Eels v Bulldogs Preview

Bulldogs v Eels
ANZ Stadium
Friday, 7.35pm

Chugga-chugga chugga-chugga… Toot toot! All aboard the Hayne Train!

That’s right, after another slow start to the season it is now full steam ahead for the Hayne Train, with back-to-back man-of-the-match performances against the Cowboys and Panthers. Recalling last year’s charge from cellar dwellers to grand finalists, Eels fans will be hoping that lightning can indeed strike twice, while Bulldogs fans are no doubt hoping this electric resurgence is just a flash in the pan.

Fans could be forgiven for thinking Rivalry Round was back for a second week. These two traditional opponents share a fierce rivalry forged from countless memorable battles fought as the two dominant teams of the ’80s.

Both teams enter Round 20 with contrasting fortunes – the Eels are riding high after Hayne helped them to a miraculous comeback against the Panthers last week, while the Bulldogs had a three-game winning streak snapped by man-on-a-mission Braith Anasta in a heartbreaking last-gasp loss to the Roosters.

The Eels now have a sniff of the top eight, their 20 points leaving them just a win behind teams six, seven and eight on 22, and a win here could potentially see them finish the round inside the finals zone.

The Bulldogs are back on 16 points and will likely have to win at least six of their last seven games to have any hope of tasting finals footy in 2010.

The Bulldogs at least have continuity on their side, with coach Kevin Moore showing faith in the same 17 that started so strongly against the Roosters last week. Ben Barba has been a revelation in the no.6, while the experiment of playing Jamal Idris in the back row continues for now as new boy Shane Neumann also continues to impress as his replacement in the centres.

The Eels welcome back Timana Tahu from suspension after his brain snap against the Knights following the Andrew Johns racism row saw him cool his heels for four weeks. Tahu comes in as a direct replacement for centre Jonathon Wright who drops back to a five-man bench and probably out of the final 17 despite his two-try heroics against the Panthers.

Fans from both sides will be disappointed that Idris’ shift to the back row means he may have fewer opportunities to resume hostilities with Tahu, after Idris won a personal points victory in Parramatta’s 26-10 victory in Round 8.

Matt Keating also returns from a one-week injury lay-off after missing the Penrith game following a high shot from Cowboy Leeson Ah Mau. That pushes his brother Kris Keating to the bench and Lee Te Maari out of the side. Daniel Anderson has also shuffled his front-rowers, bringing Fuifui Moimoi back into the starting side and dropping Justin Poore back to the bench. The Eels’ slow start last week with both their impact props on the bench may have been a factor here.

Although the Eels have won their past two starts, the fact that they have conceded 87 points at an average of 29 per game in their past three matches will be a huge worry to Daniel Anderson, given that the Eels’ run to the finals last year was built around rock solid goal-line defence.

Watch out Bulldogs:
What more can we say about Jarryd Hayne? His mammoth performance last week was easily the equal of anything he produced in 2009.

He ran for 219 metres, including that scorching 88-metre solo try. Before that he threw the last pass for Parra’s first three tries and grubbered for their fourth for a total of four try assists to go with his four tackle-breaks. If Hayne comes close to reproducing that form on Friday it could be a long night for the blue and whites.

Watch out Eels: Discipline could hurt the Eels if referees Tony Archer and Gavin Badger decide to give the whistles a workout. The Bulldogs are the second best-behaved team in the comp after Brisbane, conceding just 80 penalties so far in 2010, while the Eels have felt the referees’ wrath 101 times to be fifth worst.

The Bulldogs also have the third most line-breaks so far this year with 42, led by Josh Morris (14) and Barba (10). With the Eels’ fullback having to make far more try saves (16) so far this year than any other player, it’s obvious the men in the middle are leaving him too much work to do – and Morris and Barba will have no intention of letting Hayne add to his try-saving tally once they get through the line.

Where it will be won:
Up front. For all the focus on Jarryd Hayne it is simply impossible to produce what he does if the forwards aren’t getting over the advantage line, and Parramatta’s all-representative front row has really lifted in the past two weeks.

For the Bulldogs, tackling machine David Stagg leads the NRL in total tackles (768) and one-on-one tackles (49), and his effective tackle percentage (94.1 per cent) is the best in the NRL for players with more than 20 tackles.

He will need some help from other defensive workhorses Ben Hannant (448 tackles, 86.5 per cent effective) and Andrew Ryan (543 tackles, 85.4 per cent effective) to shut down Parramatta’s prolific offloaders Feleti Mateo (43 – equal most in NRL) and Nathan Cayless (38 – fourth in NRL).

The history: Played 127; Bulldogs 66, Eels 56, drawn 5. Although the Dogs have the edge overall, Parramatta’s recent dominance at ANZ Stadium is startling. The Eels have won seven of their past eight games against the Bulldogs, and remarkably all seven of those wins have come at ANZ Stadium at night.

The only break in the sequence was Canterbury’s 48-18 mauling of the Eels on a Sunday afternoon at ANZ in Round 6 last year.

Conclusion: The Eels will be on a massive high after getting out of jail against Penrith, while the Bulldogs may just have had their hearts (and momentum) broken by Mitch Aubusson’s late match-winning try.

The Eels have well and truly had the wood on their old rivals in recent times, and their dominance at ANZ Stadium is hard to ignore.

The Bulldogs will be desperate to claw back some pride and keep their dim finals hopes alive, but with Jarryd Hayne hitting top form and a spot in the eight beckoning, the Eels may just have the edge.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Russell Turner; Video Referee – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – delayed 11.30pm.