots.

Watch out Eels:
Jamal Idris was superb against the Broncos, putting in arguably his best performance in first grade. He showed speed, strength and commitment in recording a try and 11 tackle-breaks and gaining 115 metres during the game. He’ll have a real test against Timana Tahu, but as the big centre said himself, his performance last week was a confidence booster.

The Eels will also need to be wary of the somewhat unknown factor of Blake Green at five-eighth. Green was also superb against the Broncos (three line-breaks and a try), proving a threat putting the ball on toe or taking on the line. It was his line-break and kick that put Idris across the line just before half-time.

Where it will be won: Both sides know how to get across the stripe, so whoever keeps their line tight will get the glory.

Parramatta have been slightly better this year when it comes to missed tackles (218 to 246) and in each of their three wins both teams have kept that stat to around the 30-mark or less.

The slightest of lapses and there’s enough attacking nous in either side to take quick advantage.

The history: Played 126; Canterbury-Bankstown 66, Parramatta 55, drawn 5. It’s split six each at ANZ Stadium, but the Eels have the edge in recent history, winning six of the past seven clashes – all of which were at Homebush.

It’s always exciting when Parramatta take on the Bulldogs and there’ll be plenty of fans at ANZ Stadium anticipating another cracker for the annals.

Based on 2010 form, they’re hard to split, but the Bulldogs have suffered a glut of injuries (Ben Roberts, Ben Hannant, Yileen Gordon, Josh Morris), but do welcome back Michael Hodgson and Mickey Paea, while Junior Tia Kilifi gets his first start for the season.

There won’t be much in this one, but if they play to potential Canterbury will likely grind out the win.

Match officials: Referees: Tony Archer & Shayne Hayne; Sideline Officials: Steve Carrall & Phil Haines; Video Ref: Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Live – Channel 9, 7.30pm (NSW), Delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Delayed – Fox Sports 2, 11.30pm.
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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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