Schick Hydro Preview: Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels
The traditional Easter Monday clash between two western Sydney rivals is on again and it's given some extra spice by the fact both sides – non-finals teams last year – are looking pretty good at 2-1 to start the season.
The Eels probably have a slightly better form line, having disposed of premiers North Queensland and the previously unbeaten Bulldogs over the past fortnight (while their opening round loss to grand finalists Brisbane came with captain Kieran Foran missing).
For the Tigers, impressive and high-scoring wins over the Warriors and Sea Eagles still raised doubts about their defence, while Round 3's total fade-out on the Gold Coast is one they'll want to forget quickly.
On the teams front, the Tigers at long last welcome back hooker Robbie Farah and his extra guidance through the middle and spark out of dummy half will be invaluable, especially after last week's performance. While Manaia Cherrington is an excellent prospect, plugging the dummy-half gap with part-timers for half an hour each game was never a long-term solution.
With Chris Lawrence missing a week through suspension, last week's starting No.9 Dene Halatau shifts to Lawrence's back-row slot in the only change.
The Eels also welcome back a key man, with left-edge destroyer Manu Ma'u's one-week suspension served. Ma'u was one of the Eels' best over the opening two weeks and while they covered his loss well against Canterbury his bruising charges will be a welcome asset on Monday. Kenny Edwards reverts to the bench and Dave Gower to 18th man.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Semi 'The Semi Trailer' Radradra usually starts NRL seasons at full pace but this year, more in keeping with the oversized truck for which he is nicknamed, he has been building up pace but last week looked to have hit devastating, unstoppable full speed. Two tries, one of the best try assists you'll ever see from a winger and absurd numbers in terms of metres gained (240) and tackle breaks (11) – both easily match highs – dismantled the blue and white defence. Teams have shown a clear plan to keep the ball away from Semi so far, making extra work for rookie Clint Gutherson but he is also finding his feet with six kicks defused, six tackle breaks and over 100 metres last week.
Watch out Eels: Danger, thy name is Tedesco. The Camden Rams junior and likely future Blues custodian may have been a little quiet on the Gold Coast last week and it's telling of how dominant he is these days that two try assists, two line break assists, five tackle breaks and 150 metres is quiet by his standards. The prior fortnight included five tries, 15 tackle breaks and 340 metres. If the Tigers win this one expect Tedesco to be heavily involved. Actually, expect him to be heavily involved either way.
Key match-up: The Eels' left edge and the Tigers' right edge. Specifically, Michael Jennings and Semi Radradra up against Kev Naiqama and Dave Nofoaluma. The vaunted blue and gold left edge took three weeks to hit its straps but did so in spectacular fashion last week. Along the way they've been rock solid in defence. The right side for the Tigers didn't attract much pre-season attention but has been blitzing it over the early rounds with Naiqama and Nofoaluma racking up a combined eight tries and a whopping 32 tackle breaks. On what should be an entertaining day it makes for a mouth-watering duel.
The history: Played 31; Wests Tigers 13, Eels 17, Drawn 1. The Eels have won two of the past four meetings but lost four straight prior to that. Last week's win means Parramatta have won two of their past three visits to ANZ Stadium but before that it was slim pickings with one win from the previous 19 games.
What are the odds: Surprisingly, there’s more money on the Tigers to win by 13+ than on any other winning margin however most of that money was placed before they lost to the Titans last Saturday night. Since then, the Eels have had the better of support with Sportsbet punters and are solid favourites for the Easter Monday clash. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant referee: Gavin Badger. Sideline officials: Russell Turner and Chris Butler. Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 4pm.
The way we see it: Despite the Eels' radically improved defence this year it wouldn't surprise to see a fair few points on offer if this turns out to be a dry day. That said, Parramatta's record so far (equal second fewest missed tackles but with the most tackle breaks of any side) could well prove the difference. Parramatta by six.