Eels v Bulldogs
What a difference a month makes. Cast your eyes back to the start of Round 20 – just three short weeks before this Friday's Eels/Bulldogs crunch game – and Dessie's Doggies were flying high in equal second (after being equal first a week earlier). The battling Eels, after a bright start to the year, had plummeted over the course of the representative period minus superstar fullback Jarryd Hayne to 13th, and were seemingly out of the finals hunt.
Fast forward three games and it's the Bulldogs, winless over that period to make it four losses on the trot, who are looking desperate. Meanwhile it is the Eels – level with the eighth-placed Dogs on 26 points but ninth on differential – who have the spring in their step after three-straight wins, all of them away from the backyard fortress.
As we wrote earlier this week, there is an excellent chance that the winner of this clash will go on to finish eighth and play finals footy, while the loser will end up in ninth and celebrate Mad Monday in early September.
With the Eels having not gone close to tasting finals footy since their amazing 2009 run, there is therefore a strong case to suggest this is their most important game since the 2009 decider.
They weren't entirely convincing in coming from behind to edge out the lowly Raiders 18-10 in steamy Darwin last week, but a win's a win. They'll need to step it up this week against a desperate Canterbury-Bankstown outfit.
They have a couple of changes; with Junior Paulo suspended Fuifui Moimoi returns at prop, Pauli Pauli returns on the bench in place of Peni Terepo, while Vai Tautai is in on the wing with Bureta Faraimo out.
The Bulldogs' stocks have plummeted in Lehman Brothers proportions. Four-straight losses over the past month has them clinging narrowly to eighth place – ahead of the ninth-placed Eels – on for and against. A loss here will certainly see them finish the weekend outside the eight, and fairly long odds to get back in there at all.
Last week's 41-10 loss to Brisbane was arguably the worst of the lot, although the 42-18 against Wests Tigers to kick if off wasn't pretty either.
Enough has been said and written about last week's brain snap from their five-eighth Josh Reynolds but the main thing as far as this game is concerned is he'll be watching from the sidelines serving the first week of a three-week suspension. His place is taken by promising youngster Moses Mbye.
Big bopper Sam Kasiano is out until the finals with a syndesmosis injury. Aiden Tolman moves to prop, Greg Eastwood starts at lock, Reni Maitua joins the bench and Pat O'Hanlon has been added as 18th man.