The Eels host the Broncos in the elimination semi-final at Bankwest Stadium on Sunday and the vocal home crowd is going to be a huge advantage for Parramatta.
Their eight-from-10 record at Bankwest Stadium this year speaks for itself.
On the flip side, the Broncos boast more experience in finals football, particularly in the spine where Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd and Andrew McCullough have played 47 finals between them. Only Mitch Moses has played finals in the Eels spine, and he has lined up in just two.
It all points to a close battle where there will be plenty of titanic individual battles. I have listed five of those key match-ups.
Clint Gutherson v Anthony Milford
Whoever of Gutherson and Milford is going better on Sunday will give a fairly clear indication of how their respective teams are fairing but, irrespective, both of them can assert themselves and make a difference.
The Broncos need to get Milford into more space, and good space. If they can’t do that I would like to see Milford trailing the big Broncos forwards like Matt Lodge, Payne Haas and David Fifita and call for the ball.
Eels v Broncos - Elimination Final
The Broncos need more second phase and they need Milford to be on the end of it.
Milford has the finals experience that Gutherson doesn’t so he should know what to expect. The positive for Brisbane is that we haven’t seen the best of Anthony Milford this year. What a weekend to bring it out.
Gutherson was catapulted into the captaincy on his own this year and has played all 24 games of the season at fullback, a position he has really made his own after he was shifted around the backline last year.
He is really good in broken play and is also a handy link man for the Eels, which we’ve seen with his 11 try assists so far.
They call him ‘King Gutho’ down at Parramatta. It is going to be a big night for him in his first final and he will feel that pressure.
Staying composed and playing the way he has been this year will be the key for him.
Maika Sivo v Jamayne Isaako
If the Sivo chant gets going at Bankwest Stadium then the Broncos could be in for a long night. It is not often you would say a clash of wingers is a key match-up but in this case it is just because Sivo has been such an integral part of Parramatta’s play this year with his 20 tries.
Sivo is a machine and it is no secret that is where the Eels will be going from 20 to 30 metres out. They would be mad not to. Sivo has speed but he also tends to run over blokes.
Last week against Canterbury we saw Isaako jam in with his defence and the Bulldogs found space to score out wide. Jamayne will earn his money this week.
Sivo's breakout year
Issako is a fine player and has the footwork and speed to worry Sivo with his attacking game. That is the area that Isaako need to get one over him.
Mitchell Moses v Jake Turpin
This is a real contrast in styles. Moses is a natural halfback who has played there his entire career. This has been his most consistent season and he leads the competition for try assists.
The Eels No.7 is a confidence player. When he’s on, he is on. The Broncos need to get under Moses’s skin early and put him off his game early with aggression, and Turpin can play his part in that.
Jake is a more of a hooker who has taken on the No.7 jersey for the Broncos due to a shortage of halves, but he is a real competitor and that is why he has been able to make a good fist of it.
Turpin steals the win for the Broncos
The Broncos don’t have natural halves but Turpin can’t just catch and pass. He needs to create opportunities, like he did against Cronulla in round 16.
If we are talking after the game about what a great match Turpin had then it will be a good sign for Brisbane.
Junior Paulo v Matt Lodge
Matt Lodge has had a great year but he wasn’t at his best last week against Canterbury. Being super-competitive he will want to turn that around.
I notice this week he has promised early fireworks at Bankwest and I dare say that his battle with Paulo will be fierce. They are a bit of a contrast in styles though.
Lodge makes about 30 metres per game more than Paulo because that is more of his role as a battering ram.
Paulo is still a handful to tackle but he is a real key to Parramatta with his offloads. He has made 52 of them this year compared to Lodge’s 21 and the Broncos will need to try and nullify that.
The Eels prop put a bit of a clinic on the Broncos earlier this year at Bankwest and that won't sit well with Lodge. He will be very keen to turn the tables.
You know Payne Haas is going to have a blinder for Brisbane so if Lodge gets the points on Paulo then it will go a long way towards a Brisbane win.
Paulo and Mahoney combine
Nathan Brown v Joe Ofahengaue
Both Brown and Ofahengaue have had a couple of weeks off through suspension and injury respectively.
Brown is a real menace but I don’t think he is as smart a footballer as Ofahengaue. I am really impressed with the way Joe plays and I think he might have the edge on his lock counterpart.
Brown will want to mix it up with him but Ofahengaue has a cool head and won’t let that get to him. Brown is run straight at you, and hard, but Ofahengaue has a bit more subtlety with his feet and can get through a hole.
Having said that, Brown is a character who can get on a roll and if you let him get on top of you he will steamroll you.
Milford throws a short pass to Ofahengaue
There is no doubt the Broncos need to fix their slow starts in Sydney, particularly at Bankwest Stadium. They have spoken a lot this week about how that is a focus and if they get that right I believe Brisbane will win.
I just think there is more to come from this Broncos side.
The forward pack has been outstanding but they do need more from halves Darius Boyd and Turpin on the back of it. If they can give Kotoni Staggs and Milford space they should prevail.
The home ground is the big advantage for the Eels and they have played some great football this year but in finals experience counts for a lot and the Broncos have more of it in the key positions.