The Eels' 3 biggest games of 2014
Eels v Raiders
This blockbuster needs no introduction. Eels fans relayed their message loud and clear when it was announced last October that coaching saviour Ricky Stuart would jump ship after one season and re-join the club he made his name at. At the very least, it was a dramatic divorce between the two parties, and one where Stuart expected to cop plenty of criticism.
Nevertheless, the context will make for excellent theatre in the lead-up to their battle, especially when the legendary Raider returns to the visiting coach's box next season.
For the record, the winner of their next clash will take the overall lead between the two sides, with the record currently standing at 24-all. In Canberra's favour, however, is their recent history, of which the Raiders have won their past four, the latest of which was a 14-0 shutout of the Eels in the nation's capital.
Eels v Bulldogs
This clash between the traditional rivals could often be relied upon to draw in the masses, none more memorable than the 2009 semi-final between the fairytale Eels and the Bulldogs.
But times have moved on, and while Parramatta has languished at the bottom of the ladder in recent years, the Bulldogs currently enjoy their status as an elite top four contender under the mentorship of the wily Des Hasler. This is evidenced in Canterbury-Bankstown's recent domination over the Eels, winning their past six clashes dating back to 2010, including a 40-12 thrashing at ANZ in Round 20.
Still, the fact remains that two of the biggest fan bases in the NRL enjoy a healthy competitiveness in right now, and a particularly fiery one when both teams are in full gear. There's a hardly a better sight. The situation isn't helped by the realisation that ex-Eels Reni Maitua and Pat O'Hanlon have joined three former Eels in Trent Hodkinson, Tony Williams and Krisnan Inu at Belmore.
Eels v Rabbitohs
On paper, the clash between the wooden spoon favourites and premiership heavyweights sounds more like a cruel form of punishment than a fair battle of brains and brawn. Seriously, what other result could there possibly be when their past six meetings – all won by the Rabbitohs – combine for a 204-62 annihilation?
But hold out for some hope, Parramatta fans. For every Goliath-like date with death the NRL has kindly set you up with, there are two Davids that are just itching to meet them at the table. Two of Brad Arthur's significant weapons this year in hooker Nathan Peats and halfback Chris Sandow are South Sydney juniors squeezed out by their former club's recent success.
Sandow, who apparently is ready to put the ghosts of 2013 behind him, is the forgotten ex-Rabbitoh, the man usurped by a halfback many hope to see in Origin blue this year. Peats, similarly, was desperate to jump out of Issac Luke's shadow and has now got a starting gig in his grasp. Will he follow Sandow's lacklustre move thus far? Or is there a brighter future for both him and Sandow and the rest Eels on the horizon?
Check back on NRL.com on Wednesday for details of your team's schedule with the release of the 2014 NRL Draw.