Wests Tigers v Eels preview
Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels
These two desperate western Sydney teams are both outside the eight and at risk of losing touch with the finals contenders. The Eels enter the round two wins behind the ninth-placed Sharks and the Tigers are two points behind them, just a win clear of last-placed Manly.
The Tigers will be massively disappointed to have lost yet another game at their preferred home ground of Leichhardt against Penrith last week but will have few regrets about playing this game at a ground the Eels have performed very poorly at in recent seasons, including consecutive close Easter Monday losses to the Tigers last year and this year.
The Tigers have suffered a few personnel losses since last week with Aaron Woods and Robbie Farah both in Blues camp and centre Tim Simona out with an ankle injury.
Dene Halatau returns at hooker for Farah, Sauaso Sue starts at prop for Woods and Nathan Milone at centre for Simona in what will be his second NRL match. Manaia Cherrington and Jack Buchanan have been added to a five-man bench.
The Eels will be boosted by a determined win over the Dragons last week and while they enjoyed the odd slice of luck you could argue they were due one after suffering through the competition's worst injury toll.
They lose just centre Will Hopoate to Origin, with Ryan Morgan shifting to centre and Bureta Faraimo on the wing. Manu Ma'u also returns from a two-game suspension for lifting the knee against Cowboys utility Ray Thompson, shifting David Gower to the bench and Joe Paulo to 18th man.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Eels' left flank is the most potent attacking edge in the entire competition. Much of it is down to the blockbusting form of try-scoring sensation Semi Radradra but he's been by no means a solo act, with Brad Takairangi settling in beautifully at left centre in combination with playmaker Corey Norman, regardless of whether the latter is playing at five-eighth or at fullback as he will be this week. That edge will be boosted by the return of powerful edge runner Ma'u this week. The Eels shift the ball left more than any other side with 12.1 left moves per game, and Radradra's 1.5 line breaks per game is the best strike rate in the competition. His 14 tries in nine matches is equal second best despite having played six fewer games than leader Curtis Rona (16 in 14 games) and Titan James Roberts (14 in 14).
Watch out Eels: The combination between young stars Luke Brooks and James Tedesco is quickly becoming a potent one. Brooks may get knocked for his defence but his playmaking is coming on in leaps and bounds, as attested by his 12 try assists. That tally is second in the competition behind only Dally M favourite Johnathan Thurston, and has him slightly ahead of established stars Daly Cherry-Evans and Benji Marshall. Tedesco's 102 tackle breaks have him streets ahead of the competition; next best is Roosters custodian Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, who is way back on 78.
Key Match-Up: Luke Brooks v Chris Sandow. In many ways there are parallels between the two diminutive halfbacks. Aside from their stature and off-the-cuff playing styles, each is a livewire in attack with great vision but also burdened by inconsistency and at times poor defence. Each can turn a match in the space of five minutes with a brilliant piece of play and each will shoulder additional playmaking burden in this one due to the absence of a specialist hooker. As mentioned Brooks's 12 try assists have him second overall but Sandow isn't too far behind with 10. The Eels half has the most 40/20s so far in 2015 with three, although he's had plenty of near-misses and can be expected to fire off a few more attempts on Monday night.
The History: Played 30; Wests Tigers 13, Eels 16, Drawn 1. While the blue and golds retain the edge overall it's been mostly one-way traffic to the Tigers recently, especially at this venue. Parramatta have won just one of the past seven clashes overall and lost their past two against the Tigers at ANZ, having not beaten them at the venue since 2008.
What Are The Odds: There's very little support for the Tigers in any of Sportsbet's markets. More money has been placed on Parramatta 13+ than there is on the Tigers to win 1-12 and 13+ combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; touch judges: Jeff Younis & Chris Butler; Video Referees: Steve Clark& Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: There isn't much in this one. The Eels have struggled to close the deal against the Tigers of late although Jason Taylor's men were very disappointing last week and will do it tough without senior men Farah and Woods (although this seemed to spark them three weeks ago against the Rabbitohs when both men were out for Origin II). It's a four-point game for the victors with both teams on a bye next week meaning no shortage of incentive for each team. We'll back the Eels to make it three wins on the trot, possibly by as little as a Chris Sandow field goal.