Eels v Dragons: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v St George Illawarra Dragons
ANZ Stadium
Sunday, 4pm

The final match of a bye-reduced Round 15 sees a desperate Eels side hoping to prove last week's collapse against the Cowboys was a one-off when they host a Dragons team sitting in the top four but missing two Origin stars.

The Eels' visit to the top end came completely unstuck against a Johnathan Thurston-inspired North Queensland and they never looked like threatening the 2015 premiers, who reversed their Round 9 home loss to the Eels.

It was their first time pairing senior half Corey Norman (who made his comeback from a knee strain) with new recruit Mitch Moses; the pair didn't get much of a platform to work off and neither produced their best games in their first chance to work together in match conditions.

Coach Brad Arthur has stuck with them though with fan favourite Clint Gutherson to continue to plug gaps in the backline. The team sheet sees Kirisome Auva'a return from a knee injury on the wing in place of last week's club debutant Nathan Davis in the only listed change. However the presence of star centre Michael Jennings in the reserves hints he may be close to overcoming a quad strain and could cause a further reshuffle in the backs.

The Dragons were disappointingly outmuscled by a determined Canterbury pack in a 16-2 Queen's Birthday loss on Monday and will be looking for a hit-back minus Blues pair Tyson Frizell and Josh Dugan. Jason Nightingale replaces Dugan at fullback with Kalifa Faifai Loa called up on the wing while Tariq Sims starts in Frizell's spot with Jacob Host joining the bench.

Why Eels can win: The Eels will be looking to channel what they did last time they played the Dragons: a fast start, furious forward speed building momentum through offloads and quick play-the-balls creating space for dangerous backs such as Semi Radradra (four tries against the Dragons in Round 2), Bevan French and Clint Gutherson (one try each in Round 2). Clearly the Dragons will be ready for them this time but if Moses and Norman can step up their combination after some early clunkiness last week the Eels should be able to offer more in attack than they did last week.

Why Dragons can win: The Dragons can take some confidence from the fact the Eels haven't actually beaten a team in the top eight since the last time these teams met in Round 2 (discounting one win over a Cowboys side missing three of its four playmakers including Thurston in Round 9). While Dugan and Frizell are big losses, the Dragons aren't currently fourth on the ladder (with the third-best defence) for no reason. The Dragons' middle defenders such as Cam McInnes (46.3 tackles per game, 98.3 per cent efficient), Jack De Belin (35.9 per game, 96.2 per cent) and Paul Vaughan (30.8 per game at 97.3 per cent) will be out to shut down Parramatta's attempts to play through the middle.

 


The history: Played 32; Eels 16; Dragons 14; Drawn 2. The Eels are currently enjoying a five-game winning run over the Red V. The Dragons have won just two of their past eight games at ANZ Stadium.

What are the odds: Two and a half times the money has been placed on Parramatta in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. Eels 1-12 is the most popular margin and Clint Gutherson is proving slightly more popular than Semi Radradra and Bevan French to be first try scorer. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.

Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch judges: Michael Wise and Jarrod Cole; Review Official: Bryan Norrie; Senior RO: Ashley Klein.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 4pm. Fox Sports – Live from 3.30pm. 

NRL.com predicts: The two big Origin outs for the Dragons levels the playing field a bit. Both teams should be better than they were last week but given the Dragons' more consistent form across 2017 to date we'll back the Red V by four.