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Parramatta Eels v Warriors
Parramatta Stadium
Monday 7pm (AEDT)

Eels fans have their fingers and toes crossed that Jarryd Hayne can make a difference to their team’s timid attack should the superstar gain a late clearance and make his season debut against last year’s runners-up the Warriors on Monday night.

Hayne was a disappointing withdrawal from the side that competed strongly against the Broncos last Friday, watching from the sidelines as coach Stephen Kearney opted to give his annoying knee strain more recuperation time before testing it in the cauldron of NRL battle. Hayne has again been left out of the Eels’ 17 this week – although he remains some chance of taking the field should he pass a medical test at the weekend.   

Without Hayne the Eels struggled to make much of an impression against the Broncos and only got on the scoreboard when Chris Sandow kicked, chased and regathered the spoils of Bronco Gerard Beale’s error. If not Hayne, they definitely need someone to rally them.

This week the Eels meet the attacking might of last year’s premiership runners-up, themselves coming off the back of a disappointing home loss to Manly in a rematch of last October’s enthralling decider. Last week’s clash was similarly captivating, with the Warriors rushing back from an early 18-nil deficit to trail the premiers 22-20 with 11 minutes to play before Glenn Stewart crossed to snuff out their revival in the dying stages.

All of the Warriors’ stars stepped up to the plate, with Shaun Johnson in particular a standout.

This week the side will field a new centres combination, with Krisnan Inu named to replace Jerome Ropati who will be sidelined for three weeks with an ankle injury, while Konrad Hurrell will start the game with utility Ben Henry joining the bench. Coach Brian McClennan’s only other change sees Sione Lousi start at prop with Russell Packer benched.

Meanwhile with Hayne’s name missing from the Parramatta team sheet coach Stephen Kearney has opted to make just one personnel change, with Rene Maitua to start at lock and Justin Horo reverting to the bench. He’s added Pat O’Hanlon and Joseph Paulo to the interchange, too.

This week presents the intriguing prospect of the current New Zealand national coach Kearney going up against the man he succeeded, Brian McClennan, in their first head-to-head contest.

The Eels are clinging to hope they can maintain their proud history in early season games – they haven’t lost the opening two clashes of a new season in 54 years.

Watch Out Eels: Livewire halfback Shaun Johnson dived into 2012 in a big way, setting up three Warriors tries last week as well as scoring one himself. Johnson also contributed five tackle-breaks, two offloads and a line-break. He was a constant threat when drifting across-field inside the Sea Eagles’ 20-metre zone; showing the ball inside and out, the defence was never really sure where the Steeden would end up, or if in fact Johnson would run himself… which he did with devastating effect.

Big Manu Vatuvei might still have some issues in defence (seven missed tackles, the most by any player last round) but there’s no denying his impact with the ball in hand. ‘The Beast’ made 10 tackle-breaks and two line-breaks and will trouble Parramatta right winger Cheyse Blair.

Danger Sign: Rookie Konrad Hurrell presents an unknown challenge for the Eels. The youngster looked at home against the Sea Eagles last week, making 14 runs for a game-high 154 metres. He will pose a threat for Ryan Morgan running down the left edge; worryingly Morgan missed four tackles last week.

Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors actually had more possession than the Sea Eagles last week but squandered that advantage with a high error count (19) and plenty of missed tackles (44, the most by any side). A repeat here would give the Eels a shot at walking away with the competition points.

Jarryd Hayne was a one-stop shop in attack for the Eels in 2011, ranking equal No.1 in the NRL for try assists (24) and third for line-break assists (23). But he failed to make too many inroads himself, adding just five line-breaks after tallying 17 in 2010 and a whopping 32 in 2009.   

Danger Sign: If he plays, Hayne will most likely suit up at fullback – and a return to the wider spaces there should see him back to his damaging best. If Hayne makes a break in the first 40 minutes just watch the Eels soar in confidence.

Nathan Hindmarsh v Feleti Mateo: With ‘Hindy’ you know what you’re going to get week in, week out: solid go-forward backed up by phenomenal defence. The Eels’ skipper hit the ground running last week with 15 hit-ups for 124 metres and backed it up with an incredible 51 tackles (second most in the comp). Meanwhile Mateo was a little quiet in attack last week with just one offload. If Hindmarsh can help to contain his former Eels team-mate it will be a huge boost to the home side’s chances.

Where It Will Be Won: On the scoreboard – and on that count the Warriors must be red-hot favourites. It doesn’t look like a lot has changed for Parramatta since last year: they were the only side that failed to make a line-break last week and their six points were the fewest apart from the scoreless Cowboys. Plus they made the fewest offloads (just two) and the fewest tackle-breaks (15). Makes you wonder how they only managed to lose by 12…

The History: Played 29; Eels 17, Warriors 12. The Warriors hold the recent ascendancy winning five of the past eight – although Parramatta’s record at home is strong (9-3).

The Last Time They Met: Parramatta held off a late Warriors surge to win 24-18 in Auckland in Round 1 last year. The Eels raced to a 14-nil lead after 30 minutes when Jarryd Hayne collected a right-edge bomb to score before Jerome Ropati, shifted from centre to wing, struck back in the left corner shortly before halftime for a 14-6 score-line at oranges. Two tries to Luke Burt put the game beyond the Warriors’ reach at 24-6 after 59 minutes. Ropati crossed for his second try with a stunning finish in the 65th minute and Lewis Brown crossed to bridge the gap to six points and send a rush of nerves through Eels fans with eight minutes remaining – but it was too little, too late. Eels fullback Hayne starred with a try and two try assists plus 146 metres, while the Warriors were well served by fullback Lance Hohaia (two try assists) and Ropati (124 metres, two line-breaks).

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Chris Butler; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins.

The Way We See It: A lot depends on whether Hayne plays… or not. We know Eels fans will hate to hear it but every week he’s missing will only reinforce the argument that they don’t have the firepower to make any sort of dint in oppositions without him. If he doesn’t play they need towering performances from the likes of Sandow, Ben Roberts and Fuifui Moimoi – who was disappointingly mild last week with just 26 minutes and one tackle-break. Even if Hayne does play the Warriors should have their measure. They get our nod by eight points.  

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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