Schick Hydro Preview: Canberra Raiders v Parramatta Eels
The question has been raised this week as to where aggression has gone in the modern game.
Can I suggest turning up to GIO Stadium on Saturday afternoon because it will be on display in bucketloads as two powerful packs of forwards line up on either side of the halfway line and prepare to go to battle.
The suspension of Elliott Whitehead has seen Canberra coach Ricky Stuart promote Iosia Soliola into the starting team and add Dave Taylor to his bench, bolstering a forward rotation already bursting at the seams with the likes of Shannon Boyd, Junior Pauli and Josh Papalii.
But Parramatta pack a punch of their own and while their physical measurements may not stack up with their opposition the ferociousness with which they all play the game makes them a pound-for-pound proposition not to be taken lightly.
Suaia Matagi and Manu Ma'u hit like sledgehammers and can do just as damage with ball in hand, Beau Scott is the definition of a tough competitor and Nathan Brown treads the line of intimidating defender and downright lunatic.
Both teams come into this game after gruelling losses last start and no doubt questioning somewhat how they can be sitting outside the top eight after the first month of footy.
The Raiders have had a big win, a big loss and two Queensland heart-breakers while the Eels started the year with two convincing wins before consecutive losses to the Titans and Sharks.
Taylor's inclusion for the suspended Whitehead is the only change to the Canberra 17 that went down 13-12 to the Broncos last Friday night while the Eels also welcome back a player from suspension in Tepai Moeroa. Siosaia Vave and David Gower are both vying for the final place on coach Brad Arthur's bench.
Yes, there are some thrilling backs in action in this game but the people will come to see the big blokes batter each other and see which pack is left standing after 80 minutes.
Why the Raiders can win: Through four rounds of the Telstra Premiership no team has had less use of the football than Canberra who – if not for a golden point fluke by the Cowboys and a Jordan Kahu field goal last weekend – could have been well entrenched in the top four. Coach Ricky Stuart made the point after the Brisbane loss that if given an even share of possession they'll match it with any team and that is their challenge this weekend. Only the Wests Tigers have made as many as Canberra's 51 errors this season but if they can maintain some level of ball control the Eels will struggle to keep pace.
Why the Eels can win: On the surface this would appear to be a classic match-up of the adventurous nature of a free-wheeling Raiders team against an Eels line-up built on discipline and power running but look a little deeper and the stats tell a somewhat different tale. The Eels have had more possession through the first four rounds (53 per cent compared to 46), completed at 75 per cent compared to Canberra's 70 per cent and make less errors per game than the Raiders but that doesn't mean they don't chance their hand. Parramatta have made almost double the number of offloads than the Raiders (53-27) led by interchange forward Nathan Brown with nine with Semi Radradra and Beau Scott each having seven apiece. If the Eels can get the balance of possession and second-phase pay just right the Canberra defence will have a hard time holding them out.
 Telstra Premiership: Joseph Leilua vs Michael Jennings
All Run Metres, Try Assists, Tackle Breaks, Line Breaks.
History: Played 53; Raiders 27; Eels 26. Recent history runs all the way of the Raiders having been victorious in seven of their past nine meetings with the Eels. From the first clash between these two clubs their history has been littered with blowout scorelines, starting with Parramatta's 54-3 demolition in Canberra's seventh premiership game in 1982. Eleven years later the Raiders had their revenge, destroying the Eels 68-0 in Canberra, to this day the biggest winning and losing margin in the history of both clubs. The Eels have won only twice in Canberra this century.
What are the odds: There's been a bit of support for the Eels, but only at the line where they're receiving a handy points start. Punters think this will be a closer match than the odds suggest and both sides have been backed to win 1-12 according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall; Touch Judges: Rickey Mcfarlane and Michael Gordon; Review Official: Steve Chiddy; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live from 5pm (AEDT).
NRL.com predicts: Last week's 64 per cent completion rate against the Sharks was by far the Eels' worst return this season, and coach Brad Arthur is unlikely to let it happen again. Canberra don't need much football to rack up points but if the Eels can starve them of possession they will be able to force them into error. It's been more than a decade since Parramatta left the nation's capital with a win but this might be the time they end the drought. Eels by four points.