Round 19: Eels v Broncos preview
Travelling Broncos out to spoil jittery Eels' top four dream
With the Parramatta Eels' top-four spot on shaky ground, motivation shouldn't be a problem when they host the Brisbane Broncos in what doubles as Ryan Matterson's 100th NRL appearance on Friday night.
Slipping to fourth after last week's shutout at Penrith, a win over the 15th placed Broncos followed by another over the Tigers in the final round will secure the Eels a double bite of the finals cherry for the first time since 2017.
Despite sitting at opposite ends of the ladder, both sides have been plagued by similar inconsistencies. Brisbane's battle for combinations is nothing new, while for Parramatta, a failure to unleash their most potent attacking weapons has reduced their flow of points to a trickle.
With the worst attacking record in the top-eight and tryless in two of their past three outings, the time for Brad Arthur to balance defence with attack is fast running out. And with Reed Mahoney named at No.9 as doubts surface over the return of key playmaker Dylan Brown, Eels fans will be counting on superstars Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson to oil the wheels behind a tireless pack.
Still in a fight to avoid the wooden spoon, last week's loss on the Gold Coast was a record 15th in a season for the once proud Broncos. Apart from Darius Boyd's early four-pointer, individual efforts were as close as Brisbane got. Heading the list was David Fifita, who coach Peter Gentle used to underline Brisbane's wretched season when he fired a reminder that the powerhouse can't win games on his own.
This week Payne Haas and Rhys Kennedy head a list of outs as Brisbane prepare to reverse the Eels' recent 5-2 dominance. Joe Ofahengaue and Ben Te'o will start up front while the struggling Sean O'Sullivan makes way for Tyson Gamble in the halves.
Who to watch: Clint Gutherson's golden touch from rounds seven to 11 is long gone. Sizzling with 10 try-assists in five weeks, anything hurled Maika Sivo's way was usually followed by a kicking tee. Now with only two try assists since late July, the skipper's dry spell has cut the Fijian's output to two tries from his last seven games. But with the confidence sapped Broncos on the horizon, look for King Gutho to find his crown.
From ferocious tackle busting power to rib stinging hits, Kotoni Staggs has it all. With 10 tries in just 12 appearances the Blues candidate is everything good in a struggling side, and the more touches he gets the better Brisbane's young halves will look.
The favourite: Brisbane is one team that would crave Parramatta's recent two from five record. Currently amid the most horrendous streak in the club's 33 seasons, last week's loss was a record ninth on the bounce, and it's not only the smart money backing a tenth.
My tip: If not for last week's gutsy goal-line defence, Penrith would have ruled a line through Parramatta's premiership credentials. Now in need of an injection of confidence as much as a win, the Eels are poised to back the hobbling Broncos into the eye of a storm. Lapped 96-10 across their only two appearances at Bankwest, another defensive disaster could see the Queenslanders stuck behind their own try-line counting down the days until Christmas. Eels by 16.