The Parramatta Eels host the St George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium in Round 22 with plenty at stake for both teams at contrasting ends of the ladder.
The Eels are desperately seeking to avoid the wooden spoon while the Dragons need to rediscover their form to seal a top-four finish.
St George Illawarra have now lost 4 of their last 5 games, with an 18-12 loss to the Warriors in Wollongong their latest setback. The loss again showed that coach Paul McGregor’s representative players have struggled with their club form following an intense State of Origin series.
Meanwhile, the Eels gave their fans some rare joy with a 28-12 win over the Gold Coast Titans. It was one of Parramatta’s better performances in a largely miserable season and will have them believing they can avoid last place.
2018 Dragons def. Eels 20-18 at Oki Win Jubilee Stadium
2017 Eels def. Dragons 24-10 at ANZ Stadium
2017 Eels def. Dragons 34-16 at Oki Win Jubilee Stadium
2016 Eels def. Dragons 30-18 at Parramatta Stadium
2015 Eels def. Dragons 16-12 at Parramatta Stadium
Parramatta had won 6 consecutive matches against St George Illawarra before a heartbreaking 20-18 defeat to the Dragons in Round 16 at Wollongong this year.
The Eels led 18-8 going into the final 10 minutes and were on track for one of the upsets of the season but to their credit, the Dragons came back, with a Ben Hunt kick for Euan Aitken and a Gareth Widdop kick for Matthew Dufty setting up a 20-18 win.
|Parramatta Eels||St George Illawarra Dragons|
|1||Corey Norman||Matthew Dufty|
|2||Jarryd Hayne||Jordan Pereira|
|3||Michael Jennings||Euan Aitken|
|4||Clinton Gutherson||Timoteo Lafai|
|5||George Jennings||Jason Nightingale|
|6||Jaeman Salmon||Gareth Widdop|
|7||Mitchell Moses||Ben Hunt|
|8||Siosaia Vave||James Graham|
|9||Reed Mahoney||Cameron McInnes|
|10||Tim Mannah||Leeson Ah Mau|
|11||Marata Niukore||Tyson Frizell|
|12||Tepai Moeroa||Tariq Sims|
|13||Nathan Brown||Jack De Belin|
|14||Will Smith||Jeremy Latimore|
|15||Kane Evans||Kurt Mann|
|16||Peni Terepo||Blake Lawrie|
|17||Brad Takairangi||Luciano Leilua|
|18||Bevan French||Jacob Host|
|19||David Gower||Nene Macdonald|
|20||Oregon Kaufusi||Zac Lomax|
|21||Ray Stone||Hame Sele|
Parramatta coach Brad Arthur has made several changes despite his team’s impressive win over the Titans. Rookie Jaeman Salmon starts at five-eighth, allowing Corey Norman to move to fullback. Clint Gutherson also moves to centre and Jarryd Hayne to the wing. Will Smith has been added to the 17 while Bevan French has been dropped to the reserves list.
The Dragons have suffered a blow with prop Paul Vaughan sidelined for four weeks due to an ankle injury. Leeson Ah Mau will start at prop and Blake Lawrie has been called up to the bench.
The facts that matter
It’s been a difficult campaign for Parramatta, to say the least with 5 wins and 15 losses to date and none of their victories have been against a top 8 side.
They have come very close recently however with that narrow Round 16 loss to the Dragons followed by a similar promising yet ultimately disappointing 26-20 loss to top of the table South Sydney.
Jarryd Hayne’s return to form has come much too late for the Eels 2018 season but has excited fans nonetheless. Hayne has scored 6 tries in 8 games since returning from injury, recapturing at least some of the form that won him Dally M medals in 2009 and 2014.
Halfback Mitchell Moses has struggled for form and confidence in 2018 but put in a reasonably polished performance against the Titans last week. Moses will be determined to play well against opposing number 7 Ben Hunt who has also been under scrutiny for his recent form.
The Eels face a tough run home with games against Melbourne, North Queensland and Sydney Roosters to follow Saturday Night’s clash with the Dragons. If they are to avoid the wooden spoon they may well need to upset at least one of the top 8 opponents they are set to face in the coming rounds and on form the Dragons appear to be their best chance of an upset.
After being the dominant team in the competition for the first 10 weeks or so, St George Illawarra have stumbled to 4 losses from their last 5 games. Post Origin fatigue may have played it’s part but the Dragons can no longer use that as an excuse as they look to wrap up a top 4 place which looked pretty safe only a few weeks ago.
The Dragons have struggled to score points in recent games with their forwards not so damaging as they have been earlier in the season. Now with Origin prop Paul Vaughan out for 4 weeks, the Dragons really need to step up their intensity. Tyson Frizell is one of the most damaging second rowers in the game and he looked pretty good last week against the Warriors but the pack as a whole needs to follow his lead.
Five-eighth Gareth Widdop remains the NRL’s leading point scorer with 191 points and his combination with halfback Ben Hunt needs to return to the level it was at earlier in the season for the Dragons to go on a winning run into the playoffs.
Another key player is Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes, who has not quite been able to recapture his superb early season form since missing out on a NSW jumper to South Sydney’s Damien Cook. McInnes has the potential to spark the team and really get the Eels forwards back-pedaling if he can sharpen up his dummy half play.
The Dragons have a favourable run home, playing the Eels, Tigers, Bulldogs and Knights in the final four rounds. A top-four finish should still be expected for the joint venture given their schedule and their impressive roster, however, a loss to the wooden spoon threatened Eels would cast serious doubts over the Dragons credentials.
This is another danger game for the Dragons with the Parramatta Eels undoubtedly desperate to win to offload the wooden spoon. Poor starts have hurt the Red V in recent weeks and with confidence down, they’ll surely want to come out firing with their powerful and athletic forwards and skillful backs. The Eels will fancy their chances of an upset, especially with Jarryd Hayne having finally found form again but if the Dragons are serious about making any sort of impact in the finals they have to win this one. It shapes as a spirited forward contest with the class of Gareth Widdop, Ben Hunt and Matthew Dufty making the difference in a tight game.
St George Illawarra by 6 points.
Can the Dragons bounce back with a win, or will the Eels pull off a mammoth upset? Let us know in the comments below.