Round 12: Bulldogs v Eels preview
Two Western Sydney rivals on opposite sides of the ladder battle it out
The Bulldogs finally broke through for their second win of the year last week against Newcastle. The wet weather in the Hunter perfectly suited the resilient Dogs, who played relatively low-percentage, direct footy on the way to a 18-12 victory. Their ball handling in tough conditions was particularly impressive and proves that getting the fundamentals right can go a long way to winning games, even against more highly-rated opponents. The Bulldogs will need to only get better this week though as Parramatta are an even sterner test. They do welcome former teammate Tim Lafai into the side after he was released from the Dragons to move to his old stomping ground.
Meanwhile, the Eels made sure their brief speedbump against Manly was nothing but an off night after bouncing back with a solid win over the Tigers. Mitchell Moses successfully made his return from injury and will only continue to build as Parramatta surge towards the finals. The Eels are a far more cohesive unit in both attack and defence than the one that ran out in the opening round. Then, Parramatta scrapped their way to an 8-2 win over the Bulldogs. Dylan Brown and Moses hadn't completely iced their combination by that point but the young five-eighth has upped his involvement since while both of Parramatta's edges have continued to also build stronger rapports. It doesn't bode well for the Bulldogs, who will need to contain a mobile and dynamic Parramatta pack.
Who to watch: The battle in the middle may be dictated by the intensity projected by the two lock forwards. Luke Thompson was one of the Bulldogs' big signings for next season but they were handed a massive boost when he was able to instead come to Australia early. His passion and drive to compete has been on display already. The immediate example that springs to mind is the pressure he put on Newcastle's kickers last week as he raced out of the line. For someone who has only just joined the club, his willingness to put his body on the line is great signs and he shapes as a strong leader moving forward.
On the other side, you have Nathan Brown who has consistently been one of Parramatta's best forwards when not sitting on the sidelines. Brown doesn't just carry the ball up. He sprints up to steam onto passes with an aggression that strikes fear into the opposition. The venom with which he takes hit-ups can literally change the momentum of games as was evidence in his role in their 16-10 comeback win over Penrith. Look for Brown to make a statement early against the Bulldogs pack.
The favourite: Parramatta are well-backed to win this one.