Eels v Rabbitohs preview

Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

Talk about reversal of fortune: the last time these sides met Chris Sandow helped engineer South Sydney’s biggest win over the Eels – now he’s desperate to keep the flame flickering on Parramatta’s revival and help lift the beleaguered club away from wooden spoon contention with a victory over his former team-mates.

Parramatta finally gave their suffering fans and under-the-pump coach Stephen Kearney some reasons to be cheerful with a stirring comeback win over top-four side Cronulla before their bye last week – although a minor concern is that Sandow was largely a passenger throughout the victory. Still, nothing sparks passion and a form turnaround quite like suiting up against former team-mates.

Meanwhile Souths rested their bumps and bruises with a bye of their own last week (their second), following a competitive 23-18 loss to the Bulldogs in Round 13. The defeat severed a four-game winning streak and saw the Rabbitohs drop to seventh place on ladder. With a tough game against the Broncos scheduled next week coach Michael Maguire will have impressed upon his charges the importance of keeping complacency at bay.

Stephen Kearney will be sweating on Jarryd Hayne coming through Wednesday’s Origin game unscathed, while Maguire is banking on dynamic Maroons duo Greg Inglis and Dave Taylor being able to back up quickly.  

The move to ANZ Stadium won’t exactly do the Eels any favours, given they’ve lost their past six matches played at Homebush.

Not surprisingly Stephen Kearney has stuck firm with the squad that got the job done against the Sharks, with Taulima Tautai added as 18th man.

Meanwhile Sam Burgess’ injury sees Chris McQueen promoted to start in Souths’ second row. Scott Geddes rejoins the pack, starting at prop, with Dave Tyrrell benched.  Ben Lowe, Nathan Peats and Jason Clark are the new faces on their extended interchange.

Watch Out Eels: One stirring comeback win does not a season make. Yes the Eels stormed home with 23 unanswered points in the second half to blindside the Sharks, but they were aided by some simply dreadful defence from the visitors who dropped off 25 tackles alone after halftime. Souths will offer a more consistent front in defence. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Parramatta concede the most points and tries in 2012…

Nathan Merritt still has the grin on his face after his five-try effort the last time these sides met. Merritt will be hoping to rev up his year against the Eels: he has crossed for just two tries in his five games but he has broken opposition defences open on three occasions. Back to the right wing he’ll savour testing the Eels’ left-edge defence that has leaked 26 tries so far (third most by any team).

Greg Inglis scored two tries against the Eels while playing in the centres last meeting but he’ll pose an even great threat from fullback, where he leads the NRL for line-breaks (14 so far). With the Eels conceding the most line-breaks overall (averaging 5.2), Inglis could dominate.

Danger Sign: Just watch hooker Issac Luke run rings around the Eels out of dummy-half. The No.9 ripped their centre-field defence apart last meeting, making 13 runs from dummy-half and totalling 176 metres with a try assist, eight tackle-breaks and a game-high four offloads. Luke has been in stunning form in 2012 and has run a staggering 154 times from dummy-half – 54 runs more than second-highest runner Cameron Smith. Luke leads all hookers for scoots (15.7), line-break assists (10), tackle-breaks (49) and offloads (24). The Rabbitohs will be pushing each other out of the way to be first in line as his support.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Parramatta actually hold an advantage in the territory stakes, making 1308 metres each match compared to the Rabbitohs’ 1280 metres. This is largely due to the accurate boots of Chris Sandow and Jarryd Hayne, who are kicking to open space a high 60 per cent of the time (fourth best return in the comp). Meanwhile Souths lean mostly on halfback Adam Reynolds who is 48 per cent accurate. If he has an off night the Eels could swamp the Rabbitohs for field position.

Ken Sio has been a find for the Eels in 2012; the right winger has made nine line-breaks and scored six tries. Those numbers indicate Jarryd Hayne will look to him often.

Danger Sign: Any time Hayne gets the ball at first or second receiver inside the Rabbitohs’ 20-metre zone they should be alert to his no-look cut-out pass to the flanks, or his step inside the defence and dash to the try line. Hayne has made 41 tackle busts so far – he needs just one more for 700 in his career.

Chris Sandow v Adam Reynolds: Past the midpoint of the season Chris Sandow has yet to take a game by the scruff of the neck for Parra – like he did on a regular basis when he played in the red and green. However, the No.7 will channel his last outing against his new club when he scored a try, had a hand in several others and made two line-breaks. He could gain some confidence through success down the right edge, with the Souths’ left-side defence leaking a high 19 tries so far. It’s also Sandow’s and the Eels’ preferred side to attack. Stats reveal former Souths halfbacks have an undefeated record against their old club when they cross the try line. Perhaps a fifth try for the season would see Sandow and the Eels victorious?

Meanwhile Adam Reynolds will be focussed on reminding Souths fans they’re actually a whole lot better off with him in the No.7 this year – the rookie has served his coach and team-mates admirably, making seven try assists and tallying 89 points to date. That’s just three points shy of the club record for a No. 7 that Sandow set midway through last season. Also, Reynolds is missing 2.6 tackles a game, compared to the 5.8 misses Sandow made in the No.7 last year.

Where It Will Be Won: Defusing all manner of attacking kicks. Parramatta have the most trouble defending kicks, with just a 63 per cent success rate. The Rabbitohs aren’t far off them, with a 68 per cent rate (third worst). So far Parramatta have conceded 16 tries to kicks (most) while the Rabbitohs have leaked 12. On those stats expect Chris Sandow and Adam Reynolds to put the ball to boot often.    

The History: Played 114; Rabbitohs 61, Eels 50, drawn 3. The honours are shared four games apiece from the past eight clashes although the Rabbitohs have sung the team song on the past three occasions. Parramatta won’t get much advantage playing this ‘home’ game at ANZ Stadium, with Souths winning five of eight clashes held there, with one draw.

The Last Time They Met: The Eels suffered their biggest ever defeat to the Rabbitohs when thrashed 56-6 at ANZ Stadium in Round 22 last year.

Souths ran in six tries in the opening 35 minutes – including a hat-trick to fullback Nathan Merritt – to lead 36-nil at halftime. Merritt bagged two more tries in the second 40 to equal the record for the most tries by any Rabbitoh in a single premiership game.

The sole joy for Eels fans came when their fullback Luke Burt crossed in the 55th minute.

Nine Rabbitohs players made more than 100 metres during the game as South Sydney monstered the Eels in the territory stakes, carving out 1774 metres to 1146 metres. They dominated line-breaks 11-2 and were required to make 81 fewer tackles.

Souths were unstoppable in broken play, making 663 metres out wide, while they eroded the Eels up the guts with almost 200 metres gained out of dummy-half.

Dave Taylor was a wrecking ball, making 136 metres with eight tackle-breaks, a try assist, two line-breaks and two offloads.

Five-eighth Jarryd Hayne set up Parramatta’s try, while hooker Matt Keating tried hard to ignite the Eels with four offloads.

Match Officials: Referees – Brett Suttor & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Nick Beashel; Video Referee – Pat Reynolds.

The Way We See It: Sorry Eels fans but until your side shows some consistency it’s tough to get on board the ‘Hayne Train’. Souths have more consistent form and deserve to be hot favourites. Rabbitohs by 10 points.   

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats