Parramatta Eels v Gold Coast Titans
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur would love to unlock the secret to what makes his Eels so close to invincible on their backyard patch of grass at Pirtek Stadium, and so incredibly fragile pretty much everywhere else.
Titans coach Neil Henry, in turn, needs to unlock the key to dismantling the blue and gold defence at this ground, because the battling Titans will need all the help they can get.
The Eels, following a pattern established last year, are two from two at Pirtek and none from three away from it, and desperately need to keep their home record strong to stay in touch with the top eight sides. A loss here would really see them start to slip away.
The Titans have just one win – stolen on the bell a fortnight ago at Cronulla – and need to finally get their spluttering season kick-started after well-documented off-field dramas ruined their opening rounds. It's already desperation stakes for the Gold Coast club, who share the foot of the ladder with Manly and Cronulla after five rounds.
The Eels will look at last week as the one that got away after leading with just over 10 minutes to go. Once again injury struck their already under-manned backline with centre Ryan Morgan concussed in the first half. He has been named to line up this week, along with winger Reece Robinson, who was a late withdrawal last week with a quad strain. It means Manu Ma'u returns to the back row, David Gower to the bench and Peni Terepo to 18th man.
The Titans never really looked likely against an impressive Broncos outfit last week despite the final score never getting away from them. Henry has named an unchanged 17.
Watch out Eels: Titans flyer James Roberts has claims on the fastest pair of boots in the NRL. Certainly, when he streaks into space it looks like those around him are stuck in the mud. Only three players currently have more than his four tries this year – Tigers pair Pat Richards and James Tedesco (five) and Bulldogs winger Curtis Rona (six). He was among the Titans' best in their loss to Brisbane last week too – it took quality defence from Corey Oates and Jack Reed to deny him late in the first half and he showed great composure to hold up a pass to Mead, drawing Oates before putting his winger over as the Titans threatened a second-half fightback. He also notched four tackle breaks and 158 metres in a good all-round game.
Watch out Titans: Edge back-rower Manu Ma'u has picked up where he left off when he broke his arm last year – running like a man possessed down the Eels' left-edge attack, battering into opposition halves and outside backs, forcing offloads and generally creating headaches. He covered left centre last week with usual centre Brad Takairangi injured but it hardly altered his playing style other than the fact he was running slightly wider than usual. His 135 metres per game and 11 tackle breaks this season highlight how hard he can be to tackle when he winds up.
Key Match-Up: Anthony Watmough v Greg Bird. There's no doubt the Titans have looked better with Bird back in the team, while marquee Parramatta signing Watmough has added some starch in the middle for them. These two long-term Origin teammates know each others' games inside and out but the natural competitive juices will ensure no love is lost when they clash in the middle.
The History: Played 11; Eels 4, Titans 7. The Titans have had the wood over the Eels somewhat in their time in the NRL, although the Eels did manage a Jarryd Hayne-inspired win in the only meeting between the sides last year, in Round 20 up on the Gold Coast.
What Are The Odds: Eels $1.50 v Titans $2.60. Twice as much money has been placed on the Eels in comparison to the Titans, who'll start rank outsiders. Sportsbet punters aren't even afraid of taking the Eels conceding 6.0 points. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Henry Perenara & Gavin Reynolds. Touch judges: Jeff Younis & Lawrence McDonell. Video referees: Matt Cecchin & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 3pm.
The Way We See It: The Eels are still missing a host of key players – particularly in the outside backs – to injury but will be boosted by the return of Robinson, not to mention a return to their home fortress where they have won 11 of their past 13. The Titans are certainly capable but we'll stick with the Eels to maintain their strong home record – Parramatta by 8.