Mannah's Bulldogs grudge a family affair
Eels skipper Tim Mannah is too nice a bloke to say he hates any club, but he does enjoy getting one over traditional rivals Canterbury-Bankstown – not least because so many of his family members are Bulldogs supporters.
Parramatta-Canterbury is one of the fiercest rivalries in the NRL, dating back to some bitter battles in the eighties, including two grand finals in 1984 and '86 (which they split one apiece).
Mannah himself was not only a participant but a try-scorer in one of the last epic stoushes, the 2009 grand final qualifier when a Jarryd Hayne-inspired Eels outfit came from nowhere to blast through the finals series before going down to the Storm in the big one.
After trailing much of that game Mannah scored a second half try that earned his side a lead they wouldn't relinquish in front of 75,000 screaming fans.
This week Mannah revealed despite his standing as club captain of the Eels, some family members still hit him up for complimentary tickets so they can come and support the opposition.
"All my family go for the Dogs... I've got aunties and uncles that ask for tickets to the games and they come in their Bulldogs jerseys so for me anytime we can get a win against them it makes it a bit sweeter for me personally!" Mannah laughed at Eels training this week.
"I've been at the club for a while now. You see how much the fans really love the rivalry, two Sydney teams that are based pretty close together, huge rivalry in the 80s – it's always a special game to play in.
"Some of my fondest memories are these clashes and I'm looking forward to Friday night as well."
He said the players don't get caught up in the rivalry as much as the fans do.
"You look at the fans, it's always the traditional teams like Manly and Bulldogs and Penrith I guess that always stand out a bit more than other games and also get a better crowd and a better atmosphere," he said.
"As players we're not so much caught in the rivalry but we definitely enjoy the atmosphere that the fans create as a result of it."
Fullback Corey Norman is only in his second year at the club since moving down from Brisbane and said the rivalry isn't lost on him.
"I'm fairly new to this club; I think the boys that have been here for a while, they know what it's like," he said.
"Last year we played them on a Friday too and it was a big crowd. It doesn't really get spoken about but everyone knows it's there.
"Hopefully the fans get out and it's a big crowd. I think both teams enjoy playing in front of a big crowd so hopefully the fans come out Friday night and we put a good clash on for them."
Having gone all the way down to equal last on the ladder over the course of 2015, three straight wins and two byes has the blue and golds on the cusp of the eight and Norman said a fourth straight win would be a great reward for the side's hard work during a tough year marred by injury.
"It'd be good if we get that, definitely we've been building for it but we can't worry about the four in a row, we just have to worry about the Doggies on Friday night and what we've got to do," he said.
"They're coming off a loss, they'll be ready to go Friday, it'll be a tough game and a big one and we've just got to be ready to aim up.
"I think their forwards will fire up too so we've got to be ready to shut them down and that'll go a long way to helping us win."
One of the most intriguing battles on the night will be the try-scoring race between each side's left winger and equal competition-leading try-scorers Semi Radradra and Curtis Rona, who sit on 16 four-pointers each going into Friday night.
Norman, who has marshalled the Eels' left edge for most of the year from five-eighth and continues to chime into the line there in attack from fullback, praised the hard work the 23-year-old Fijian has done outside of his point scoring feats.
"You just give him the ball and sit back and watch. The thing with Semi is he's taken one or two carries coming out of our field and he's getting back into the wing for our shape and scoring tries," Norman said.
"He's doing all the little things right which is more pleasing than just sitting on the wing and scoring tries. He's coming in, taking hit ups, taking pressure off the forwards then getting back out there and scoring tries."