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9 hours ago
Parramatta will look to channel the emotion of a drama-charged week into their football when they host an equally desperate Manly side on Friday night.
The two premiership fancies have struggled over the opening month of the NRL season, adding to the significance of a heated rivalry still fuelled by Jamie Lyon's defection to the Sea Eagles camp.
Lyon's return `home' last year ended with two tries and a win and, while he is in doubt to make it back this year due to a corked leg, it's the departure of another Eel that has dominated the home side's thoughts this week with halfback Tim Smith having taken indefinite leave.
"It's been different, when one of your mates comes out and says `I'm going to stand down for this week and how many weeks to come' - and he might not even come back at all," inspirational Eels backrower Nathan Hindmarsh said of Smith's departure.
"It was a hard decision for Timmy to make ... it's sad that Timmy's had to give it away for however long, but we've got a game to win, we're staring down what could be 2-4 if we don't win this week."
With Smith out of the equation, gone too is the scapegoat.
The halfback was the easy target when it came to pinning the blame for Parramatta's early season woes.
Even when the Eels won, as they did against Newcastle in round three, the former rookie of the year copped criticism.
That only heightened with a loss, but Hindmarsh knows it's the entire squad that is under the pump.
"The pressure's been on all of us but for some reason everyone was pizzling Timmy," Hindmarsh said.
"Timmy wasn't out there playing by himself, we were all accountable for the losses.
"I think Timmy was a bit unfairly done by copping what he copped, we're all under a bit of pressure now to win the game."
As expected coach Michael Hagan has restored the Brett Finch-Feleti Mateo halves combination in Smith's absence.
It was these two who propelled Parramatta to their best 40 minutes of the season, when they came back from 20-0 down to beat the Bulldogs 28-20 in round one.
Hagan claimed Finch was up to the task of being the team's No.1 playmaker again, and was hoping his energy and the emotion of the week would feed through to the rest of the squad.
"He's a passionate footy player and you're going to need a bit of passion against Manly tomorrow night," Hagan said.
"It won't be through lack of trying that he doesn't get us home."
In all but the win over the Knights, the Eels have put themselves on the back foot by giving up early points.
It's a trend Hagan knows has to stop, though he hopes the big occasion will spur his side to a tighter defensive effort.
"You can't expect to concede 20-30 points a week and win games of football," Hagan said.
"Manly probably feel like they're under pressure too, they probably haven't played their best football either yet.
"Both teams will be desperate to play well and win ... in some ways you enjoy being under pressure because you know you've got to play well to take the pressure off."
Manly will be without star second rower Anthony Watmough, though coach Des Hasler said he was confident Lyon would play.
Either way he was predicting a tough tussle to kick off the NRL's heritage round.
"You won't see the Parramatta side that has played the last two weeks, not at home, not after two losses," Hasler said.
"They'll really come out playing and Parramatta and Manly games are renowned for that."