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7:55pm Fri August 5, 2022
Round 21 - 4 Pines Park, Brookvale - Crowd: 17134

Round 21: Sea Eagles v Eels preview

Eels Look For Rare Consecutive Good Performance Against Desperate and Boosted Manly Side

The 2022 Parramatta Eels are the most frustratingly inconsistent I have ever seen in my time watching Rugby League. The fact that they lost to the team on the bottom of the ladder (at the time) in the Tigers and followed it up with an impressive win against the most dominant team in the comp wasn't enough to prove this, so they went and did it again, albeit over a longer period of time.

The aforementioned win came at a cost however, with star playmaker Mitch Moses set to miss at least 3 weeks with a broken finger. That, combined with five of Manly's seven anti-LGBT players returning to bolster their lineup, will make Friday Night's match between the arch-rivals a close and entertaining one.

The Sea Eagles did themselves proud last week. Despite being severely undermanned against a near full-strength and in-form Roosters outfit, they managed to keep the scoreline respectable, going down 20 points to 10. It remains to be seen whether the off-field events have caused a divide within the playing group prominent enough to impact on-field performance in another factor adding to the unpredictability of this clash.

The stakes are extremely high for both sides in this one. For Manly, they desperately need a win to avoid falling further behind in the race for the top eight. The Rabbitohs are four points clear of them while the Roosters and Raiders both have a one-game advantage, and all three have very winnable matches on the weekend. A loss here would all but put an end to the Sea Eagles' 2022 finals hopes.

For the Eels, Friday Night marks the start of a critical 3 game stretch without their main man in Moses. They face Manly, Souths and the Bulldogs during said span, and Parramatta fans would be overjoyed if they could jag at least two wins in the period. Doing so is basically a non-negotiable if they want to make the top four.

Parra are currently equal with the Broncos and Storm on competition points with all three vying for fourth position. Who do they play after the aforementioned three game stretch without Moses? You guessed it, the Broncos and Storm. Losing on Friday would mean they have to win their last four games to even remain a chance, something the Eels haven't done since Round 10 last year.

Despite consecutive losses, Manly's defence has still been pretty good, holding the Dragons and Roosters to three tries each. Doing the same against Parramatta will have them well placed to come away with the win, the Blue and Gold's defence currently the 10th best in the NRL. They also have the benefit of playing the Eels coming off a win - they are 4 wins and 7 losses in 11 such games so far this year.

In team news, all of the infamous Manly 7 are back bar Josh Schuster and Josh Aloiai, with Aloiai battling a knee injury and Schuster out due to form. Ben Trbojevic is also back from injury to take his place on the interchange bench.

For the Eels, Jakob Arthur has expectedly been called into the halfback role in place of the injured Mitch Moses in the only change to the 17 that defeated the Panthers. Tom Opacic has kept his spot in the centres, while Waqa Blake again starts on the wing.

Last meeting: Round 11 2022 - Eels 22 Sea Eagles 20

Who to watch: Manly are going to have to be up to the task defensively if they want to contain the early onslaught from Parramatta's forward pack, and who better to lead the way in that regard than Jake Trbojevic. Whilst not being the attacking threat that he once was, you'll be hard pressed to find a more reliable defender in the game than the man they call Jake Turbo. He has the 3rd most tackles in the league among non-hookers and was again a beacon of consistency last week against the Roosters, making 35 tackles without a miss. He is also 4th in the league for support runs with 133, a category which you may have expected him to drop off in since his brother Tom got injured, but it again shows the motor he has and how important he is to the Manly side.

For the Eels, all eyes will, rightly or wrongly, be on Jakob Arthur, but I will be paying particularly close attention to the performance of Clinton Gutherson. The form of the King has been up and down over the course of the year, and there is a clear correlation between how he plays and whether the Eels take home a W or an L. For instance, two of Gutherson's best performances so far have come against the Panthers, resulting in his side being the only team to get the better of the mountain men so far. When Clint has a bad game however, it is really bad. Anyone who watched him against the Broncos will tell you he was one of the worst players on the field there, and it's not the only time he's been off the pace. There's no doubt that Gutho is a difference maker when at his best - rarely does the good Eels show up without him featuring in a highlight or three. Against the team he made his debut at just under a decade ago, Gutherson will need to be at or near his best to ensure his team come away with the vital two points.

The favourite: After opening as underdogs, Manly are 1.5 point favourites at the time of writing.

My tip: The Eels simply don't have a choice but to play to their best on Friday. Other key players will step up in the absence of Mitch Moses. Parramatta by 10.