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Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Monday 7pm

A month ago Tigers fans would have eyed this match-up as an easy kill in the run to the finals but injuries and continued lacklustre form, plus the caffeine-hit transformation of cellar-dwellers Parramatta have the gold-and-black army more hopeful than confident.

The Tigers’ worrying downward spiral continued when they were savaged 32-6 by the Rabbitohs last week, racking up their fifth loss from their past six games. In that time they’ve accrued a -75 points differential, leaving them in 10th position on the ladder and the third-ranked of four sides battling it out for what appears to be the final spot in this year’s playoffs.

Meanwhile the Eels stunned the NRL when taking down competition heavyweights Brisbane in emphatic fashion last Monday night, the 42-22 win a complete turnaround from their insipid previous efforts. What was even more surprising was they were dominant despite missing linchpin star Jarryd Hayne – but that just goes to confirm the kooky nature of this year’s premiership race.

Speaking of kooky, this Close The Gap Round match-up relives the Round 8 clash between the sides that saw the Wests Tigers lead 31-nil before scraping home 31-30 (see below). 

There’s some relief on the player front for the Tigers this week, with Tim Moltzen and Keith Galloway returning from injuries. Moltzen slots in at fullback, pushing Beau Ryan back to the centres and Tim Simona to the interchange bench (with Tom Humble jettisoned). 

Elsewhere, in a somewhat quirky reshuffle, Liam Fulton will wear the No.6 jersey with Benji Marshall pushing in to halfback and Robbie Farah moving back to hooker. Fulton’s shift and Galloway’s availability sees Adam Blair revert to the second row. 

Meanwhile Eels caretaker coach Brad Arthur has named an unchanged line-up, adding Justin Horo to form a five-man interchange at this stage.

It’s a milestone week for Tiger Beau Ryan who plays his 100th NRL game, while Parramatta winger Luke Burt will overtake Ray Price and Nathan Cayless to become the third-most-capped Eels player (260 games).

Although these sides have never met in Campbelltown, Wests Tigers fans with long memories will recall the dark day back in July 1999 when the Eels smashed the Western Suburbs Magpies 68-10, inflicting the most points scored against the foundation club. Nathan Hindmarsh and Luke Burt were try-scorers that day – could history repeat just a month out from their retirements?

Watch Out Wests Tigers: Parramatta will shift the ball wide to the right at every opportunity given they scored four tries against the Tigers the last time they met.

The Tigers need to make a statement with their defence from the outset or else Parramatta will grow in confidence. Against the Broncos last week the blue and golds carved out a staggering 1623 metres, including almost 900 in the opening 40 minutes. That’s a worry for the Tigers who concede the fourth-most metres every week.

Danger Sign: If the Eels forwards get on a roll and Chris Sandow puffs out his chest. Sandow starred when playing behind a dominant pack last week, scoring two tries and directing play with energy. Halting the forwards at the advantage line will keep Sandow quiet. 

Watch Out Eels: Attacking kicks from Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall and even Beau Ryan out wide will be tough to defuse. The Tigers scored three of their 19 tries from kicks in 2012 against the Eels in Round 8 – and Parramatta haven’t the best track record under high balls and getting to grubbers, leaking 21 tries so far (second most).

Benji Marshall says he’s been trying too hard to win games for his side – well someone’s got to and Benji is certainly their go-to man. He has been the benchmark schemer in the NRL in 2012, leading all players for try assists with 26. We have no doubt he’ll add to that tally here, or else cross himself.

Danger Sign: Any time the Tigers head left. The Eels have conceded a whopping 43 tries on the left side of the field, by far the most by any team. Expect Farah and Marshall to drift across the park when they get in close range and either pick up an inside runner or shift it wide. Targeting Cheyse Blair could prove fruitful; he’s missing more tackles than any centre (4.5 per game).     

Aaron Woods v Tim Mannah: One of the highlights of their last meeting was the no-holds-barred confrontation between these two powerful props. Tigers youngster Woods threw his hat into the ring for State of Origin selection with a barnstorming display up front – he ran 23 times for 179 metres with 33 tackles in a devastating 59-minute spell. Mannah returned fire with a blistering 48 minutes that included 17 hit-ups, 166 metres and 24 tackles. Woods made 163 metres and 34 tackles in the loss to Souths last week, while Mannah ploughed out 130 metres and 31 tackles in the win over the Broncos. The energy they bring to the centre of the park could be their team’s key motivator.   

Where It Will Be Won: Busting loose. This match pits the two least-dominant running units, with the Eels languishing at the bottom of the tackle-breaks category with 27 per game, narrowly ahead of the Tigers who average 28. However Parramatta fans can draw comfort from their riotous performance last Monday night when they racked up 64 tackle-breaks and 13 line-breaks when taking down the Broncos. That’s not great news for Tigers fans, given their boys leak the most line-breaks every week (5.9). If they can’t force their way through the Eels the Tigers may resort to some razzle-dazzle second-phase – Parramatta concede the third-most offloads, plus they have yielded the most territory to oppositions every week.

The History: Played 25; Eels 15, Wests Tigers 9, drawn 1. The Wests Tigers hold a slight advantage in recent history, winning five of the past eight clashes between the sides. This is the first time the teams have met in Campbelltown.

The Last Time They Met: Fans of both clubs rode a rollercoaster of emotions as the Wests Tigers escaped with a dramatic 31-30 victory over the Eels at Parramatta Stadium in Round 8.

In one of the craziest games of rugby league in recent memory the visitors seemed in control when they led 19-nil at halftime and they had many Parramatta supporters heading for the turnstiles when vaulting to a 31-nil advantage with just 18 minutes remaining.

But incredibly the Wests Tigers put their cues in the rack and allowed the Jarryd Hayne-inspired Eels to cross for five unanswered tries from the 67-minute mark – including three in the final three minutes – to fall short of a stunning comeback win by the narrowest of margins.

Chris Lawrence opened the afternoon’s scoring in the 11th minute after receiving an inside ball from skipper Robbie Farah 10 metres from the try-line; Farah had mesmerised the Eels’ defence when drifting to the left out of dummy-half. 

Beau Ryan scored an inventive try in the 20th minute, grubber-kicking into the in-goal from five metres out then regathering for a 10-nil scoreline. Five minutes later Liam Fulton got in on the act, brushing aside Eels five-eighth Ben Roberts like he was a department store mannequin for a 16-nil lead that became 19-nil through a Tim Moltzen penalty goal (31st minute) and Benji Marshall field goal on the stroke of halftime (which would prove the difference on the afternoon).

Two tries to Ben Murdoch-Masila off Benji Marshall kicks in the 57th and 62nd minutes looked to bury the Eels before Matt Ryan opened their account in the 67th minute, spinning over from close range. Thereafter in rapid succession tries were posted by Willie Tonga (off a Hayne assist in the 71st minute), Ken Sio (off a Casey McGuire assist in the 72nd minute), Hayne (from a solo burst in the 78th minute) and finally Cheyse Blair (from long range in the dying seconds).

Offloads were pivotal to the Tigers’ win – they managed 17 throughout the afternoon. However, the Eels won bragging rights with their attack, which broke open the Tigers’ defence on nine occasions.

Hayne was dynamite in a beaten side, scoring a try, running 152 metres and breaking 13 tackles. 

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Nick Beashel & Dave Munro; Video Referee – Russell Smith. 

The Way We See It: It’s difficult to know which way to jump here. The Eels are playing a dashing brand of football but the Tigers will surely refocus with a finals berth essentially on the line. Providing Tim Moltzen and Keith Galloway have retained some fitness their additions will likely prove decisive. We’re tipping the Tigers to warm the hearts of their fans on a cold, cold night in Campbelltown. Tigers by eight points.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7pm. 

Statistics: NRL Stats
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