Eels v Sharks: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v Cronulla Sharks
ANZ Stadium
Saturday, 7pm

The second Saturday game sees two teams bring mixed form into a pretty crucial early-season fixture as each looks to atone for an upset loss last weekend. 

It's also a special date on the calendar for both clubs – not least Eels skipper Tim Mannah – with the two teams playing for the Johnny Mannah Cup in honour of the late Eels and Sharks forward who died from Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013.

The heavily-fancied Eels were expected to account for an understrength Titans after two commanding wins to start 2017 but were frankly very poor and were completely out-enthused by a much more committed Gold Coast team.

It's no secret halfback Corey Norman is a crucial player for Parramatta and his stunning performances last year and in the first two rounds this year underscore just how massive his impact – and by extension absence – is for the club, as much as they weren't blaming his hamstring for a woeful effort last round.

He has been named to return from a low-grade hamstring strain while Kaysa Pritchard has also been named at hooker despite suffering what looked like a nasty ankle injury last week. Half Jeff Robson reverts to the reserves list and remains in contention as cover for both players with the rest of the club's hooking depth battling injuries, though Cam King (sternum) is also named in the reserves.

Frank Pritchard replaces Tepai Moeroa (suspension) in the back row, with Siosaia Vave in line for a club debut off the bench.

The Sharks have been tougher to get a read on – they competed well in a tough season-opening loss against Brisbane before looking every bit a premiership team in a Round 2 thrashing of Canberra before being bullied by a physical Dragons side in a local derby loss on Sunday night.

The biggest news on the team front in the Shire is the emergence of one big name at the bottom of the reserves list – former Cowboys and Panthers hooker James Segeyaro. If everything gets finalised in time he could come into the 17 for a club debut which would most likely come off the bench with Jayden Brailey to retain his starting spot. Gerard Beale (hamstring) also reappears on the reserves list and could return at centre for Kurt Capewell if fit. Winger Sosaia Feki also starts with Edrick Lee bumped down to the reserves following a less-than-ideal three errors in as many games.


Why Eels can win: Parramatta should be a much different team this week. They're back in Sydney for their first home game of the season, Norman is back pulling the strings and coach Brad Arthur will have delivered a few home truths following last week's debacle. Norman is challenging the line plenty – he is one of just two halves averaging over 100 running metres per game (behind leader Cody Walker) – and his wide array of passing, kicking and offloading (five offloads in two games) make him an unpredictable threat for defences.

Why Sharks can win: They're the premiers for a reason and that intimidating pack is virtually unchanged from the won that took out the 2016 Grand Final. They need to get back to what they brought against the Raiders in Round 2, when Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita both notched close to 200 metres, Wade Graham was running devastating left-edge lines off James Maloney and Luke Lewis (as he has every game this year, to be fair) continued to laugh in the face of father time to maintain his phenomenal standards of last year.

 


The history: Played 82; Eels 39; Sharks 43. It's been very tight in recent years – the past 10 games are shared five apiece and even recent form sees the spoils split four apiece, three apiece and two apiece. However with these two clubs only meeting once in each of the past two seasons and Cronulla winning the past two, you have to go back to 2014 for Parramatta's last victory over Cronulla. 

What are the odds: This is an intriguing battle for favouritism according to the odds fluctuations with Sportsbet. Parramatta have been the big firmers since markets opened, thanks to twice as many dollars bet on them, but Parra 1-12 is the way punters are going. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assist Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Rickey Mcfarlane and Jason Walsh. Review Official: Ben Galea. Senior Ro: Bernard Sutton.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 7pm. 

NRL.com predicts: this is one of several really tough games to pick this weekend with either side a realistic chance to take it by 13-plus points. There are a few fitness clouds still hanging over the Eels with Corey Norman (hamstring) and Kaysa Pritchard (ankle) but if they both play will tip the home side to get it done in a tight one – Eels by four.