Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Eels came crashing back to earth last week, following up a dominant away win against the Warriors with a disappointing home loss to the previously embattled Panthers.
Meanwhile the Rabbitohs have had coach John Lang tearing his hair out two weeks in a row, falling behind before clambering back to lead late in both games so far before again falling away at the end.
Lang may not have any hair left if his charges put in a similar performance against the Eels this Friday, while his opposite number Stephen Kearney will be out to prove the lacklustre showing against Penrith was merely an aberration.
The Eels barely even looked like scoring against the Panthers until the game was out of reach, and Kearney will hope that by reverting to the backline fielded in Round 1, the spark may return.
Chris Walker and Etu Uaisele have overcome niggling injuries to displace Paul Whatuira and Chris Hicks at centre and wing respectively. Shane Shackleton has been promoted to starting prop with Mitchell Allgood dropping out of the team and former Storm player Billy Rogers making his club debut from the bench. Ben Smith will start for the first time this year, pushing Justin Horo to the bench.
Although Sam Burgess is still several weeks away and Scott Geddes is gone for the season, Lang will be relieved not to have any further injury-enforced changes, naming the same 17 who lined up against the Dogs last week.
It’s a big game for Eels hard man Nathan Hindmarsh – NRL Stats informs us Hindy needs just nine tackles to become the first player in NRL history to notch 10,000 tackles.
Watch Out Eels: Superstar signing Greg Inglis has been unusually quiet in two games so far, running for just 110 metres in two outings, missing eight tackles with only three tackle busts and no line-breaks, although he does have one try. No elite player enjoys being shown up by an up-and-comer the way Inglis was by Jamal Idris last week and the big centre will be out to make amends against the Eels on Friday.
Inglis’ strength and mobility make him one of the most damaging ball runners in the game. The Eels were exposed out wide against Penrith and will need to be very careful if Inglis gets going in space.
Danger Sign: If big GI gets his trademark one-hand fend going he can follow it up with a deft offload or make his own way to the line. The Eels have a smaller backline than in recent seasons and will really need to muscle up if Inglis starts to show what he’s capable of.
Watch Out Panthers: The Eels seemed to forget about their new “no offload” policy against the Panthers last week and coach Stephen Kearney won’t want poor discipline creeping into their game at this early stage. It may be a coincidence that the chief offloaders last week – Robson, Hayne and Hindmarsh – contributed six of the side’s 13 errors and seven of 12 offloads, but Kearney will be making sure the no-frills style that was too good for the Warriors makes a return this week.
With Shackleton and Ben Smith bolstering the starting forward pack and Fuifui Moimoi providing impact off the bench, look for the Eels to rely on hit-ups and quick play-the-balls to get the defence rolling backwards, the way the Storm have been doing so successfully for more than a decade.
Danger Sign: If the likes of Mannah, Shackleton and Moimoi start getting over the advantage line it will create room for Casey McGuire to launch some scything runs from dummy-half into a retreating defence, putting Souths on the back foot and piggybacking the Eels into attacking territory.
Plays To Watch: Jarryd Hayne moving up into the line when the Eels attack to fire some cut-out passes out wide; Dave Taylor roaming the fringes to muscle his way past the smaller Eels backs; Moimoi’s cannonball runs punching holes into the defensive line; Sutton using his strength to offload for quicker support players like Sandow and Merritt.
Where It Will Be Won: This one could be a battle of the big men. Even with a couple of injury concerns both sides have plenty of firepower up front. Roy Asotasi has already run for 241 metres in just two games and there could be some serious collisions when he comes up against (former… for now) New Zealand team-mate Moimoi.
The likes of Mannah and Shackleton for the Eels and Stuart, Taylor and Ross for the Bunnies will also need to win the battle in the middle of the park to give their (so far) underperforming halves combinations the time and space to kick and chase well and put pressure on the opposition backs.
The History: Played 112; South Sydney 59, Parramatta 50, drawn 3. It’s all very even between these two clubs – Souths have the edge 3-2 at ANZ Stadium, with one draw, while recent history has the Eels in front 4-3, with one draw. In 2010 it was one win apiece.
Interestingly, of the six matches these clubs have played at ANZ, the away team has yet to win despite the fact that half of those matches were Eels home games and half were Souths home games. Given that this one is considered an Eels home game, maybe that gives the blue-and-golds the edge.
Conclusion: This is a really tough one to tip, especially given the Eels’ form difference from week one to week two, and South Sydney’s form difference from minute to minute.
If the week one Eels show up then Souths’ inconsistency could cost them, but the fear of another John Lang spray may have got their heads on straight this week. We’ll take the Bunnies to finally break their duck in a close one.
Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.