Round 17: Eels v Bulldogs preview - 2017 Round 17
Classic rivalry anything but a battle royale.
Whenever the blue and gold face the blue and white, it's often a fiery contest. History tells us about their famous battles in the 1980's, that 1998 preliminary final, the 2009 preliminary final, and the 2011 epic which saw Nathan Hindmarsh & Michael Ennis binned. But now these sides find themselves in a different kind of contest.
The Eels currently sit right on the edge of the eight - propelled there last weekend by their bye and helped by Penrith losing to the Cowboys. They're the most at risk side of falling out of the eight at the moment, with unpredictable form. On the other side of the fence, the Bulldogs have had a bludger of a season. Des Hasler's game plan simply isn't working and opposition sides are easily figuring out their predictable, structured footy. The net result is a once-proud Canterbury side sitting 13th on the table, ahead of only the Gold Coast, Newcastle and Wests Tigers.
So you can see why this game is so vital. Form points to this being a grinding contest, with plenty at stake for both the winner and loser. For Parramatta, the two competition points can consolidate their spot in the eight, while for Canterbury it's just about keeping those faint hopes alive.
In terms of playing stock there's been some changes for the Belmore clan, with James Graham and Greg Eastwood out of the side through injury. Sam Kasiano starts. Brett Morris is also back with Kerrod Holland benched.
This will be the 151st clash between these long-time rivals across all competitions, with the Bulldogs holding the balance of power with 82 wins. They've played 25 matches at ANZ Stadium since 2000, with Canterbury also dominating that count with 15 wins. And across the last ten it's been very much the Dogs' dominating too - seven wins to three.
Who to watch: The Eels' halves hold the key here. They were phenomenal in their last start win over the Dragons in Round 15, but have been hit and miss much of the season. Mitch Moses in particular is noted as a weak link in the defensive line and without Beau Scott in the side to fortify his side of the defensive line it could be a struggle.
Canterbury's struggles in 2017 are well documented. The blue-and-whites have won just one of their last six games - also against the Eels' last victims, the Dragons - and aren't really looking like world beaters. The Origin period hasn't helped but it goes without saying that this week Josh Reynolds & Moses Mbye have a massive task on their hands to shake the Bulldogs' play up a bit. Taking on the opposition up the middle using hard runners like Raymond Faitala-Mariner and of course big Kasiano is where it should start. And maybe, just maybe, target Moses.
The favourite: The Bulldogs are friendless, unsurprisingly, with the Eels strong favourites.
My tip: It would take a brave person to tip Canterbury in their current state. Parramatta looked good last start despite the Dragons' poor form, and if that performance is indicative of what we can expect on Thursday night it's hard to see anything but an Eels victory. Eels by 8.