Eels v Wests Tigers Preview

Eels v Wests Tigers
Parramatta Stadium
Sunday, 3:30pm

The excitement factor ramps up by a factor of 10 when these two clubs square off, and this vital Sunday afternoon clash should be no different.

The Tigers climbed to third on the ladder and possibly stamped themselves as genuine title contenders last Sunday as they came home with a wet sail to swamp a badly out of sorts Panthers outfit at Campbelltown.

Meanwhile the Eels snapped a two-match losing streak with a gutsy win over the rudder-less (and Lockyer-less) Broncos up at Suncorp. Luckily for fans heading out to Parramatta Stadium this weekend, that win keeps the Eels’ faint finals hopes alive meaning both teams will have everything to play for.

Having looked to have wrapped up a finals berth for the first time in five years, could the Tigers be tempted to relax and take their foot off the gas? If the Tigers lose any kind of focus it could work in favour of a desperate Eels side who cannot afford another slip-up or it’s almost certainly curtains for 2010.

Parramatta will go in with virtually the same team that triumphed over the Broncos, with Daniel Anderson electing to again leave young gun Daniel Mortimer on the sidelines. Mortimer has not been named for Eels feeder team Wentworthville although there are rumours he will play.

But coaches don’t usually like to change a winning team – so even if Parramatta do somehow surge into the top eight it’s hard to see how Mortimer will fit back into the top grade side this season.

Timana Tahu has again been named to return from an ankle injury after he was a late withdrawal against Brisbane, replacing Jonathon Wright.

Ben Smith serves the second week of a two-week suspension meaning the impressive Justin Horo will again start and Taniela Lasalo keeps his bench spot alongside last week’s debutant Anthony Mitchell.

For the Tigers, prop Keith Galloway is still under an injury cloud after being a late withdrawal against the Panthers last week, but he has been named as a straight swap for Bryce Gibbs, who went off early in that game with a back complaint and will not take the field this week.

Wade McKinnon, who also withdrew before kick-off last week, has not been named, allowing Mitch Brown another chance in the custodian’s role.

Watch out Eels:
The Tigers’ kicking game will be a vital weapon here. The Roosters laid down a blueprint for keeping Eels superstar Jarryd Hayne quiet: king long, kick early if necessary… and kick away from him whenever possible.

The Tigers lead the NRL for kicks into open space, with 70 per cent of kicks finding the turf, meaning they should be well equipped to follow that plan.

Also, the Eels have conceded more tries from kicks than any other team in the competition, with 27. If Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah are on song with the boot the Eels’ back three will be in for a torrid afternoon.

Watch out Tigers: As much as Eels coach Daniel Anderson would have been delighted with the win last week, the fact that it was a real team effort will have pleased him the most.

Although there were some customary flashes of brilliance from Jarryd Hayne, Luke Burt showed that there are other Eels capable of a brilliant solo try, Justin Horo stepped into the starting role admirably and Justin Poore looks to have returned his best form.

But it was game breaker Feleti Mateo who really shone. With his playing future now decided the enigmatic Auckland-bound lock put in his best performance of the season. A team-high 134 running metres, two line-breaks, two line-break assists, a try assist, four offloads and a whopping 10 tackle-breaks handed Mateo the man of the match award and sounded a warning to future opponents that he is ready to cash in on his limitless potential.

Where it will be won: Focus. These are two of the real Jekyll-and-Hyde teams of the competition and you can never be sure which version is going to show up. It can make them a delight to watch but it can also make them an endless source of frustration for fans.

Having crossed the magical 30-point barrier, will the Tigers play out the season with one eye on September? And will the Eels be able to keep putting in, knowing the tiniest slip-up could end their season?

Parramatta have been either brilliant or terrible over the past month, and the Tigers ran riot over Penrith just a week after blowing a huge lead against Souths. Whichever coach is able to keep his troops focused on the job at hand will take a massive advantage into this one.

The history: Played 21, Parramatta 14, Wests Tigers 6, drawn 1. The Tigers had the Eels’ measure earlier this year, prevailing 23-12 at the SFS, but Parramatta have dominated the Tigers, winning more than two thirds of their total matches.

The blue-and-golds hold a 7-3 record over the Tigers at Parramatta Stadium and have won six of the past eight clashes overall.

Conclusion: These two clubs played out one of the matches of the year in Round 26 last year with a spot in the finals on the line. In a match remembered for Benji Marshall’s brilliant round-the-back flick pass and Jarryd Hayne’s stunning chip-and-chase, the Eels came away with the win.

With the stakes again high at the back end of the season, will history repeat itself? Both teams rejoined the winner’s circle last week but with a bit more to play for and a strong home record the Eels deserve to start favourites here.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.