Raiders v Eels preview

Raiders v Eels
Canberra Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm

Another week, another daunting task for the Parramatta Eels.

It is now 10 weeks since the Eels last tasted victory and they are quickly closing in equalling their longest losing streak since 1995 should they make it eight in a row this Saturday night. That’s not a great spot to be in ahead of a trip to chilly Canberra, where the Raiders have won 11 in a row on home soil and can move back into the top eight with another win this week.

The frustrating part of all of that record for the Raiders is that despite having won every single game played at Canberra Stadium since Round 21 last year, they still sit in 10th spot on the Telstra Premiership ladder. It just goes to show how poor they can be on the road, but then, that’s of no concern to Parramatta this week.

All things being equal, Canberra should have far too much in attack for their opponents. Their pack remains among the biggest in the NRL and boasts Origin experience in prop David Shillington and rising star Josh Papalii – the man who signed with the Eels earlier this year before reneging on the deal.

Captain Terry Campese has provided a much-needed stabilising influence in the halves since finally returning from his knee problems.

And they boast plenty of strike out wide thanks to point-scoring centre Jarrod Croker, speedster Reece Robinson and rookie fullback Anthony Milford.

The Eels, on the other hand, have lacked the sheer class to truly test their opponent’s in 2013 – particularly in the absence of injured fullback Jarryd Hayne. With halfback Chris Sandow dropped from the top squad last week after a series of below-par performances, coach Ricky Stuart has all but conceded the rest of 2013 is more about watching how the latest batch of youngsters handle themselves in the NRL than trying to jag a few more wins.

That certainly explains how they’ve managed to blood eight rookies this season – a staggering amount in just 16 appearances. While some have certainly exhibited some potential, it was always going to be tough for such a young and inexperienced side to match it at this level for a sustained period of time.

The key for the Eels now is for their young players to recognise the opportunity Stuart is dangling in front of them. He has already told 12 players they will be surplus to the club’s needs in 2014 and no doubt more will follow if they fail to impress.

They probably won’t win this weekend but hopefully they can at least make it a contest.

Canberra have named the same side that defeated North Queensland last start with Jake Foster listed as the 18th man.

The Eels have also named an unchanged side with Luke Kelly retained at halfback.

Parramatta are conceding more points away from home than any side in the past decade at 38.1 points per game this season. They will be trying to avoid losing every away game in a season for just the second time in 50 years (they did so in 1995) while Canberra have only won every home game once before, in 1994.

The Raiders will be eyeing 1000 points scored against the Eels all-time, with just 31 more needed this week to reach the milestone.

Watch Out Raiders: If there is one man who can cause Canberra’s defence some real headaches it is young Parramatta centre Jacob Loko. Having missed all of 2012 with injury, Loko took some time to find his feet again this season but his size and power make him a real handful: he ranks third in the NRL for tackle-breaks behind only Greg Inglis and Josh Hoffman, leads the Eels for offloads with 12 and averaged 118 metres per game.

Watch Out Eels: The Raiders have a future superstar on their hands in Anthony Milford, who is already playing well beyond his (just turned) 19 years. Extremely versatile with the ability to play everywhere from the halves to dummy-half and even centre, he actually made his starting debut at fullback against North Queensland two weeks ago – pushing Reece Robinson to the wing in the process – and rewarded coach David Furner’s faith with a brilliant solo try. How Parramatta would love just one player on the park this week with Milford’s game-breaking ability.

Plays To Watch: The Reece Robinson show-and-go. The Canberra speedster is always dangerous when returning the football or running at the defensive line at pace, where he loves nothing more than shaping to pas then running himself. Watch for captain Terry Campese to launch a towering bomb when the ball goes to him on the last tackle.

For Parramatta, fullback Jake Mullaney always poses a threat when he chimes into the backline on the left edge where he likes to skip to the outside of his opposite number and try to beat him for speed.

Key Match-Up: Josh McCrone v Luke Kelly. Canberra halfback Josh McCrone has won the race for the Raiders No.7 jersey this year with rival Sam Williams signing on with St George Illawarra for 2014 last week and his presence will be an important one as he looks for the best way through the Eels defensive line. It will be interesting to see how Kelly performs, though. Named as Chris Sandow’s replacement in the Eels starting side against Penrith last week, he was one of the best players on the field with five runs for 80 metres, 16 tackles, two tackle-breaks, 11 kicks for 353 metres and a try.

Where It Will Be Won: Parramatta have enough raw talent to score points but can their young forwards match it with the far more experienced Canberra pack? The Eels have shown a soft belly through the middle far too often this season and it will take a Herculean effort from their big men if they are to spring a major upset in this one.

The History: Played 47; Eels 24, Raiders 23. The Eels have only won once at Canberra Stadium since 2000 (in 2006) with the Raiders averaging 25.1 points per game against Parramatta over the past decade.

Match Officials: Referees –  Jason Robinson & Gavin Morris; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Rodwell.

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

Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 5.30pm.

The Way We See It: With 11 wins in a row at Canberra Stadium, it is impossible to go past the Raiders in this one. Of course, stranger things have happened, but Parramatta have struggled to compete this year and it seems that even they don’t believe they can win when they run onto the field most weeks. The best we can realistically hope for here is a close encounter but we’re not convinced. Raiders by 18 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats