With the final-eight jigsaw puzzle nearly complete, there will still be many subplots involved in the final match of the regular season for these two clubs, but none of them will involve Parramatta’s chances of playing finals footy in 2010.
It will be remembered as a season of ‘what might have been’ for the blue-and-golds, who are now playing only for pride and for each other. But with three wins from their past four games the Warriors are poised to make a late charge for a top-four position, depending on other results, having already guaranteed themselves a spot in the finals.
A win here, if the Titans lose to the Tigers, will see the Warriors in a tight battle with the Roosters for fourth spot and a prized home final. A loss, however, could see them finish in the dreaded elimination zone at the bottom of the eight, facing a tough, must-win away game against a top-two team.
While the Eels no longer have a chance of featuring it would be foolish to suggest they have nothing to play for.
To a man, the Eels will be desperate to send inspirational captain Nathan Cayless out a winner. The hard-working prop will play his last NRL game in front of his home crowd, going out as the club’s third most-capped player and with 220 games as captain, making him the longest-serving captain in NRL history.
Feleti Mateo and Krisnan Inu play their last games for the club before both join the Warriors in 2011, and will be keen to impress their future clubmates. Kris Keating also plays his last game for the club before he joins the Bulldogs next year.
Club veteran Luke Burt needs another seven points to reach 1500 career points in the NRL, but he will likely have to wait until next year for the three tries he needs to match Brett Kenny's club record of 110.
The Eels welcome back Jeff Robson from a knee injury for this game. He pushes Kris Keating to five-eighth, meaning Daniel Mortimer is relegated to the bench and Anthony Mitchell goes back to the NSW Cup. Feleti Mateo escaped suspension for striking Rabbitoh Chris Sandow with an early guilty plea.
The Warriors will go in with the same 17 that ran roughshod over the Broncos last week, although Joel Moon joins a five-man bench.
Watch out Eels: Ivan Cleary has really galvanised the defence of a club more renowned for adventurously throwing the ball around. Over the past month the Warriors have actually conceded the fewest points (43) of any team in the competition. They gave Brisbane absolutely nothing last week, keeping the Broncos scoreless until the 77th minute but it was a Round 18 defensive masterclass against Penrith that really showed the newfound steel in the Warriors’ line.
All this spells trouble for a misfiring Parramatta attack that has scored fewer tries (68) this year than any team other than the Sharks. Combine this with an unsettled halves combination and the Eels will really have their work cut out trying to figure out a way through the Warriors. The visitors have always had points in them but since they're not conceding tries they pose a huge danger to a team that has struggled to get over the line in 2010.
Watch out Warriors: We saw the power an emotional farewell can have last week as Trent Barrett and Luke Covell received a fitting send off at Shark Park, and the Bulldogs also found an extra gear for the final home game of Luke Patten and Brett Kimmorley. If the Eels don't fire up for their skipper's swansong, they never will. Look for Cayless to lead by example as he attempts to carry his team along with him in his final game.
When the Eels are playing well it's generally their second-phase play which creates havoc for opposition defensive structures. Even though they've struggled to turn it into results on the scoreboard this year, Parramatta are still ranked second in the comp for tries resulting from offloads (nine). Mateo is the competition frontrunner for offloads with 67 in 2010 and Cayless is fourth with 51. Nathan Hindmarsh (37) Krisnan Inu (36) and Joel Reddy (34) also feature prominently. With the finals now out of reach they could be tempted to chance their arm even more – if those offloads stick the Warriors’ defence will have to scramble to hold the Eels out.
Where it will be won: Field position is always crucial but here it will be decisive. The Eels concede the most running metres of any team in the competition, giving up an average of 1410 metres across the ground in every game. The Warriors are at the other end of the scale, conceding just 1246 running metres to be second best in the NRL.
The sides are remarkably similar in other positional stats, meaning whichever team muscles up in the middle of the park, clamps down on opposition offloads and slows down the play-the-ball, will earn the advantage.
The Warriors are ranked fourth for tries scored from inside the opposition 20-metre line (62), and their 27 tries scored from kicks is second behind only the Panthers – meaning the Eels need to keep big Manu Vatuvei and last week’s two-try heroes Lewis Brown and Lance Hohaia away from their line at all costs.
The history: Played 27, Parramatta 16, Warriors 11. The Warriors have been all over the Eels lately, winning four of the past five, including that 35-6 demolition job at Mt Smart Stadium back in Round 17.
They've had an awful time of it on the road however – the Warriors have claimed the points on just two occasions at Parramatta, where the Eels hold a 9-2 advantage.
Conclusion: There are plenty of distractions for both sides going into this one so whichever side can shut out the noise and focus on the task at hand will have the edge. The Warriors have been far more impressive and consistent in recent weeks but if the Eels can lift themselves up one final time for their inspirational captain then they could still give the Warriors a few headaches.
Match officials: Referees –Matt Cecchin & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.