Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v Wests Tigers
They're always entertaining clashes when these two western Sydney rivals get together, but on this occasion – in stark contrast to Parramatta's efficient 8-0 win earlier in the season – the Eels will head into this one out of sorts and the Tigers on the back of a resounding win.
Those were heady days, when the Eels were downing all and sundry on the back of incredible defensive resolve and fans were unaware that sins of current and previous administrations were about to cause their season to unravel.
In fact a mountain of injuries on top of several high-profile departures for various reasons mean Parramatta come in with roughly half of the 17 players involved in that win unavailable or having left the club. Last week's loss to the Titans was the final nail that confirmed – if it wasn't official already – that the Eels won't feature in the 2016 finals race.
With centre Michael Jennings still unavailable due to a hamstring strain, the club has opted to challenge a dangerous throw charge against Manu Ma'u in the hopes he will be available at left centre.
They will also continue with Clint Gutherson alongside Jeff Robson in the halves while Vai Toutai (wing) and captain Beau Scott (lock) return from injury pushing Bureta Faraimo and Cody Nelson out of the 17.
The Tigers had two big wins and one loss under their belts ahead of that Round 4 loss, went through a huge slump since and then fought their way out of it to sit on the cusp of the top eight heading into Round 21.
The Robbie Farah situation remains unresolved, but for now coach Jason Taylor has again left the Origin rake out of the NRL side. Reserve hooker Manaia Cherrington has been added as 18th man in an otherwise unchanged side. Tim Grant (concussion) and Chris Lawrence (leg) have both been named despite picking up injuries last week.
Watch out Ees: Tigers five-eighth Mitch Moses stamped his class on last week's win over the Dragons at a point where the match was there to be won. In a period midway through the second half, with his side having done brilliantly to repel an extended attacking raid on their line, the young playmaker turned the match on its head. First a line break, brushing past Leeson Ah Mau, was unlucky not to lead to a James Tedesco try (thanks to a brilliant try-saving tackle from Jason Nightingale). The very next set, a deliberately sliced 40-20 attempt curved beautifully into touch to set the scene for Moses to again challenge the line and create the Josh Aloiai try that put the match all but beyond reach – before icing the celebrations with a field goal shortly after.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Was last week the first real sign of cracks appearing for the playing group after a tumultuous year, or a blip in the radar in the face of a determined Titans outfit? We're tipping the proud Parramatta playing group will fire a few more shots before the season is done. A lot of the strike power has disappeared from their backline, meaning forward power is where they will have to make their mark. Tim Mannah, Danny Wicks, Tepai Moeroa, Dan Alvaro and Peni Terepo have been relentless in recent weeks and will look to make a statement early on.
Key match-up: Tim Mannah v Aaron Woods. Eels club captain Mannah has been in vintage form since returning from a shoulder injury while Tigers captain Woods was arguably the best player on the ground last week. Woods was immense against the Red V with a match-high 183 metres to go with 35 tackles and four offloads. Mannah has his old sting back with his hit-ups and fast play the balls and while he was relatively well contained against the Titans (108 metres and 28 tackles in 43 minutes is still nothing to sneeze at) but he had 161 metres in a powerful spell the week before against Penrith and his dual with Woods will be a major factor in deciding the winner here.
The history: Played 32; Eels 18, Wests Tigers 13, Drawn 1. The Eels have won the past two clashes but the Tigers won eight of 10 prior to that. The Eels have won all three of their ANZ Stadium matches this year while for their opponents the ledger reads three wins and three losses.
What are the odds: There are 50 per cent more individual bets on Wests Tigers, and twice the number of dollars. Sportsbet reports huge interest in the Tigers to win 13-plus as well as cover the line, where they're conceding the start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant referee: Chris Butler. Sideline officials: Jason Walsh and Kasey Badger. Review officials: Jason Robinson and Ben Galea. Senior review official: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 5pm.
The way we see it: The patched up Eels looked more fragile last week than they have all season while the Tigers – albeit against an unimpressive Dragons outfit – looked confident. On that basis well tip them to edge out the Eels by four points.