Eels v Bulldogs
A lot more than two competition points will be on the line at ANZ Stadium this Friday night when two of rugby league’s most-supported clubs go head-to-head for the first time in 2011.
Canterbury will be keen to get their season back on track with a win after slumping to their second consecutive defeat against the Dragons last Sunday. The Bulldogs struggled to control the ball in greasy conditions at the Sydney Cricket Ground, a facet of their game coach Kevin Moore will be hoping they can improve if they are to get back on the winner’s board.
Centre sensation Jamal Idris, who has announced he will be leaving the Bulldogs to link with the Titans for five years from 2012, needs a big game to prove to the Canterbury faithful that his job with the blue-and-whites is far from over.
However, the 20-year-old is under an injury cloud and remains in some doubt for this showdown, struggling to overcome the thigh injury that plagued him throughout the game against the Dragons.
Bulldogs skipper Andrew Ryan will play his 200th game for the club, while Frank Pritchard is set to notch up game number 150 in the NRL.
While it’s only Round 6, incredibly Parramatta are creeping closer to the stage of the season when the term “must-win” is used leading into their matches.
They sit just two wins away from Melbourne, Brisbane and the Dragons at the top of the competition, but their dire, scoreless performance against the Storm last weekend will have given coach Stephen Kearney a few sleepless nights.
Kearney has called in some mongrel to the starting line-up, bringing Fuifui Moimoi into the run-on 13 and shifting Shane Shackleton back to a five-man bench.
The Eels also welcome back veteran rake Casey McGuire from a calf injury, pushing youngster Anthony Mitchell (a solid defender with 36 tackles last week) back to the bench. Meanwhile Matt Keating is still recovering from his pet Bulldog/broken finger incident.
Keating will miss the confrontation with brother Kris, who lines up against his former club for the first time since leaving at the end of 2010.
Ex-Shark Grant Millington is in the mix to play his first game for the Bulldogs, named on an extended five-man bench.
Watch Out Eels: Frank Pritchard has been kept relatively quite by the stonewall defence of Melbourne and St George Illawarra in the past fortnight.
But the Eels have conceded the second most tries of any team in the opening five rounds, nine from less than 10 metres out from their own line, a statistic that will have Pritchard licking his lips.
Parramatta can’t afford to slide on their try line, or Pritchard is going to feature heavily on the scoreboard.
Danger Sign: Jamal Idris was outplayed and humbled by the Dragons’ veteran centre pairing of Matt Cooper and Mark Gasnier last Sunday. But if the dread-locked star can overcome his troublesome thigh injury he’ll get a confidence boost here going up against Jacob Loko. The rookie centre will still be having nightmares after his tough introduction to the NRL against the Storm last week.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Jarryd Hayne will be seething after his substandard performance against State of Origin rival Billy Slater in Melbourne last Sunday.
Hayne has exploded after the State of Origin period in the past two years – but Parramatta can’t afford to wait another three months for him to awaken.
Origin selection is around the corner and the Hayne Plane could just be taxiing near the end of the runway readying for take-off.
The Bulldogs may try to avoid crossing in the corners if they can – they are the only side yet to land a sideline conversion in 2011.
Danger Sign: Daniel Mortimer could be primed for a big game in a bid to prove his worth up against Kris Keating, the man the Eels offloaded so they could afford to retain Mortimer.
The 21-year-old, who turned down a lucrative offer from Canterbury to stay with Parramatta, has shown glimpses of brilliance to start the year but has failed to produce a complete 80-minute performance.
He was unable to stop two Storm tries close to the Eels’ try line last week and will be steeled for a stiffer defensive effort. He’ll be out to settle a few scores in attack, too.
Plays To Watch: Bulldogs hooker Michael Ennis loves catching the defence napping with his close-range grubbers into the in-goal from dummy-half – the play saw Ben Barba cross for Canterbury’s only try against the Dragons at the SCG last Sunday; fortunately for the Eels, they are one of the best defenders of kicks in the NRL, conceding just two tries from five matches; Bulldogs wingers Steve Turner and Bryson Goodwin must be on red alert and resist the temptation to drift in-field in defence, or Jarryd Hayne will pounce on any lapse in concentration with his bullet-like cut-out passes to send his wingers over in the corner.
Where It Will Be Won: If Canterbury keep it simple and improve on their 22 from 36 completion rate from last week, they should have enough grunt in the pack and strike-power out wide to overcome the Eels.
However, limiting Hayne’s involvement is paramount. A victory in the battle of field possession for the Bulldogs will restrict Hayne’s presence and shut down the Eels’ most dangerous attacking weapon.
The big worry for the Bulldogs is that Hayne must be on the brink of busting loose – last year he made a team-high 17 line-breaks (11th in the NRL) but incredibly after five games this season he is yet to bust the line even once! He does have five try assists, signalling a shift in emphasis to helping create plays, but surely it’s just a matter of time before he unleashes a devastating run.
The Eels need to respect journeyman Bulldog Corey Payne, who is in peak career form. He was a standout against the Dragons last week, with 10 hit-ups, 20 tackles, three offloads and a tackle-break.
The History: Played 128; Bulldogs 66, Parramatta 57, drawn 5. Alarm bells are ringing for the blue-and-whites – Parramatta have won seven of their past eight games against the Bulldogs, all at ANZ Stadium.
Conclusion: After starting the year off on such a high, the Bulldogs have come plummeting back to the pack over the past fortnight with losses to the Storm and Dragons.
Fundamental errors cost them last weekend and a repeat of their ill-disciplined performance could open the door for a Parramatta upset.
But if the Bulldogs can play an error-free game and grind the Eels out of the match early, they should cruise to victory.
Even allowing for Jarryd Hayne’s brilliance, Parramatta don’t have the all-round attacking strike-power to come from behind and must play from in front if they are any chance of snaring a victory.
Take the Bulldogs by eight points.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Steve Clark
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.