Round 6: Eels v Wests Tigers preview
A new era begins in the Golden West.
After playing out of their temporary home base at ANZ Stadium for the last two years, the Parramatta Eels will return to their spiritual home this weekend when they host the Wests Tigers in their traditional Easter Monday encounter.
The new 30,000 seat Bankwest Stadium looks an ideal spectator venue for Rugby League fans and the Eels will be looking to draw on the atmosphere to ensure their impressive start to the season stays on track after a disappointing showing against the Raiders last week.
There are also rumblings beginning to emerge about the futures of many of their stars coming off contract at season's end and whether they will be re-signed, none more so than the three most influential men in their setup right now, coach Brad Arthur, captain Clint Gutherson and key play-maker Mitchell Moses.
The trio will be looking to lead the way with a strong on-field performance at their new stadium and in turn entice the powers that be to move swiftly on the contract front before it turns into a major ongoing distraction.
Looking for a jolt of youthful exuberance, Arthur has named young forwards Oregon Kaufusi and Ray Stone who've played just five top grade games between them in place of Kane Evans and David Gower on the interchange.
Wests Tigers will be turning up at the new venue after enjoying an eleven day turnaround from their impressive victory over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium last Thursday night.
Coach Michael Maguire has unsurprisingly named an unchanged 17 and will be looking for his troops to continue their strong start to the season based off their third best defensive record in the competition.
Last meeting: Round 8 2018 - Eels 24 Wests Tigers 22
Who to watch: After his manager knocked back the Eels latest contract offer earlier in the week, fan favourite Clint Gutherson is now officially in the shop window. The Parramatta faithful will rightfully be nervous about how the news might affect his football, but they needn't worry. The in-form custodian has stamped himself as one of the premier ‘team men' in the game and will be making sure his football continues to do all the talking. Averaging 197 metres per game, the ever dangerous Gutherson has also chalked up 5 try-assists and 6 line-break assists for the season and has the uncanny knack of making things happen around him.
Impressing his new coach over the off-season, Alex Twal forced the hand of Maguire to break-up the strong starting duo of Russell Packer and Ben Matulino to earn selection as a starting prop in round one and hasn't looked back since. The former Parramatta junior with a big motor has churned out the impressive stats of 126 metres and 40 tackles per game this season including a mammoth 58 tackles against the Broncos last week. Twal also has the ability to bust a tackle and offload, but it's his strong work rate that interestingly caught the eye and raised a mention from New South Wales coach Brad Fittler last week.
My tip: With both teams sitting on three wins to start the year, this shapes as one of the games of the round. The Tigers strong defence should hold them in good stead, but they may be left a little flat-footed on the back of an eleven day turnaround against an Eels outfit buoyed by their fans and the atmosphere of the new stadium. Eels in a thriller by 2.