Date: Thursday, August 22, 2019
Venue: BankWest Stadium, Parramatta
Kick Off: 7:50pm
Referees: Grant Atkins, Peter Gough
Head-to-head: Played 156 Eels 67 Bulldogs 83 Drawn 6
Odds: Eels $1.33 Bulldogs $3.40
Broadcast: Nine, Fox League, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Eels 36 Bulldogs 16 ANZ Stadium (2019)
Eels 14 Bulldogs 8 ANZ Stadium (2018)
Bulldogs 20 Eels 12 ANZ Stadium (2018)
Eels 20 Eels 4 ANZ Stadium (2017)
The Warm Up
A rivalry without rival.
That catchphrase, used to promote Origin footy, could just as easily be used to describe the history between these two western Sydney clubs.
Success for the Eels and the Bulldogs has been tough to find in recent seasons, but both teams come into this clash in strong form. The Eels have won eight of their last ten matches, whilst the Bulldogs have emerged victorious in five of their last seven.
The defensive numbers are worth noting. The Eels and Bulldogs both concede an average of just over 20 points per match. However, over the last three rounds, each team has limited their opposition to an average of just 10 points per game.
For mine, the Bulldogs have delivered a very similar match plan throughout 2019. Though they generate plenty of offloads, they play conservatively on the back of this, producing the second lowest line breaks, and the lowest tackle breaks in the NRL.
The result – 276 points for the season (or just over 13 points per game).
In contrast, the Eels have unleashed one of the most potent attacks in the NRL, racking up 479 points (an average of just under 23 points per game).
Can the Bulldogs shut down the Eels attack?
Will the Eels stay composed against the Dogs high completion rate?
Boasting two of the most passionate supporter bases, even within the same families, the big matches have drawn massive crowds, notably the near 75000 crowd for the 2009 preliminary final. A Thursday night time slot is not conducive to sell out crowds, but I’m expecting a vocal twenty thousand plus attendance this week.
The Eels faithful need to get loud and drown out the Bulldogs drums.
Those on the corporate side, get ready to rattle your jewellery.
Bring. It. On!
Having A Punt
How tough has it been to find value in the punt lately? I must be the only person not winning when backing Maika Sivo to score tries!
I’m not going to back him three weeks in a row, so it’s time to dip back into the well which has delivered more often than not in 2019 – the line/over under double. Take the Eels conceding 9.5 start, coupled with over 36.5 total match points @$3.30.
The favourites in the first try scorer market are:
Eels: Sivo $8 Takairangi $10
Bulldogs: Meaney $13 Smith $13
Feed Your Footy Brain
The Eels have won six of their last seven matches against the Bulldogs, but incredibly with the matches staged at ANZ Stadium, there hasn’t been a true home and away fixture between the teams since 2007. This will continue in 2020 when the Dogs shift their matches to BankWest.
Parramatta have only experienced one defeat on their home turf this season, and this has become a significant advantage.
The Bulldogs have won their only “home game” at BankWest, defeating the only team to beat Parra at home – the Panthers.
Tracking: Michael Jennings
How important is Michael Jennings to the Eels team?
The former representative centre has had an interrupted season, only playing in 14 of the 21 matches this season, and he’s looked to be physically hampered in his most recent games after returning from injury.
That said, Jennings in full flight is still a vision of magnificence. He fairly glides across the turf, and defences struggle to keep up with him over 40 metres.
A measure of Jennings potency in attack can be found in the tackle break stats – with Jennings being the leading Eel with an average of 3.1 per game.
And defence? A noted talker, his return is music to the ears of a rookie such as Maika Sivo.
Expect their combination to shine in the big end of season games.
Danger Man: Corey Harawira-Naera
It seems to have taken some time for Harawira-Naera to find his feet at the Bulldogs, but judging by the havoc he created last week running off Foran, he’s starting to fulfil the promise created by his Panthers form.
His 2019 stats aren’t anything to write home about. He averages just 73.7 running metres per game, and 1.4 tackle breaks. No doubt such returns have been impacted by his time off the bench and the Dogs own struggles with attack.
And the articulate back rower has been honest in assessing his early season form. Speaking on radio last Sunday, he suggested an examination of his missed tackle statistic was indicative of why he struggled to hold a place in the starting line up.
If the Eels let Foran find time on the edges, Harawira-Naera will run rampant.
Eels: 1. Clint Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Michael Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 5. Brad Takairangi 6.Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Kane Evans 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Manu Ma’u 13. Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14. Peni Terepo 15. David Gower 16. Daniel Alvaro 17. Marata Niukore 18. Tepai Moeroa 19. George Jennings 20. Stefano Utoikamanu 21.Jaeman Salmon
Bulldogs: 1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Nick Meaney 3. Kerrod Holland 4. Will Hopoate 5. Reimis Smith 6. Kieran Foran 7. Lachlan Lewis 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Dylan Napa 11. Josh Jackson 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Adam Elliott
Interchange: 14. Jack Cogger 15. Renouf To’omaga 16. Raymond Faitala-Mariner 17. Chris Smith 19. Danny Fualalo 20. Morgan Harper 21. Michael Lichaa 22. Ofahiki Ogden
Junior Paulo vs Dylan Napa
There’s little doubt that the Eels middle have delivered more punch in attack this season, and big Junz can take a chunk of the credit.
Paulo has averaged 120 running metres per game, with an impressive season high of 180 metres. Add in a team leading 2.4 offloads per match, and 1.7 tackle breaks and you have a prop providing both a strong platform as well as a point of difference in attack.
Throw in Nathan Brown and Kane Evans as the Eels starting middles and you have three different body types and three different skill sets.
Standing opposite Paulo in this clash, big Pappy – Dylan Napa, brings plenty of aggression. The home movie star has comparable run metres to Junior’s (116.4 per game) but he doesn’t pose the same type of attacking threat, with only 0.5 offloads and 1.1 tackle breaks.
Likewise, Napa’s starting front row partner, Aiden Tolman, is a noted workhorse but not a gifted ball-player.
Power and second phase vs workhorses. Who will provide the better platform?
And The Winner Is?
I’m strangely confident this week.
The form guide tells you that the Bulldogs will be no pushover, but I’ve also seen a succession of teams fail to respect the boys from Belmore and this has been paramount in their last few rounds. If teams just roll up, expect to win, and fail to get things right in their own backyard, the Dogs play the type of footy that will scrap out a win.
In recent weeks, the Eels have learned to get the little things right before going for the big plays. Kicks to the corners, kick chases, field position, line speed, completions – wins come on the back of the boring stuff like this. The Eels even learned a lesson in the first half against the Titans when firing too many big shots and turning over possession, but the second half was both clinical and explosive.
If the Eels lay the platform through the middle, and they are sitting second for running metres, Mitchell Moses will create opportunities for his talented crew of backs.
Last week looked like grand final celebrations for the Dogs. The quick turn around will be tough for them.
I’m tipping a comfortable win for the Eels.
Eels 42 Bulldogs 10
Man of the Match – Mitch Moses