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Holden Cup Preliminary Final
Eels v Warriors
Saturday, ANZ Stadium, 5.15pm
Two-time NYC champions the Warriors continued their fairytale run through the Finals Series with a hard-fought 23-16 win over minor premiers Newcastle and face their fourth trip to Sydney in four weeks to take on the rested Eels.
Parramatta earned a saloon passage through to Week Three of the finals when they came from behind to defeat the Broncos in Week One with coach Justin Holbrook taking full advantage of the week off to watch the Warriors and Knights do battle.
The opening half would have given Holbrook a fair insight into his opposition when the Warriors jumped out to a 13-0 lead, and when they answered the Newcastle fight-back with two further tries in the last 20 minutes of the game their incredible run from eighth position extended to a Preliminary Final appearance.
The Eels have suffered something of a blow with hooker Kaysa Pritchard ruled out with a knee injury incurred against the Broncos, his place in the starting team to go to Joey Lussick who has spent plenty of time in the No.9 jersey throughout the course of the season.
Warriors coach Stacey Jones has named an unchanged team from that which defeated the Knights last Saturday.
Eels: Won 16, lost eight (third)
Warriors: Won 12, lost 11, drawn 1 (eighth)
Key match-up: Kelepi Tanginoa (Eels) v Sam Lisone (Warriors)
Look for reports of an earthquake in the Greater Western Sydney area if these two junior behemoths clash in the middle of ANZ Stadium on Saturday evening. Lisone is lining up for his 49th NYC appearance this weekend on the back of another barnstorming display against the Knights last week while Tanginoa has already played 13 NRL matches over the past two seasons and was near unstoppable in the latter stages of the Eels' finals win over the Broncos. "He only came back for the last couple of games so he's a real good addition for us and one we're really happy to have," said Eels coach Justin Holbrook.
It's a similar scenario for Warriors coach Stacey Jones who had to do without Lisone for a number of weeks in the middle of the year as he continued his development with a stint with the NSW Cup team. "The half-a-dozen close games that we lost throughout the year were the games he was missing and he's a big part of our team," Jones said. "He leads from the front with his talk and his actions so he's certainly an inspiration to a lot of the players in this team." Trust me, two men this big shouldn't be able to run as fast as they do.
2014 results: Eels 50 def. Warriors 24 (Round 1); Eels 22 def. Warriors 19 (Round 18)
Eels coach Justin Holbrook: "I watched the Knights-Warriors game and I thought it was a really good game, the Warriors did well to win. At this time of year you don't fear the Warriors but you definitely respect them and everybody knows what sort of footy they're capable of. We haven't eased up at all with the week off; we enjoyed the fact that we didn't have to play but also kept training hard because we know this week is going to be a really tough game. I don't think we played that well in Week One but that's also what makes us a good side, we could hang in there and still be good enough to win the game. We made a few errors that we don't usually make but we were good enough to win the game so I think you can only take positives out of that win.
"The last couple of weeks Zach Dockar-Clay has played really well and at this time of year you need your halves playing well and they're both doing that which is good. Kaysa Pritchard is obviously a great player and we'd love to have him but he hasn't played that many games with us anyway. We've got Joey Lussick there and both times we have played the Warriors he has played and played well on both occasions. He also played really well when he came on for Kaysa against Brisbane so I don't think we're losing too much there."
Warriors coach Stacey Jones: "Our try-line defence against the Knights was probably the best it's been all year. The week before we leaked some soft tries especially down our left edge but we really had a big focus on that and wanted to keep things as simple as possible. It was only that period after half-time where we were under the pump a bit but we managed to scramble and hang in there and finish the game out. When we spoke last week I said we had to ride this wave and there are four teams left and we're all in the same position now. Parramatta have had a week off to freshen up and get themselves ready but we've got to take some confidence from beating the minor premiers and enjoy it and really embrace going away because it's four weeks in a row now and that's the part I've had to try and get themselves ready for.
"There's a culture and history of Warriors under-20s teams being successful and we snuck into the eight and possibly could have been the first team not to make it and now we're pretty excited. We played the Eels in Round 1 and they tore us to shreds. Their big boys ran rampant over us and we missed a record 85 tackles in the game and physically they just dominated us and we couldn't go with them. When we played them again at home a couple of months ago we stuck with them and they pipped us at the end but we know if we put our best foot forward we can get a result."
Eels: 1 Nathan Davis, 2 Leva Li, 3 Fabian Goodall, 4 John Folau, 5 Halauafu Lavaka, 6 Ryan Matterson, (c), 7 Zach Dockar-Clay, 8 Kelepi Tanginoa, 9 Joey Lussick, 10 Tui Kamikamica, 11 Josh Aloiai, 12 Tyrell Fuimaono, 13 Jeff Markus. Interchange: 14 Jordan Muna, 15 Tepai Tepu-Smith, 16 Alex Twal, 17 Fred Junior Mauala. Coach: Justin Holbrook.
Warriors: 1 Brad Abbey, 2 Ngataua Hukatai, 3 Nathaniel Roache, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Metia Lisati, 6 Tuimoala Lolohea, 7 Mason Lino (c), 8 Sam Lisone (c), 9 Kurt Robinson, 10 Kouma Samson, 11 Marata Niukore, 12 Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard, 13 Jazz Tevaga. Interchange: 14 James Bell, 15 Toafofoa Sipley, 16 Ken Maumalo, 17 Iulio Afoa, 20 Ofahiki Ogden. Coach: Stacey Jones.