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Eels v Roosters
Parramatta Stadium
Friday 7.35pm
Can the Eels surge away from the wooden spoon danger zone with a spirited display in their final home game for 2011, or will defeat – and victories by the Titans and Raiders – see Parramatta exit Round 25 guaranteed the ‘prize’ every NRL player dreads?

Just a fortnight ago, hot on the heels of the latest Todd Carney drama, the Roosters were in the mix for the wooden spoon – but back-to-back victories over the Dragons and Sharks have removed them from further scrutiny. On the other hand, the spotlight is now firmly on the Eels – for all the wrong reasons. Six stuttering losses in a row leave them vulnerable to their first last-placed premiership finish since 1972. Gulp. 

The Eels’ latest faux pas came against the Wests Tigers, losing 31-12; they trailed 16-nil at halftime, rallied to close within four points before a Jarryd Hayne defensive lapse saw Tigers centre Blake Ayshford run 40 metres to effectively seal the contest with his second four-pointer of the game with 20 minutes remaining.

Meanwhile the Roosters followed up their Dragon-slaying Round 23 effort with a rousing comeback win over the Sharks at home last week. The tricolours trailed by seven points inside the final 10 minutes before the Sharks imploded to leak three late tries and go down 36-25.

Eels coach Stephen Kearney has stuck solid with the 17 that fell to the Tigers. Meanwhile Roosters’ coach Brian Smith has named Lama Tasi to start at prop for the suspended Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Tinirau Arona rejoins their interchange bench.

It’s a milestone week for Eels’ winger Chris Hicks who will make his 200th NRL appearance.

Should the Roosters win it will be the first time they’ve achieved a hat-trick against the blue-and-golds since 2000.

Watch Out Eels: Now they’ve avoided the wooden spoon expect the Roosters to chance their arm in attack with a more relaxed attitude. When they play with confidence there’s no more entertaining team. They have an abundance of power and speed out wide in the form of Shaun Kenny-Dowall, Sam Perrett and Anthony Minichiello, while halves Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta have clicked in Carney’s latest misdemeanour-forced absence. Minichiello and Perrett were almost unstoppable against the Sharks, making 187 metres and 11 tackle breaks and 175 metres and nine tackle-breaks respectively. Kenny-Dowall was responsible for the match-winner, offloading to Minichiello near the try line.

Danger Sign: If the Roosters get on a roll the Eels could find it difficult to get too many attacking opportunities inside the Roosters’ red zone – the Eels concede the second most metres each week (1417). They need to make their intentions clear from the start and bustle the Roosters’ forwards.

Watch Out Roosters: Last year’s ‘Hayne Plane’ has looked quite the ‘Plain Hayne’ for a good deal of 2011 – but there’s no escaping Jarryd Hayne is one of the most talented attacking footballers in the world and capable of running riot here. Hayne isn’t running the ball anywhere near as much as he used to when he played fullback but he’s still tallied 20 line-break assists, which ranks him second behind only Johnathan Thurston and Benji Marshall. The Parramatta unit just needs to be more willing in support play to ensure their limited line-breaks provide a result.  

Danger Sign: If props Fuifui Moimoi and Tim Mannah can fracture the Roosters up the middle it will give Hayne some breathing space to manufacture quality plays, rather than forcing them. Moimoi loves to get his hands on the ball early in sets (averaging 136 metres, with 332 hit-ups) and Mannah has been a willing companion, adding 124 hard metres a game.

Plays To Watch: Anything Jarryd Hayne does; Nathan Hindmarsh’s tireless defence (his 1090 tackles is the NRL benchmark); Shaun Kenny-Dowall punching down the right flank; Jason Ryles continuing his rejuvenation (he scored a rare try against the Dragons and last week pumped out 18 hit-ups for 175 metres with three offloads in just 54 minutes). 

Where It Will Be Won: Attack will be king in this clash and if the Eels are to prevail they’ll need breakout performances from all their stars. To date Parramatta’s attack has been uninspiring; indeed they’d find it tough to bust a wet paper bag at the moment. Their average 3.1 line-breaks are the second fewest in the league, while they surrender 4.6 a game, the fourth most. In last week’s loss to the Tigers they surrendered seven.

The Eels also make the fewest offloads, with just 7.9 a game (the Roosters are more care-free, making 12 a game). 
The Roosters should play with great width and won’t be afraid to keep the plays going. The Eels have to not only blunt that but also come up with some counter-attack to set the tricolours back on their heels. 

The History: Played 121; Eels 59, Roosters 57, drawn 5. The Eels have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides – although the Roosters have won three of the past four, including a 48-12 thrashing at Parramatta Stadium in Round 21 last year. The Roosters have an excellent record at Parramatta Stadium, winning 10 of 19 matches.

Conclusion: Parramatta is a proud club and the prospect of a wooden spoon won’t sit well with all concerned. Just a few weeks ago the Roosters were in the same boat but an attitudinal shift clawed them away from the danger zone. It’s entirely likely we’ll see more of a ‘mongrel’ Eels unit this week – if they can pull off the requisite attacking plays to go with the aggression they just might climb over the Roosters.

The danger for them is they may think they’ve done enough to avert the spotlight from them. Eels by eight points in a bruising affair.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am Saturday.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.