It has so far been a season to forget for the Parramatta Eels as they are still searching for their first win of the season.
With so much expectation, the Eels have so far failed to live up to it. They come up against a Wests Tigers side who suffered their first loss of the season in round three. Jarryd Hayne is out for the Eels in a blow to their back-line stocks after he injured his hip. Bevan French is also in doubt with a shoulder injury.
Losing narrowly to the Brisbane Broncos in round three, the Tigers have been praised for their defence to start the season. Josh Reynolds and Elijah Taylor will still be missing for the Tigers and Benji Marshall will be given every chance to prove his fitness after suffering an ankle injury in the round three loss.
Wests Tigers v Parramatta Eels, 4pm, Monday at ANZ Stadium
The key match-up: It's the battle of the housemate halfbacks, with Luke Brooks up against Mitch Moses. It's been a fine start to the year for Tiger Brooks, who has not overplayed his hand in the team's impressive 2-1 start to the year as he's formed a balanced partnership with returning star Benji Marshall. The news hasn't been so good for Moses, who has been sin-binned twice in his team's 0-3 start to the year while his partnership with Corey Norman has so far gone nowhere near the heights they managed last season.
Tigers v Eels - Round 4
For the Wests Tigers to win: They just have to maintain their defensive focus. Players have spoken this week about not taking the Eels lightly. They've been the most impressive defensive team of the year in their three games against three premiership heavyweights while the Eels are the worst attacking team in the comp so far. On paper the Tigers' defence should easily hold up but rugby league is rarely so simple.
For the Eels to win: If there's any good news for Parramatta fans, it's that at least they only let in one try last week after a nine-try drubbing against Manly a week earlier. Having a few injury-forced changes isn't ideal but with a debutant on the wing, Kirisome Auva'a in his preferred centre spot, plus Kaysa Pritchard and Peni Terepo's energy injected for the first time this year, the hope will be they can rekindle that missing spark in attack. They'll certainly need it because the Tigers' defence has been impregnable so far.
Wests Tigers Stat Attack: 124 minutes per try conceded. That's right, just two four-pointers against them in three full games (including an extra eight minutes of extra time). Needless to say that's comfortably the NRL's best after three rounds. Parramatta will need to find something special to breach this black and gold wall.
Eel Stat Attack: 123 missed tackles at 41 per game is the NRL's second-worst behind Gold Coast while a further 65 ineffective tackles at 22 per game is the worst in the league. It's no individual player that's been the problem – Mitch Moses with 14 barely scrapes into the NRL top 10 but with Cam King (11), Manu Ma'u (10), Tepai Moeroa (9) plus Tim Mannah, Corey Norman, Jarryd Hayne and Bevan French (all 8), there have been too many players racking up the misses.
And another thing: As of last year, the Eels and Tigers play for the Stay Kind Cup every Easter Monday. Stay Kind is a joint initiative between the two clubs started by Ralph and Kathy Kelly to combat bullying in honour of their son Thomas, who was killed in a one-punch attack in 2012, and his younger brother Stuart, who took his own life after being bullied in the wake of the incident. The Eels were the inaugural winners last year and both clubs have again been active to promote the initiative this year.
Prediction: Tigers by 6
*To find out more about Stay Kind, go to: http://staykind.org.au/
*Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Wests Tigers: 21 Tuimoala Lolohea, 1 Corey Thompson, 3 Esan Marsters, 4 Kevin Naiqama, 5 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 6 Benji Marshall (c), 7 Luke Brooks, 8 Russell Packer, 9 Pita Godinet, 10 Ben Matulino, 11 Chris Lawrence, 12 Robbie Rochow, 13 Matthew Eisenhuth
Interchange: 15 Alex Twal, 16 Michael Chee Kam, 17 Josh Aloiai, 20 Jacob Liddle
Tuimoala Lolohea returns at fullback for the Tigers with Corey Thompson shifting to the wing and David Nofoaluma dropping out of the side. Jacob Liddle replaces Matt McIlwrick on the bench.
Eels: 1 Will Smith, 2 George Jennings, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Kirisome Auva'a, 5 Josh Hoffman 6 Corey Norman, 7 Mitchell Moses, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Kaysa Pritchard, 10 Tim Mannah (c), 11 Manu Ma'u, 15 Kenny Edwards, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 12 Tepai Moeroa, 14 Beau Scott, 16 Peni Terepo, 17 Tony Williams
Kenny Edwards starts in the second row with Tepai Moeroa shifting back to the bench in Parramatta's only change to the 17 named on Tuesday.
Match: Wests Tigers v Eels
Round 4 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium
Head-to-head: Tigers 14 wins, Eels 20 wins, 3 draws
Matches at venues: 12 matches, Tigers 3 wins, Eels 9 wins
Last five head-to-head: Tigers 1 win, Eels 4 wins
2017 results: Eels won 26-22 in round 7, Eels won 17-16 in round 20.
Points per game: Tigers 9, Eels 6
Points conceded per game: Tigers 8.3, Eels 30.7
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League