Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs v Parramatta Eels
Can the in-form Eels make it six straight when they meet up with their old rivals Canterbury?
The Eels and Dogs were THE two teams of the 1980s, combining for eight of the 10 premierships with four apiece – and one-all in Grand Finals in which they met each other. The Dogs downed the Eels 6-4 in 1984 while the Eels triumphed 4-2 in the famous try-less decider in '86.
So it's fitting these two old rivals meet to kick off 'retro' round on Thursday night.
Seeing Canterbury head into this contest placed 13th isn't particularly reminiscent of the 80s or, for that matter, the 90s or 2000s or 2010s. As such, expect Des Hasler's men to be doing everything possible to correct their recent poor record and salvage some pride before their season ends in Rounds 26.
For the Eels however, the rewards could be huge. They have all-but guaranteed themselves a spot in the finals. One more win will do it but more importantly, if they keep racking up the wins a fifth- or sixth-place finish would earn a home final or even a possible top-four finish with a guaranteed second bite of the cherry.
For this match Hasler has named winger Brett Morris to return from illness on the wing in place of Kerrod Holland in the only change.
Eels coach Brad Arthur has named an unchanged 17 although after getting through his injury return in reserve grade last week Frank Pritchard may be edging closer to an NRL recall after being named in the reserves for the second week running.
Why Bulldogs can win: The blue and whites will need to channel their second half against Parramatta from just five weeks ago, when they came back from a 12-0 first half defecit to force the game to golden point at 12-all after easily winning the second 40. A Mitch Moses field goal broke their hearts in the 82nd minute on that occasion but their discipline should give them encouragement. With both teams completing at 86 per cent in that half, the Dogs held 61 per cent of the ball, conceded no penalties, and almost doubled the run metres of their opponents (1,054-554). It's too late in the season to expect Canterbury to flick a switch and become a free-flowing, attacking force but if they can channel what they do well and win the pressure game and the grind they know they have what it takes to wear down the Eels.
Why Eels can win: After five straight wins and particularly after their hugely impressive toppling of the fourth-placed Broncos last week the Eels will believe they can beat anyone on their day. The challenge for Arthur will be keeping them switched on to lift against a bottom-four side after downing a top-four team, but this side looks to have found its steel of late. A case in point: three months ago the Eels conceded two tries in the first 10 minutes against the Roosters and went on to lose 48-10. But now, two tries in seven minutes against Brisbane didn’t cause panic. They reset and hung in and got back in the contest. Then at 14-all late in the game, the type of situation in which the old Eels would have found a way to lose, they upped the ante and kicked away to a 28-14 win. Both the early momentum swing and late surge were built on powerful, stinging carries from the forwards which has been a cornerstone of Parramatta's play in 2017.
The history: Played 140; Bulldogs 75; Eels 60; Drawn 5. The Eels are now on a three-game winning run against the Dogs, reversing a poor run of nine losses in 10 games against the blue and whites from 2011-15. With both clubs calling ANZ home this year there is little on offer in the way of home advantage, although the Eels (six straight wins at ANZ) are enjoying the Stadium more than the Dogs (four losses in past five games) of late.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters have invested more than twice as much on the Eels in the head-to-head market, but they're only willing to back Parramatta to win 1-12 rather than 13+. There isn't even any interest in the Bulldogs at the line either. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch judges: Belinda Sleeman and Nick Beashel. Review Official: Bernard Sutton. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine and Fox League – Live from 7.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: We're tipping this one to pan out fairly similarly to last time – a tough, close battle based on forward momentum with the Eels to have just a bit more quality when it counts. Parramatta by two.