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Eels to unveil young guns
Spearheaded by Kris Keating, Tim Mannah, Taulima Tautai and Marty Lewis among others, the Parramatta Eels are a definite force to be reckoned with in this year's inaugural Toyota Cup.
The centenary season marks the dawn of a new era for rugby league, with the national youth league (under 20s) replacing the Premier League as the second-tier competition in the country.
After suffering a narrow defeat at the hands of the Penrith Panthers in last year's Jersey Flegg grand final, the Eels are determined to make amends in season 2008.
Tipped to captain the side is former Australian schoolboy Tim Mannah.
Still hurting after last season's disappointment, Mannah believes the Eels have the strike power to challenge for a top four finish.
"We have little goals set for different stages of the year, but the ultimate goal is to finish in the top four," Mannah said.
Those ambitions were dealt a heavy blow after halfback Trent Hodkinson suffered a knee injury in a recent trial match.
"Hodko [Hodkinson] won't be back until the end of the year," Mannah said.
"But the good thing about our team this year is that we have a lot of capable halves ready to fill in."
Injury woes are a major problem for the Eels, as Jason Baitieri, Nathan Campbell, Justin Hunt, Marty Lewis and Jay Heming are all fighting the clock to be fit for round one.
Players to watch:
Anthony Mitchell, Taulima Tautai, Kris Keating.
The Eels have a strong forward pack, with Tim Robinson, Marty Lewis and Tim Mannah providing plenty of firepower up front. Tony Williams and Taulima Tautai are the backbone of a versatile backline. Look for these two to rack up quite a few tries this season.
The halves combination of Kris Keating and Trent Hodkinson is one of the strongest in the competition. The big question for the Eels is whether they can fill the void created by the injured Hodkinson. Another problem the Eels must overcome is the prospect of losing players to NRL duties.
The Eels kick off their Toyota Cup campaign against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 3pm.