Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (NZ Time), 2pm (AEST)
When the dust settles on the season for these two clubs, whenever that may be, there is a big chance they will look to this match as a turning point.
With 10 rounds to play and no byes up their sleeves the Warriors and Eels sit in ninth and 10th respectively. They’d realise the time has come to make a push towards the finals zone.
Losing to one another will give their rival the leg up in the battle for a crack at the trophy and some premiership “bling”. Plus, teams five through eight could all take points this weekend (two of them are certain to with byes), which would drop the loser way off the pace.
The Eels have had a terrible time offensively this season but still rank as one of the better defences. In fact, in the past month they are team number one in defence, conceding just 26 points.
Their frustration played out in the newspapers last weekend after another dismal loss to the Broncos, with coach Daniel Anderson and star player Jarryd Hayne allegedly at loggerheads.
But this trip across the Tasman will be without Hayne, who is on New South Wales duty. His place at fullback will be taken by Tom Humble, with Jeff Robson moving from hooker to five-eighth and Matthew Keating rejoining the side at dummy-half.
New Blues prop Tim Mannah and former Blues prop Justin Poore will also miss this match; Brendan Oake joins the back row, replacing the injured Ben Smith.
Patrick O’Hanlon, Pele Peletelese, Mitchell Allgood and new recruit Manase Manuokafoa have been added to a six-man bench.
The home-side Warriors snuck home against the Roosters last weekend, thanks to a Kevin Locke hat-trick but the flashy winger is out after almost cutting himself in half on the goal post while scoring the match winner. Bill Tupou takes his place on the wing.
The only other change sees Jeremy Latimore slated to start at prop and Jesse Royal moving to the bench, while Ukuma Ta’ai has been added as 18th man.
Watch out Warriors: The Eels will target the right fringe in attack, purely as it is their most profitable area and the Warriors’ weakest section of the field defensively.
Having scored 11 tries on the right fringe the Eels have had some success but it is the knowledge the Warriors have conceded 19 in the same area that gives them confidence.
The home side needs to compress tight on this edge to combat the Eels and then be ready to slide either side if a change of tactic ensues.
Watch out Eels: Manu Vatuvei is still one of the best, if not the best, winger in the world despite a season interrupted by injury. In just eight appearances, the mammoth winger averages 132 metres gained and he has notched 11 line-breaks and nine tries. Also, he is averaging more than five tackle-breaks a match.
There is no doubt the Warriors will look to shift the ball his way and if the Eels give him space he will steamroll over the top of anything that tries to get in his way.
Either Parramatta must cut off the ball before it gets to ‘The Beast’, or else be up in his face with constant pressure to bustle him before he gets up a head of steam.
Where it will be won: Building pressure. Both sides have attacking issues, especially Parramatta. As such, there has to be a commitment to building pressure in attack.
While a great flashy play can bring points, the best way to guarantee to get across the stripe is through repeat sets. Even the best defences eventually cannot withstand multiple sets against them.
With this in mind the halves for both sides should look to get the ball in behind the line early in the match and force line dropouts. The extra defence will tire the opposition out later in the contest and open up many more chances to score points.
One of Daniel Mortimer’s best qualities late last year was his bullish kick-chase; he needs to bring this back and pressure the Warriors’ back three.
Also, the Eels need to put the ball in behind Vatuvei and make the big man turn and chase.
Meanwhile, the home side can exploit the weakness of future Warrior Krisnan Inu. Inu is so casual at times; he can be found wanting.
The history: Played 26; Warriors 10, Eels 16. The Warriors have won three of the past four but the two teams share four wins each over the past eight games. The home side has an 8-5 advantage over the Eels at Mt Smart Stadium but against all opposition the Warriors have lost seven of their past eight daytime matches at the venue.
Conclusion: Despite their record at home being far from flash, the Warriors should still enter this clash as favourites, purely because the Eels can’t score points and they have lost their number one attacking player.
With plenty at stake motivation for both sides shouldn’t be a problem; as such this should be a competitive contest.
But picking Parramatta would be based on potential, not actual form. Safe bet is the Warriors.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.