Eels v Roosters preview

Eels v Roosters
Parramatta Stadium
Friday 7.45pm

No doubt Parramatta are still feeling a little punch drunk following their Round 4 battering at the hands of the Roosters.

The 50-0 drubbing is the biggest loss and win respectively for these clubs this year and the biggest ever margin between these two clubs. The Roosters will be looking for the Eels to play them back into the winners’ circle after the Storm sent them into last week’s bye on a losing note.

The Eels, on the other hand, will be desperate to claw back some dignity in this Jack Gibson Cup clash after not only that massive Round 4 defeat but also a dire loss to the Titans at Mudgee in their last match before the bye.

Of course there are a handful of key players the Roosters will be sweating on as they go around for the Blues, including both halves, Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney, as well as strike centre Michael Jennings. If either of the halves in particular fail to back up it could disrupt the team’s flow significantly.

Even though all three look to have come through without injury, fatigue could also be an issue with the Roosters sweating on three players from Origin compared to just fullback Jarryd Hayne for the Eels. If there is a problem with either of the halves, super-sub Daniel Mortimer presents as a ready-made replacement.
 
However it remains to be seen if there are further late changes with the shock announcement during the week that the services of a number of senior players – including some contracted past this season – will not be required after this year. Hayne has publicly expressed his disappointment at how this has been handled and it remains to be seen whether any of those players now drop out of the side this weekend – and whether the side that does take the field will be shell-shocked or galvanised into action.
Coach Trent Robinson obviously isn’t too concerned – not only has he named all three Origin stars but there is no additional cover in the 17-man squad, which is unchanged from the Round 11 match against Melbourne.

However, Eels coach Ricky Stuart looks to be losing patience with his inexperienced squad after another dire loss and has wielded the axe. Five-eighth Luke Kelly has been dropped to NSW Cup with Joe Paulo coming from the bench to partner Chris Sandow in the halves. Bench prop Junior Paulo also drops back to Wentworthville after two games in the top grade, while Kaysa Pritchard and Api Pewhairangi are missing through injury.

Ryan Morgan returns at centre for Pewhairangi, Brayden Wiliame makes his first grade debut on the wing in place of Vai Toutai who hasn’t been named in the lower grades and Jake Mullaney, who deputised admirably for an injured Hayne last year, joins the bench. He has been named in jersey 14 suggesting he will see game time even if Hayne backs up from Origin. Young second-rowers Pat O’Hanlon and the uncapped Kenny Edwards also join a five-man bench in jerseys 17 and 18 respectively, with Ben Smith again out of the side after being a late call-up last week.

However it remains to be seen if there are further late changes with the shock announcement during the week that the services of a number of senior players – including some contracted past this season - will not be required after this year. Hayne has publicly expressed his disappointment at how this has been handled and it remains to be seen whether any of those players now drop out of the side this weekend – and whether the side that does take the field will be shell-shocked or galvanised into action.

A decent performance from Roosters custodian Anthony Minichiello will see him pass 35,000 career metres – he needs 119 here to reach that mark. If the Eels can notch 14 points here they will reach their 2000th point scored against the Roosters – their second favourite historical opponent after the Bulldogs (2,098).

Watch Out Eels: What happens when the second-worst attack in the league comes up against the best defence? Poor Parra have scored fewer tries than any side other than the Tigers at just 2.5 per game, while the Roosters have conceded fewer points than any other side in 2013, letting in a miserly 10.9 per game.

The Roosters are averaging 27 points per game against the Eels over the last decade – by far their highest against any opponent. The Roosters have scored 22 or more points six times in their past seven meetings against Parramatta.

That attack-versus-defence disparity is also borne out in the line-breaks of each side this year – the Roosters are equal top with five per game while the Eels are in last, getting through the defensive line just 2.7 times per game. Sonny Bill Williams is the key man here – he leads the club for line-break assists with eight, and has five line-breaks of his own.

Watch Out Roosters: Regardless of the Blues’ fortunes, Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne tends to return from Origin camp as a man on a mission – perhaps with his confidence raised after being surrounded by so many high-calibre players. He already leads the Eels this year in all major attacking categories: tries (seven), line-breaks (six), line-break assists (five) tackle-breaks (57), metres (142).

But the inclusion of Mullaney on the bench is interesting and Stuart may have some kind of super-sub role in mind. In his seven games last year Mullaney ended up pipping Hayne in terms of average runs (16) and metres (153 per game) while he also notched three tries and five try assists. Whether he comes off the bench or gets called up to replace Hayne look for Mullaney to inject some much-needed spark.

Plays To Watch: Sonny Bill Williams pushing through the line and getting an arm free to add to his line-break assists (eight so far) – possibly for Michael Jennings on the burst (nine line-breaks so far); Mullaney to take a quick scoot from dummy half whenever he gets the opportunity; Luke O’Donnell to take as many angry runs as he can in his newfound role as a prop forward, Jacob Loko running wide bumping off players at will (equal most tackle-breaks for Eels with 57 alongside Hayne).

Key Match-Up: Jennings v Loko; the Blue versus the emerging Blue. Each is a key attacking weapon for their side at centre but with very different styles. How the Eels handle Jennings’ scything runs and blinding pace will be key to their fortunes; if they are to be a chance one feels Loko’s ability to bump off attackers, create space and get a ball away will have to come into play.

Where It Will Be Won: Forward yardage is one of the areas the Eels, on paper, can really match it with the tri-colours. Parramatta’s pack hasn’t set the world on fire this year but surprisingly, nor have the Bondi boys. In fact, with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves still out through suspension no man in the Roosters pack is averaging more than 100 metres per game. Even though they are in the best couple of teams in almost all attacking and defensive categories this year they are mired near the foot of the yardage table right, next to the Eels.

Their 1290 metres per game is 13th best, just ahead of the Eels (1250 metres per game, 14th). In the Eels’ previous game, prop Fuifui Moimoi made 158 metres from 16 runs – his best effort since Round 21 2011 and more metres than he’s ever made against the Roosters. In the Roosters’ last game O’Donnell was the only man to top the ton, with 119 metres from his 13 runs. He looks to be relishing the move up into the front row. Both men will be key in getting their sides rolling forward an allowing the playmakers to do their thing.

The History: Played 124; Parramatta 60, Roosters 59, drawn 5. The Roosters have a slight 11-10 edge against the blue-and-golds at Parramatta Stadium. They are more dominant in the recent history between these two clubs, winning five of the past seven clashes. The Roosters are Friday night specialists, having won seven of their nine Friday fixtures over the past four seasons. However the Eels are regaining some home form, having won five of their past six at the venue.

Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Justin Morgan.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Eels v Roosters clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

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Televised: Channel 9 – Live, 7.45pm.

The Way We See It: Despite the Roosters’ last-start loss to Melbourne, the form line firmly favours the visitors – despite the Eels’ slightly better form at home lately. It’s just hard to see the Eels scoring enough points to trouble the tri-colours and if the Round 4 scoreboard is anything to go by it could potentially get ugly. The Eels should be more resolute back on their home patch but with yet another new-look line-up, combinations could also be an issue. Roosters to win by more than two converted tries. 

*Statistics: NRL Stats.