Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
3 days ago
Hayne Plane grounded as Eels look to bounce back.
It's no surprise that Jarryd Hayne has been a huge talking point this week after an alleged spat with coach Neil Henry and picking up an ankle complaint in last weekend's big loss to the Dragons. Add to that the fact he was to face his former club in a grudge match and you have a recipe for something special.
Except - that's not what's gonna happen. Hayne's been ruled out with an ankle complaint. Phillip Sami is named at fullback in his place, one less experienced face in a struggling Titans lineup who've been hammered in successive weeks by the Broncos and Dragons.
The Eels have their own troubles. Flying high in spite of the loss of key man Clint Gutherson, the blue and gold army hit the wall last week against a resurgent Newcastle Knights side. While many fans will be hoping it was a one-off, their lead-in form to that game does raise questions, with Parramatta's makeshift side doing it tough to overcome both the Tigers and Bulldogs in recent weeks. Their standout performance came against the Broncos at ANZ Stadium where they ran roughshod in the second half after copping two early tries before clawing their way back.
The concern for Parramatta will be their inability to lift against lower-ranked sides. They do have good news with Bevan French returning to the fullback role after missing last week's loss to Newcastle through injury.
The Gold Coast were victors earlier this year and across the 16 encounters between these two sides, it is the men from the glitter strip who hold an 11 wins to 5 advantage since 2007. This is owed largely to Parramatta's distinct lack of success in recent years, failing to qualify for the finals since their 2009 Grand Final loss to Melbourne. At ANZ Stadium though it's duck egg - they've never played at the Olympic venue against each other.
Who to watch: With only weeks left at the club, Semi Radradra will want to be going out on a high. He and Suiaia Matagi are the only pair who've laced up for every Eels game this season, picking up 17 line breaks and 12 tries from 21 matches. He's also been a handy proprietor of offloads this season with 20 to his name. But more important than anything is his speed and ability to find the line - and if the Titans' recent form is anything to go by he should have plenty of chances this Thursday.
Hayne's injury aside the Titans still boast a fairly strong lineup, so their AWOL performances really do boggle the mind. It will be interesting to see if the former 49ers' star's absence has any positive impact on the 17 that take the field for this contest. As such, the one to watch for the Gold Coast is undoubtedly coach Neil Henry, whose job has come under scrutiny - if not from the fanbase and media let alone from Hayne himself.
My tip: Given their diabolical form I can't possibly tip the Gold Coast - even if the Eels are adept at bottling games against lower ranked sides. Parramatta will win, although not by the big margins the Broncos and Dragons have in recent weeks over the Titans. Eels by 12.
1. Bevan French 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Kirisome Auva'a 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 14. Daniel Alvaro 9. Cameron King 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 15. Kenny Edwards 16. Suaia Matagi 17. Peni Terepo 19. Will Smith
5. William Zillman 2. Anthony Don 3. Dale Copley 4. John Olive 20. Phillip Sami 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ashley Taylor 18. Morgan Boyle 9. Nathan Peats 10. Ryan James 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Joe Greenwood 16. Leivaha Pulu 14. Kane Elgey 15. Nathaniel Peteru 17. Paterika Vaivai 19. Ben Nakubuwai