Eels v Roosters Preview

Eels v Roosters
Parramatta Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm

This cracking Super Saturday match-up up features two of the form teams – and players – of the competition.

Jarryd Hayne and Todd Carney have both been instrumental in the recent form spikes of their respective teams, and if anything both players are simply getting better week by week.

The Eels have now won three in a row and are starting to look more and more like the ’09 team that surged into the grand final from almost last midway through the season – a fact that will no doubt be of grave concern to all teams currently above them on the ladder.

Meanwhile the Roosters have won four in a row and look absolutely nothing like last year’s wooden spoon outfit, although their worrying habit of waiting until the dying minutes to seal the deal may be giving coach Brian Smith a few more grey hairs than he would like.

One thing that Smith will be delighted about is his team’s determination in the face of adversity. Two weeks ago Braith Anasta could be forgiven for thinking he must have smashed a mirror while walking underneath a ladder in front of a black cat, and a controversial decision by the video ref last week to award the Broncos a late try despite Israel Folau appearing to lose the ball in goal handed the Broncos the lead and almost the game. Also, the Roosters have finished on the wrong side of 8-3 and 7-2 penalty counts in the past two games.

They may need a slight change in fortunes against an Eels side that has remarkably scored a third of their total season points in their past three matches. Giving the Roosters hope is the fact that the Eels have continued to leak points during this time and are yet to put in a full 80-minute performance this season. They are also yet to win consecutive home games in 2010 – will the Eels break that sequence this week?

They will attempt to do so with the same 17 that blew the Bulldogs off the park last Friday night, as Eric Grothe’s continued absence with a knee injury saves coach Daniel Anderson the headache of having to leave out one of his star backline, and Fuifui Moimoi’s explosive return to form looks to have consolidated his position in the starting side. Having settled for now on his successful 2009 halves combination of Jeff Robson and Daniel Mortimer, Anderson must be growing anxious that neither has yet looked like producing the same form in 2010.

The Roosters have made a major reshuffle due to a revolving door of injuries. Mitchell Pearce has recovered from a hamstring strain to take his place at halfback, pushing Carney to five-eighth and Anasta to lock, while Nate Myles has shaken off a hip injury to be named in the front row, replacing Mose Masoe, who is out with a back complaint. Also missing are Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, who has a calf strain, and Tom Symonds who has picked up a knee injury, with Martin Kennedy joining the bench.

The Roosters will also be sweating on the fitness of Joseph Leilua (back) and Daniel Conn (concussion), although both are expected to play.

Watch out Eels:
The Roosters' prodigious backline has been getting through a mountain of work in 2010 and the Eels will need to watch their scoots from dummy-half. Sam Perrett’s 159 dummy-half runs is the most in the NRL, and Anthony Minichiello’s 100 runs ranks him fourth. The Roosters also have three of the competition's top 10 tackle-breakers in Shaun Kenny-Dowall (111 – second), Perrett (92 – equal eighth) and Carney (89 – equal 10th).

Kenny-Dowall has been particularly effective of late. His four-try burst last week brings his season tally to 12 (equal 10th in NRL) and came on the back of nine tackle-breaks and 220 metres gained – up on his already impressive season average of 127 metres per game. Combine this with the scintillating form of Carney, who is now ranked equal second for line-break assists with 15, and the Eels will have a massive job trying to keep their defensive line intact.

Watch out Roosters: We said last week it could be a long night for the Bulldogs if Jarryd Hayne reproduced the form he showed against Penrith, but even we couldn't have predicted his explosive start to that game, with a brilliant solo try in the opening minute followed by another try and try assist inside 11 minutes. But there is another player who has been just as important to the Eels side in their recent run without getting the same accolades.

Fuifui Moimoi was relegated to the bench for the Panthers game and he responded with 138 metres from 14 runs in 33 minutes of fury. He was just as good last week, punching holes all through the hapless Bulldogs defence. In just 44 minutes he covered 142 metres from 16 runs, with an amazing nine tackle-breaks, and his cannonball-like runs were absolutely vital in punching the Eels downfield into attacking position for their opening three-try burst.

If the Roosters don't find some way to slow down the Tongan wrecking ball, the Eels will be camped on their line all night.

Where it will be won: Creative play. While any coach will tell you that victories are built on defence, such is the brilliant attacking form of these two teams over the past few weeks that it could well come down to which one creates the best opportunities for their backline.

The Roosters may just have the edge here. While plenty of Jarryd Hayne's 13 try assists and 13 line-break assists have come in his recent purple patch, he isn't getting much support – no other Eel has more than six in either category.

On the other hand, the Roosters’ three main playmakers have all been contributing. Anasta, Carney and Pearce each have 11 try assists, and Anasta and Pearce each have 10 line-break assists to go with 15 from Carney. Overall the Roosters lead the Eels 98-60 in line-breaks and 75-53 in tries scored.

This all shows the Roosters have firepower all around the park, but if Hayne doesn't fire, neither do the Eels.

The history: Played 120; Eels 59, Roosters 56, drawn 5. There's not much in it, and in games at Parramatta Stadium they can't be separated – the clubs have nine wins apiece from their 18 clashes.

These two haven't met since the Roosters' 24-6 win in Round 4 last year, and they haven't met at Parra Stadium since Round 10, 2008. In recent years the Eels have the edge, winning five of their past seven against the Chooks.

Conclusion:
There are plenty of similarities in the recent form of these two teams. Both sides have been scoring and conceding plenty of points in the past few weeks, meaning this should be an exciting and high-scoring match.

Both sides are on winning streaks and will come into the match brimming with confidence.

Given the dazzling attacking play these clubs have been producing, the team that comes up with a brilliant play at the crucial moment could be the one that seals it. The past four match-ups read Eels-Roosters-Eels-Roosters, so according to that pattern we're due for an Eels victory.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.