Round 2: Parramatta Eels versus the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs.


It was rugby leagues darkest moment.


In the one hundred and five-year history of rugby league in Australia, this was a definite lowlight. Even with all the player misbehaviour, the salary cap breaches, the walk-outs of big-name second rowers and the shocking video ref decisions that weve experienced over the years, it was last weekend that sent a shiver down just about every footy fans spine. It just wasnt right unfair, in fact and supporters of clubs far and wide would unite in an attempt to stamp out this dark cloud over the game.


Thankfully, Monday night saw it all come to a timely end. But for forty eight hours there forty eight hours too many, if you ask me the NRL was in turmoil. Many fans hadnt seen anything like it before, and were lost as to how to react. The Parramatta Eels were leading the competition.


I think I speak on behalf of Todd Greenberg, Michael Ennis and all 15, 000 Bulldogs members in thanking the Knights for winning so convincingly and pulling the Eels back down to second. It was a situation not seen often, and one which I hope to be stricken from all NRL records. It did, however, hint at what we might be in for on Thursday night. Were in for a test to prove that we can still demolish the one-time competition leaders. So as the Eels Twitter account has put it during the week: This is war.


It must be said that Parramattas performance on Saturday afternoon suggested a side much improved from the wooden spooners that managed just six wins in 2012 and with names like Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow firing, its little wonder that they could put forty points on an exhausted Warriors outfit.


But at the risk of giving our arch-nemeses too much credit, I should also say this. Round One last year was the only round that Parramatta didnt finish the round coming last, and the remaining twenty five rounds saw a consistent return of the Eels that we all know and love. Will history repeat itself? One can dream.


Under the guidance of Ricky Stuart, however, the Eels will have more resolve than weve seen in the past. While not necessarily a side full of big signings, its expected that there will be a classic Stuart brand of tight defence that any premiership contender needs to have, while the likes of Hayne, Sandow, Ben Roberts and young gun Jacob Loko will provide enough attacking flair to outscore the opposition.


And if there were any fear that Stuart would limit the attacking potential of this side by focusing heavily on defence, that was quashed in the lead-up to Round One: the former Origin and Australian coach named not one, not two but three specialist five-eighths to ensure plenty of speed and fitness.


When it comes to the Bulldogs side, I still believe our defence can match it with the best of them. Last Saturdays loss can mostly be put down to a few errors at key moments, and a general lack of go-forward. While we still produced eight offloads and our completion rate was relatively good, the Cowboys made more metres and more line breaks than us, which demonstrates just how sorely James Graham, Sam Kasiano and Frank Pritchard will be missed over the coming weeks. With an unchanged lineup, the onus will be on Parramatta junior Tony Williams to hit the line harder and make more metres in every run; we can no longer rely on strike power from any area of the field, as we did last year with Ben Barba.


A win this Thursday night will come from some hard work in the middle and enough attacking sets in good field position, while putting pressure on Hayne and Sandow during the Eels last tackle options. As with last week, Im predicting Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett will get a lot of ball out wide.


But throughout any football match/gladiatorial battle, there are several key moments which allow one side to assert dominance and Thursday will be no exception. The moment Chris Sandow first locks horns with Michael Ennis, a rival since his days at South Sydney.


The moment Fuifui Moimoi comes off the bench to take his first hit up, a player that we all love to hate and always a key man in Bulldogs-Eels matchups. The moment Ben Roberts replaces Joseph Paulo to face up against Kris Keating and Josh Reynolds, his ultimate successors at Belmore. In each of these moments, aggression will be key. Because this isnt a game of chess, this is Bulldogs versus Eels. This is a rivalry born out of grand finals, out of Steve Mortimer and Peter Sterling matchups of the 1980s, out of that Daryl Halligan conversion that ranks highly in historys best.


This, my friends, means something to both Parramatta and Canterbury fans alike. This is war.

Simon Masterton.