Eels v Tigers preview

Parramatta Eels v Wests Tigers
Parramatta Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Parramatta coach Stephen Kearney has bitten the bullett and dropped under-fire halfback Chris Sandow back to the NSW Cup, where the star recruit will run out for Wentworthville this weekend in a bid to find some form. Casey McGuire replaces Sandow in the halves this week.

Certainly the last-placed Eels, with a 1-6 record and coming off the back of successive losses, need a jumpstart to their season which is in danger of flat-lining even at this early stage. In particular their attack needs to go from pedestrian to excitement machine in a hurry – points-wise the Eels are experiencing their worst season since 1993 (just 13 a game).

The good news is they face off against the opponent they have enjoyed more success against than any other – they’ve beaten the Wests Tigers in almost two-thirds of their 24 clashes.

Nonetheless the 13th-placed Tigers will be buoyed by their 30-point whitewash of the Panthers and will be hoping for a ‘quick kill’ here to catapult them back to the periphery of the top eight.

In other team changes, Eels veteran Luke Burt is back in the fold this week, with winger Cheyse Blair shifting to centre to cover for the injured Esi Tonga. Their only other variation to last week’s 17 sees Tim Mannah start at prop with Fuifui Moimoi to be injected off the bench.

Tim Sheens has made just one alteration to his squad, with Junior Moors making way for the return of Matt Groat on the bench.

Watch Out Eels: Prolific tryscorer and former Eel Joel Reddy will be hoping to transfer his prowess to his new Tigers jersey: the centre scored 18 tries in just 35 games at Parramatta Stadium in his seven years in the gold and blue. Reddy has two tries in five games for the Tigers but is really making his presence felt creating second phase, leading the team with 10 so far.

Benji Marshall will be licking his lips at the prospect of putting a team-mate through close to the Eels’ try line. Marshall was back to his best last start against the Panthers, contributing three try assists and two line-breaks. But it’s the statistics that show Parramatta’s vulnerability to opposition playmakers that would be his greatest source of joy – the Eels have let in a competition-high 13 tries from opposition passes. Marshall ranks second behind Cooper Cronk for try assists (with 11) and second for line-break assists (with eight – all of which have come from passes).

Danger Sign: The Eels had better get ready for a Benji assault, especially his no-look passes hitting runners like Adam Blair or Liam Fulton. Parra have conceded the most tries inside their 10-metre zone by far, with 22 put past them (five more than next worst Canberra).

Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Tigers shouldn’t get complacent when kicking ‘down-town’ – although Parramatta have tallied the fewest line-breaks of all they have recorded the most line-breaks from a kick-return (three). And the Tigers have tallied the second-fewest ‘good chases’ of kicks. Need we say it – fullback (at least this week) Jarryd Hayne’s the Eels’ danger man (four tries, four line-breaks, two line-break assists and two try assists).

Elsewhere, hooker Matt Keating will fancy having a dig from close to the try line given the Tigers have leaked a competition-high five tries from dummy-half.

Danger Sign: They may have scored just three tries from kicks but the Eels could do worse than go to the air on the flanks given the Tigers are defusing cross-field bombs just 50 per cent of the time. That’s a better chance of a return than ‘odd’ or ‘evens’ on a roulette wheel…

Fuifui Moimoi v Keith Galloway: A battle between two fearsome front-rowers slowly warming back to form.

It’s no surprise that when Moimoi is advancing the Eels find their groove in attack. The Parramatta cult hero ranked second among props for territory in 2011 with 137 metres a week and his 57 punishing tackle busts were the third most in his position. Yes, he’s been struggling for momentum but the signs are there he’s on the brink of a standout showing, averaging 98 metres so far. Expect his five tackle busts to escalate dramatically over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile Galloway made the Four Nations squad last year on the back of solid service (110 metres and 19 offloads). He revved up against the Panthers in only his third game in 2012, adding 104 metres. He has just two offloads on his stats sheet but is capable of a brace here.

The pair love facing off: last time they met Moimoi made 132 metres from 13 hit-ups and Galloway 142 metres from 15 hit-ups.  

Where It Will Be Won: Posting points. Forget that both sides are doing it tough in defence, with the Tigers missing the second-most tackles in the comp (35) and the Eels close behind with 32 misses every 80 minutes – they’re both doing it even tougher in attack! It will all boil down to which unit can make their passes stick and come up with the requisite razzle-dazzle to stay ahead of their opponent on the scoreboard.

Consider this: the Tigers make the fewest metres each week (1163 metres), make the second-fewest line-breaks (3.1) and concede the most line-line-breaks (5.6). Meanwhile the Eels score the fewest points, tries, and make the fewest line busts (three).

The History: Played 24; Eels 15, Wests Tigers 8, drawn 1. The honours are even four games apiece from the past eight clashes. The Eels won the most recent contest at Parramatta Stadium (22-6 last year) and hold an 8-4 advantage at the ground.

The Last Time They Met: The Wests Tigers won 31-12 at Allianz Stadium in Round 24 last year, their sixth consecutive win in a nine-victory streak towards the back end of 2011.

The home side had the contest in control when they led 16-nil at halftime following tries to Blake Ayshford, Matthew Utai and Benji Marshall inside the 27-minute mark. But the Eels rallied after the break, bridging the scoreline to 16-12 through tries to Chris Hicks and Ben Smith and with still almost half an hour of play left.

However, a poor one-on-one defensive effort from Jarryd Hayne on opposition centre Ayshford saw the Tiger brush aside his opponent and race 50 metres to score his second try of the game and give the home side a comfortable 22-12 buffer. A penalty and field-goal built on their lead before Benji Marshall looped a wonderful cut-out pass for Beau Ryan to ice their cake.

Missed tackles killed the Eels – they missed a whopping 50 on the afternoon and conceded seven line busts to the red-hot Tigers who were best served by fullback Tim Moltzen (173 metres, a try assist and eight tackle-breaks) and five-eighth Marshall who ran 114 metres and broke six tackles.

Jarryd Hayne contributed two try assists for the Eels but missed six important tackles – while centre Justin Horo was a turnstile in defence, missing 10 tackles.

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Russell Turner; Video Referee – Steve Clark.

The Way We See It: We expect a more spirited display from Parramatta but the Tigers finally rediscovered how to make the ball sing for them in attack when totally dominating the Panthers last round. If they retain that level of confidence they’ll be tough to topple. Wests Tigers by eight points.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats