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Eels v Sharks
Paramatta Stadium
Monday 7pm
The final match-up of this reduced round sees the Sharks venture to Sydney’s western suburbs, with both teams languishing on just three wins from nine starts. The situation is slightly more dire for the Eels who have easily the worst points differential in the league (-118) while Cronulla have been losing some close ones and are just 31 points in arrears.

Each will sense this as a potential opportunity against another lower-ladder team to stay in touch with the top eight: the eighth-placed Tigers are just two points clear at this stage. But a couple more losses could see either of these teams left with a huge uphill path.

Cronulla are coming off a great team win at home to the Roosters, but a huge part of this team is inspirational skipper Paul Gallen, who will be sitting this one out in Origin camp with the Blues. With prop Kade Snowden also on state duty, Josh Cordoba will start in the front row, while Taulima Tautai moves into lock for Gallen. Hooker Paul Aiton is also out with an ankle injury, although John Morris makes a timely return from injury to start in his place. The new faces on the pine are Johnny Mannah, Broderick Wright and Tyson Frizell.

With the perhaps surprising omission of Jarryd Hayne from the Blues’ squad, the Eels lose only front-rower Tim Mannah to Origin duties. Shane Shackleton will start in his place and Carl Webb makes his second appearance in the blue-and-gold after recovering from an ankle injury. Centre Joel Reddy looks like he will be missing for an extended period with a pectoral injury, with Ryan Morgan his replacement.

Home ground favourite Luke Burt will play his 100th match at Parramatta Stadium, where he is the all-time leading tryscorer (59) and pointscorer (808). Only fellow Eels legends, Nathans Cayless and Hindmarsh, have played more matches here for the Eels. Burt will be hoping to celebrate with a converted try, which would see him both equal Steve Ella as the only Eels to post nine tries against the Sharks, and join Mick Cronin (126) as the only Eels to notch a century of points against the boys from the Shire.

Watch Out Eels: Scott Porter became the Sharks’ third halfback used this season when he played his first game of 2011, and he made a pretty decent return to first grade. The Cronulla-Caringbah junior had a strong day with the boot, kicking 16 times for a huge 514 metres, including a precision cross-field bomb for debutant winger Stewart Mills to score.

This week Porter returns to the ground where he made a successful NRL debut two seasons ago in a 13-10 victory over the Eels. Porter kicked off his career with a four-match winning streak, but that was followed by 15 straight losses over almost two years – a streak only broken by last week’s victory. Now that that run has been broken, will Porter’s boot again guide the Sharks to victory at Parramatta Stadium?

Danger Sign: If the Sharks get some repeat sets close to the Eels’ line watch for Porter to hoist a few cross-field bombs – he tasted success with it last week, plus the Eels have defused just four of 11 this year.

Watch Out Sharks: Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne is a man with a point to prove. After admitting he was “shocked” by his omission from the Blues’ 18-man squad, it is now up to Hayne to try to make an irresistible case for a recall later in the Origin series.

That mission starts here, with Hayne coming off what was surely his best game of the season, despite the Eels’ loss. The Parramatta custodian recorded a stunning six line-break assists and a try as the Eels raced out to a 26-10 lead before being overrun. 

Those assists were the result of a well-developed passing game and included a beautiful flat ball close to the line to put Reddy over. It doubled his season tally of line-break assists to 12, leapfrogging Benji Marshall (11) into second on that list, behind only Johnathan Thurston (18).

Hayne has a tendency to lift for Origin and bring that form back to Parramatta with him. But what will happen when he has to watch it from his lounge room instead? Eels fans will be hoping New South Wales’ loss is Parramatta’s gain.

Danger Sign: New South Wales coach Ricky Stuart says Hayne is more of a five-eighth than a fullback. Hayne may not agree, but his silky passing close to the line would do any playmaker proud. When those flat cut-out balls get going the Sharks need to slide in defence and not get caught flat-footed because Hayne knows how to put any runner through a hole.

Plays To Watch: More big minutes, big runs and big hits from Fuifui Moimoi; Sharks forwards Anthony Tupou and Luke Douglas to step into the breach left by Gallen and Snowden; Casey McGuire’s darting runs from dummy-half; aggressive running and tackling from in-form Sharks centre Ben Pomeroy (two tries last week); a powerful burst late in the first half from Carl Webb; plenty of long kicks and bombs from Scott Porter.

Where It Will Be Won: Attitude in defence. Cronulla showed what they can do last week when they get that right. By keeping the Roosters to just one try in 80 minutes their 18 points was enough for a victory – a victory that was only sealed in the last five minutes. It wasn’t just Gallen either, the team stood firm across the park. This attitude was epitomised by fullback Isaac Gordon, who in the 73rd minute with the game on the line bundled a flying Tom Symonds over the sideline despite giving away a significant size advantage.

Parramatta showed us the other side of the coin – despite their attack finally clicking into gear, catapulting them to a 26-10 lead in the 50th minute, their defence fell apart as the Cowboys posted eight line-breaks, 30 tackle-breaks and 30 points in the final half hour. When you’ve scored the least amount of tries of any team this year, as the Eels have, you can’t afford to be falling apart in defence when you do get some points on the board.

The History: Played 73; Cronulla 39, Parramatta 34. The boys from the Shire have had the wood over the blue-and-golds recently, winning five of the past six match-ups. Parra’s one win in that period was a 30-0 drubbing during their golden run in late 2009, but you have to go back to 2006 for their previous win over the Sharks.

Also, Cronulla have won seven of nine night matches at Parramatta Stadium, of which eight have been decided by eight points or less. In 19 matches at the ground the Sharks have 12 wins and the Eels seven.

Conclusion: With Cronulla’s dominant record at Parramatta Stadium there is certainly no home-ground advantage to speak of, and Cronulla played a better team game last week. But the absence of Paul Gallen is massive – he has been at the centre of everything for the Sharks this year and they will need a huge boost from the rest of the pack to cover for him and Snowden. 

With the Eels’ attack finally sparking into life last week and Jarryd Hayne out to prove a point, the Eels should be able to get across the line.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Steve Chiddy; Video Ref – Pat Reynolds.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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