Sydney Roosters v Parramatta Eels preview
As the latter stages of the season continues to sort the contenders from the also-rans, the injury-plagued Eels face an incredibly tough ask to travel to Moore Park to attempt to halt the seemingly unstoppable Roosters juggernaut.
The Bondi boys have now won eight straight and impressively that run stretches back to before Origin II and therefore includes games where their huge representative contingent was either missing or backing up.
Even the past two games where teams have come back at the Tricolours hard – the Bulldogs reclaiming the lead after being down 22-0 and the Knights getting back within 10 after trailing 26-0 – Trent Robinson's men have still found ways to win.
They are able to find that extra gear when they need it, as much as the coach won't be happy about them not putting sides away, and ominously for Parramatta this could be the week they make sure they go on with the job.
Whether it's good luck or good management (it's probably a healthy dose of each) the Roosters continue to be the least-affected team in terms of injuries. Prop Sam Moa continues to recover from a dislocated wrist but the side has no fresh injury concerns; this week the rested Mitchell Pearce returns at halfback pushing impressive young half Jackson Hastings back to an extended bench.
At the other end of the scale, little has gone right for Brad Arthur's charges this year but he was at least able to welcome back key man Corey Norman last week in what was a fairly ugly but morale-boosting win over the even more injury-hit Panthers in Darwin.
While the win technically, theoretically, mathematically keeps them in with a chance of making the finals, depending on other results, IF they win their last four straight, more realistically it is a late-season boost for fans and players that keeps them two wins clear of wooden spoon territory.
Arthur has made just one change in the centres, with Ryan Morgan returning from injury to replace Will Hopoate, who is out with a hamstring strain.
Watch out Roosters: Honestly, complacency could be the Roosters' biggest challenge. It really shouldn't be after they nearly got stunned two weeks in a row, but it looks like the Eels' best chance in this one will be to go in a bit of a run like the Bulldogs and Knights over the past fortnight and run a few quick tries past the Roosters by leaning on the attacking brilliance of Semi Radradra and Brad Takairangi on the left edge. With Sam Moa out and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves a possible chance of missing the game due to the birth of his first child that could potentially even the ledger in the middle, to the aid of the Eels out-matched forward pack.
Watch out Eels: Where to start? Sharks-bound pivot James Maloney has hit something like career-best form, flashy fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is simply unstoppable (another three tries and 242 metres last week), centre Blake Ferguson is getting back to his barnstorming best and the powerful young forwards – including Dylan Napa, Kane Evans, Sio Suia Taukeiaho – are providing great back up to Test and Origin players Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra. The Eels defence – third-most tackles missed per game at 28 – will be severely tested by the Roosters runners, who top the season tackle-break tally with 32 per game.
Key Match-Up: Jake Friend v Nathan Peats. Peats has been one of the Eels most consistent players while not on the injured list since joining the club at the end of 2013, while Friend's improvement over recent seasons has seen him made co-captain and put him in the frame to eventually take over from Cameron Smith as Queensland and Australian hooker. Neither is a huge dummy-half runner (Peats averages 33 meters per game and Friend just 18) but both provide good service from dummy half and do a truckload of defence (Peats 44 tackles per game and Friend 44). Friend has the edge in creativity and second-phase at this point, edging Peats 11-2 in offloads and 5-2 in try assists.
The History: Played 127; Roosters 61, Eels 61, Drawn 5. Historically they're on level pegging but recent history between these two clubs does not look pretty for the blue-and-golds. Prior to their last-start win over the Tricolours at Pirtek early last season they had won just one of their past seven meetings, and haven't beaten the Roosters at Allianz since 2008. Parramatta's last three visits to Allianz Stadium to play the Roosters have seen them lose all three by a combined total of 130-10. For the last two trips it is 106-4.
What Are The Odds: Sportsbet customers are locking the Roosters into their multi bets at the extremely short price. Roosters to win 13+ has received more interest than all of the other margin options combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Grant Atkins. Assistant referee: Henry Perenara. Touch judges: Steve Carrall and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Daniel Irvine.
Televised: Fox Sports, Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: The Roosters should have too much class and too much strike power across the field to let the injury-hit and inconsistent Eels side get the better of them at the end of 80 minutes. Roosters by at least two converted tries.