Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v Gold Coast Titans
Well, this week was always going to be about Jarryd Hayne but no one could have predicted that the chatter would become a roar that has rocked one club to its very foundation and left the other trying to put as much distance between it and its former prodigal son as a vegan would a meatlovers pizza.
The inner struggle between Hayne and Titans coach Neil Henry has been bubbling beneath the surface since pre-season but it all became very public when Hayne got on the front foot by declaring if Henry no longer wanted him on the Gold Coast then he would walk away in the wake of the team's fourth consecutive loss last weekend.
That forced Titans hierarchy to take immediate action which resulted in a playing group having to wade through waiting media in order to conduct another torturous video review on a five-day turnaround.
Having picked up an ankle injury against the Dragons and with only five days to prepare, Hayne is considered only a 50-50 chance of playing against the Eels for the first time in his career after an ankle injury earlier in the season saw him miss the Round 3 clash with Parramatta won 26-14 by Gold Coast.
To make matters worse for the Titans, the Eels suffered a shock loss to a Newcastle Knights team valiantly trying to avoid 'winning' the wooden spoon for a third straight season last Friday.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett was quick to quip that he wouldn't allow his players to absorb the plaudits coming their way as appeared to be the case for an Eels team that were suddenly eyeing off a top four finish.
The upset to the Knights no doubt brought Parramatta players back to earth with a thud having not tasted the sting of defeat since Round 14 and should guarantee a much improved attitude on Thursday night from Brad Arthur's men.
Parramatta have been bolstered by the return of Bevan French at fullback while an under siege Henry has made just one change to his 21-man squad, elevating Tyrone Roberts into the starting team at five-eighth and moving Kane Elgey back to the bench.
Why the Eels can win: 'The game will be won in the middle.' We hear it every week but there are some stunning statistics that prove this area of the game is likely to be extremely one-sided on Thursday night. When it comes to metres gained per set with the ball in hand the powerful Parramatta team rumbles forward for an average of 44.3 metres per set, third behind the Dragons and the Broncos in the NRL. The Titans on the other hand average just 39.3 metres per set which can translate to as much as 200m extra the Eels make over the course of 80 minutes. Magnifying this discrepancy in the middle is that the Eels' defence ranks first in conceding only 40.9m per set as the Titans languish in 15th position, conceding 44m per set. If those stats hold up it all points to a big Eels win.
Why the Titans can win: Recognising the spark that he gave the team in the second half against the Dragons last week Henry has named Tyrone Roberts at five-eighth and relegated Kane Elgey to the bench, and results this year suggest it is a move for the better. The Titans have a 75 per cent winning record with Roberts and Ash Taylor as their starting halves this season and after 200 minutes in which they scored just one try against the Wests Tigers, Broncos and Dragons, the introduction of Roberts saw the Titans score three times in the space of 14 minutes to reduce the deficit from 28 points to 12. Who knows what headspace the players will run out with but at the very least they should have a happy pair of halves.
The history: Played 16; Eels 5, Titans 11. In terms of winning percentage the Titans represent Parramatta's most difficult opponent in the club's history with the Eels victorious in just 31.25 per cent of their meetings to date. Not even St George (68.04 per cent), Manly (62.84), Brisbane (62.27) and Melbourne (59.38) beat Parramatta more regularly than the Titans who have won seven of the past nine clashes which includes their club record 42-4 win in Mudgee in 2013. Thursday's game represents the first time the two teams have met at ANZ Stadium.
What are the odds: Eels $1.28, Titans $3.73. Punters are tipping Parramatta to bounce back this week, with 90 per cent of the money on the Eels in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. Parramatta by 13-plus is well supported and there's more interest on them in handicap betting as well, where they're conceding a big start. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins; Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger; Touch Judges: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski and Kasey Badger; Review Official: Bernard Sutton; Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm; Fox League – Live from 7pm
NRL.com predicts: The bounce-back factor normally sees a team respond in emphatic fashion a week later but the Titans have had three weeks to respond and are showing no signs of improvement. They will be eager to use the dramatic week as motivation but that only lasts so long and both the Broncos and Dragons have shown that if you go with the Titans for 20 minutes their resistance quickly drops away. The Eels have their own disappointments that they want to put behind them and if they are to be considered genuine finals threats need to do a proper job on a team on its knees and give their for-and-against a significant boost. Eels by 22 points.