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Eels v Broncos
Parramatta Stadium
Friday 7.45pm

Parramatta will never get a better chance to take down the Broncos – and it’s a good thing too, as they are desperate for a win in this shortened-round encounter.

Having fallen to back-to-back losses off the bye a few weeks ago the Eels have sunk to 13th on the NRL ladder and are quickly running out of time to make their charge towards a possible finals berth. They will probably need to win at least eight of their final 10 matches to have a chance at the finals – still possible, but highly unlikely given their inconsistency.

But rather than having to face a full-strength Broncos who despite their loss to South Sydney in the wet in Perth last week still sit nicely in fifth, the Eels get to take on the Brisbane boys without their quintet of Queensland stars.

Sure, they will be without their Blues duo of Jarryd Hayne and Tim Mannah too, but they get home ground advantage against a more-depleted opponent.  It is the perfect chance for them to start a run – and perhaps channel the memories of 2009.

With Hayne assisting the Blues’ Origin cause Luke Burt shifts from the wing to fullback and Etu Uaisele comes onto the flank. Centre Ryan Morgan is out with a minor hamstring tear, allowing Chris Walker to return (despite posting on twitter that he’d retire if the Blues won Origin II).  

With Mannah away and focused on Wednesday night Mitchell Allgood steps up to start at prop. Two new interchange players are in the mix – Manase Manuokafoa and former international Reni Maitua find themselves on an extended bench hoping for their first NRL game of the year.

The Broncos obviously have major changes from the side beaten by Souths in the wet in Perth. Justin Hodges, Darren Lockyer, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Ben Hannant are all suiting up for Queensland in the decider, leaving the Broncos’ depth to be tested.

Gerard Beale moves from wing to centre with Dane Gagai taking his wing spot. Corey Norman once again will try his best to replace Lockyer at five-eighth, while Nick Kenny returns to the team as a starting prop.

Dunamis Lui gets a start at second row and Matt Gillett will wear the No.13 jersey at lock forward.

Andrew McCullough, Ben Hunt (both back from a one-week club suspension for alcohol misdemeanours) and Mitchell Dodds are the new faces on the bench this week.

Watch Out Eels: It would appear the Broncos have a few attacking moves they like to use from outside the usual ‘green zone’ and it could seriously spell trouble for the Eels. The Brisbane boys are one of the best teams in the NRL at scoring from between 21 and 50 metres of the tryline, having posted 11 tries this year from this distance. What might just have them even more poised to unleash in this region is the fact the Eels have leaked 14 tries from this same range to be one of the worst defensive teams in the competition in this section of the field.  

Danger Sign: Lockyer and Hodges might be missing but expect Peter Wallace to try to orchestrate the plays usually triggered by the Origin pair. Watch for the side to run the ball on the last tackle from this distance. Also watch for quick switches back to blind side corridors looking to create an overlap and take advantage of lazy defenders.

Watch Out Broncos: One Eel who will be extra-keen to impress will be former Bronco Casey McGuire. It is the first time he’ll play against the Broncos, with his last match for the Queensland club coming in their 2006 grand final win over the Storm. The utility is still finding his feet at five-eighth for the Eels but seems set for a break-out performance at some point... perhaps this is it. He has two line-breaks, two tries and two try assists but knows he needs to provide much more to get the home side rolling in attack. Watch for him to run the ball more in the absence of Hayne, forcing defenders to commit his way.

Danger Sign: It’s all about the running game. McGuire won’t have Hayne to compete with making calls in this match so he’ll get the chance to back his instincts. If he is prepared to take the game by the scruff of the neck the Eels will benefit. If he takes a back seat and watches it all unfold they might be listening to a victory song emanating from the other sheds.

Plays To Watch: Matt Keating having a crack from dummy-half, Ben Smith hitting the edges; Alex Glenn taking charge on the left edge; Peter Wallace’s show-and-go near the line.

Where It Will Be Won: In 80-minute application. The last time the baby Broncos came out to play was in Round 14 against Canberra in Brisbane. The side blasted out to a 24-0 lead and had the match seemingly in the bag with 20 minutes to go but inexperience allowed the Raiders to storm back. History shows the Green Machine went on a 10-minute rampage to tie the match up at 24-all before losing to a field goal in golden point.

This match will be about playing committed football for the full 80. When experienced players are missing from teams there is no-one to show a steady hand during the periods of games that are most crucial. The likes of Lockyer and Hayne can speed up or perhaps more importantly, slow down the tempo of a match to ensure the opposition doesn’t get on a momentum flow that can be hard to break. In this encounter it will be up to the 13 players on the field at the one time to pull their weight… the superstars aren’t there to bust the game open.

It will come down to disciplined football. The Broncos are completing at 76 per cent so far this year, the Eels 74 per cent. It comes as no surprise that the Eels’ four victories have all come off the back of superior error counts. Their mission here is clear: hang onto the footy!

The History: Played 42; Eels 16, Broncos 25, drawn 1. Parramatta have won two of the past three and four of the past seven games between the clubs, despite being behind on the all-time ledger. In saying that, the Broncos certainly don’t mind coming to Parramatta, having won 13 of 18 games between the teams at the venue, scoring 400 points in the process (22.2 a game). To balance this the Eels have won six of their past seven home games against Queensland-based opponents. The biggest wins against each other (46 points) came at Parramatta Stadium also – The Eels won 68-22 in 2007 while the Broncos won 60-14 in 1995.

Conclusion: The beauty for the Broncos here is they come in with little expectation and can therefore certainly ambush an Eels side that is expected to win. Both teams are under-strength but if the Eels are to give their fans any hope it has to start with victory here.

If Parramatta turn it on like they did against the Dragons and Manly in recent weeks, rather than switch off with an insipid effort such as last week’s miserable effort against Canberra, then they should take the points.

But the Broncs aren’t a team of nobodies. The young stars have tasted plenty of top-grade footy and are certainly good enough if the application is there. This game is too close to call; maybe the home ground advantage will be enough.

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Phil Haines; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.