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Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels
ANZ Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Canterbury have their eyes firmly on the minor premiership prize given the huge opportunity that’s opened up for them following the Storm’s shock loss to the Raiders last Saturday.

However, despite this week’s Rivalry Round opponent’s miserable form in 2012 Des Hasler will be drumming home the importance of avoiding complacency or else they could squander their chance of holding aloft the JJ Giltinan Shield at ANZ Stadium after their Round 26 clash with the Roosters.

The Bulldogs dug deep to put away the Tigers in the final 12 minutes of their battle at Allianz Stadium last Friday, winning 32-20 after the scores were locked at 20-all late in proceedings. The victory, their sixth in succession, elevated them to second place on the NRL ladder just a win behind the Storm – although the Melbournians also still hold a 37-points differential advantage. Clearly the ’Dogs can’t afford to let the wheels fall off their wagon this weekend or else their regrets could be many.

Parramatta’s tale of woe in 2012 continued last weekend when they were thumped 40-24 by the Sea Eagles at Brookvale Oval – their ninth loss from their past 11 matches and a defeat that left them with no chance of making the semi-finals even if they were to win all of their final eight matches. A blitzkrieg of 34 unanswered points in the first half left the Eels an insurmountable second-half task – although they showed spirit to rally to dominate the second stanza. But consolation pats on the back appear to be the best they can muster as they stagger towards the end of a truly horrendous year with the wooden spoon an ominous probability the deeper the season goes.

’Dogs coach Des Hasler has made just the one change to his unit: Greg Eastwood, a late withdrawal last week, has again been named to start at lock, with David Stagg reverting to an extended interchange that numbers five at this stage.

In Parramatta personnel changes, centre Cheyse Blair makes way for Ryan Morgan (Blair missed a team-high seven tackles last week). Prop Justin Poore is out with a calf strain, with Fuifui Moimoi slated to start up front and Nathan Hindmarsh dropping back to the second row to cover for the suspended Ben Smith. Reni Maitua will start at lock against his old team, while Nathan Smith retains the hooker jersey for Matt Keating who is out for the season with a bulging disc.

It should be an intriguing back end to the second half – the Bulldogs have let through just two tries in the final 15 minutes of games this season. During the same period the Eels have scored 17 tries, the most by any team.  

It’s a milestone week for new Bulldog Sam Perrett who plays his 150th NRL game, while  Eel Chris Sandow is poised to join the 100 club for NRL appearances.

Watch Out Bulldogs: The Bulldogs mustn’t let Parramatta’s low numbers for offloads (nine, fifth fewest) lull them into a false sense of security – if Stephen Kearney gets his side to throw the ball around it can yield results, given the Bulldogs have leaked the second-most tries from an opposition offload.

The Bulldogs’ right-side defence will need to be switched on given oppositions have had one third more success scoring through this region than on the other side of the park – and the Eels scored two left-edge tries against Manly in the second half last week. In particular rookie fullback Jake Mullaney can’t be underestimated after he showed some dazzling footwork to evade a handful of Sea Eagles to cross from 15 metres out.

The ’Dogs need to be ready for a short-side rush on the left edge – Parramatta love to hammer the region and have made the fifth-most left-side short rushes by any team (105).

Danger Sign: No team likes to kick away possession if they can help it but given Parramatta’s inability to bust the defensive line (fourth-fewest line-breaks, third-fewest tackle busts) it’s our guess they will pepper the skies with cross-field bombs – especially given the Bulldogs’ wingers have trouble defusing these attacking kicks (a fail mark of 47 per cent).

Watch Out Eels: In big prop Sam Kasiano the Bulldogs have an unlikely but valuable third playmaker who will torment the Eels in midfield. Kasiano has contributed six try assists so far – unheard of numbers for a prop who also ploughs out in excess of 100 metres a match.

Certainly Parramatta’s defence in midfield needs to take a few concrete pills or else the Bulldogs will feast on long-range tries like they did back in Round 9 when they scored six tries from outside 20 metres, including three from their own side of halfway. Canterbury have crossed for a whopping 34 tries from longer than 20 metres out from an opponent’s try-line and took their tally to 11 for scoring plays started inside their own half last week against the Wests Tigers.

If the Eels can’t find a way to limit Bulldogs offloads it could be another ugly evening for fans of the gold and blue. Canterbury rank second for second-phase play with 12.7 per game, while the Eels concede the second most every week (12). When they last met the Bulldogs threw the ball around like it had funnel web spiders on it, tallying 21 offloads. Fourteen of those came in the second half when they compiled 24 unanswered points.

Danger Sign: When the Bulldogs head right from dummy-half near the Eels’ goal posts – no side completes right-side sweeps better than the ’Dogs and Parramatta’s confidence levels would be shot to pieces after Manly rushed five tries through their left-edge defence last week. Parramatta have now conceded 34 tries through the corridor – the second-most by any side. Watch for Josh Reynolds and Ben Barba to be the providers for Krisnan Inu and Jonathan Wright.

Kris Keating v Chris Sandow: Under-rated Kris Keating is proving a stumbling block to big-bucks halfback Trent Hodkinson returning to first grade and he’ll look to dine out here like he did the last time the sides met, when his positive running game yielded three try assists and three line-breaks, plus six tackle busts. Keating has one of the best success rates for creating tries, with nine assists in 12 games in the No.7. He has a deft short-kicking game that will need to be monitored. Meanwhile Chris Sandow needs to show his coach, Eels fans – and himself – some form before the end of the year or the seeds of doubt will linger over a long, long off-season. Sharpening up his defence is the key – he’s reassumed the mantle as the least effective tackler in the NRL, with 79 misses to date, including six last week. However, Sandow may look to send some traffic the way of opposition five-eighth Josh Reynolds who isn’t far behind with 67 misses (fourth most).

Where It Will Be Won: Commitment throughout the 80 minutes. The Bulldogs got themselves involved in a game of tit for tat strikes against the Tigers last week, only securing the win with two late tries in the final 12 minutes. Meanwhile the Eels are notorious slow starters who are certainly capable of stringing some points together in a flurry, as they showed when they dominated Manly 24-6 in the second half last week and when they overcame a 20-6 halftime deficit to nail the Sharks 29-20 in Round 13. They need to be in the contest approaching halftime to have any chance.    

The History: Played 131; Bulldogs 69, Eels 57, drawn 5. The honours are even four games apiece from the past eight clashes although the Bulldogs have won the past three straight. Canterbury hold a 9-8 advantage at ANZ Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: The Bulldogs bit deep to record a stunning 46-12 victory over the Eels at ANZ Stadium in Round 9.

Parramatta fans rejoiced when winger Ken Sio crossed to grab the Eels a 12-6 lead on the half hour – but there would be no further joy for them throughout the afternoon, with the ’Dogs recording a rapid-fire hat-trick of tries to seize a 22-12 lead at halftime.

Canterbury ran away with the contest via four unanswered tries in the second 40;   

Kris Keating, substituting for the injured Trent Hodkinson, made a stunning contribution with three try assists and three line-breaks, while NSW State of Origin centre Josh Morris bagged a hat-trick of four-pointers.

As good as the blue and whites were in attack they owed plenty to their defence which tallied just 10 missed tackles – the equal fewest by a team to date in 2012.

The Eels had no answer to the Bulldogs’ brilliant second-phase play, with 21 offloads thrown throughout the 80 minutes, including 14 in the second half. As a result they dominated the line-breaks count 7-1.

Aside from Kris Keating, Canterbury owed plenty to Ben Barba (two try assists and a game-high 10 tackle busts) as well as prop Sam Kasiano (123 metres and four offloads).

Matt Keating tried hard in a beaten side, making 41 tackles and getting away two offloads.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Dave Abood & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Sean Hampstead.

The Way We See It: It’s impossible to tip anything other than a comprehensive Bulldogs victory. Canterbury by 13-plus points.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 10.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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