Eels v Rabbitohs preview

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Parramatta Eels v South Sydney Rabbitohs Saturday 7:50pm at Bankwest Stadium

Eels hunting Rabbitohs as early exit looms

While last week's favourites didn't have it all their own way, they all got up. Now from Maroubra to Toongabbie heads are spinning. For every Eels positive, there's a compelling reason why Souths will make a third straight preliminary final.

Up 12-0 at Suncorp Stadium, the Eels had the Storm on simmer. The next day at ANZ Stadium, down 14-0, the Rabbitohs were browning nicely on a week 1 rotisserie. In the end, the heat got to the underdogs and now at Bankwest Stadium we go again, this time with little certainty.

Since 2016, Parramatta and Souths are four apiece and with contrasting styles remain difficult to separate in what will be their first meeting in a finals series since 1965. Formidable midfield power saw the Eels surge early in a season where the Rabbitohs spluttered before finding a hypnotic groove that now threatens the competition's best.

Averaging 36 points a week since Round 15 including 18 tries in the past fortnight, the Rabbitohs' streak burns brighter by the week. And while Parramatta rattled the Storm, the loss of Maika Sivo and the suspension of Marata Niukore along with doubts over Blake Ferguson's knee all conspire to ruin the Eels' quest for a first preliminary final since 2009.

For all Parramatta's attacking prowess in Brisbane, their sloppy edge defence was ripped apart by a clinical Melbourne. With George Jennings replacing Sivo and backrower Ray Stone named on the bench, Brad Arthur will be desperate for his outside men to defend in combinations against an unchanged Rabbitohs 17.

Up front, Parramatta's engine room has hogged the headlines, but among the mountain of points the Rabbitohs pack has slipped under the radar. And with big metres from Thomas Burgess and fellow props Tevita Tatola and Liam Knight, Souths' capacity to match Parra kingpins Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo shouldn't be underestimated.

The return to home soil for Arthur's men in Mitch Moses' 150th NRL match will rekindle memories of last year's 58-0 finals drubbing of Brisbane, but don't try telling that to South Sydney, who will relish a return to the venue having thumped the Eels 38-0 back in Round 16.

And while little separates the teams on paper, Parra's biggest foe could be heavy legs. The Eels emptied the tank against the Storm in one of the fastest games of the season where combined run metres totalled 3,429. In comparison to the pedestrian 2,691 metres at ANZ, the Rabbitohs should arrive with an extra spring in their step.

But in a do-or-die contest, the outcome of this one could come down to a battle of the minds. Will the Eels hold their nerve in defence, and if the points don't flow as readily, can Souths keep their head?

Last meeting: Round 16 2020 - Eels 0 Rabbitohs 38

Who to watch: Even in these uncertain times, Eels fans will be praying there's no cure for Nathan Brown's white-line fever. On the eve of his 100th NRL appearance, the pocket-rocket will be frothing at the prospect of bundling his former team into the off season. Last week's rare try was as good as it got for the 27-year-old who failed to impose himself, finishing 50 metres shy of a season average 160. Now with no tomorrow, the lock's menace and yap off the long run is sure to be compulsive viewing.

If Parramatta can't control the footy, they'll soon get sick of the sight of Cody Walker. In the five games since he carved up the Eels with three line breaks, Walker has kept Souths on the march scoring four tries and setting up another 10. Devastating in last week's man of the match performance, a rare Wayne Bennett smirk underlined the magnitude of the five-eighth's wizardry.

The favourite: The bookies reckon Parramatta are cooked and have climbed all over the Rabbitohs' penchant for cricket scores.

My tip: Parramatta took it to the Storm last week, and against any other side it probably would have won a week off. Now with injuries and the mental scars of a rampant South Sydney, Arthur might be best aligning this week to shrinks rather than Steedens. On the other side, Wayne Bennett will be desperate to remedy a month of slow starts in pursuit of a more sustainable finals formula. As for who wins, it's hard to see the Eels reducing Souths' rapid accumulation of points to an amount they can match, and sadly, a straight sets exit beckons. Rabbitohs by 10.

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. George Jennings 4. Waqa Blake 19. Brad Takairangi 20. Haze Dunster 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Ryan Matterson 13. Nathan Brown 14. Will Smith 15. Andrew Davey 16. Kane Evans 17. Ray Stone

1. Corey Allan 2. Alex Johnston 3. Campbell Graham 4. Dane Gagai 5. Jaxson Paulo 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Tevita Tatola 9. Damien Cook 10. Thomas Burgess 11. Jaydn Su'A 12. Bayley Sironen 13. Cameron Murray 14. Mark Nicholls 15. Liam Knight 16. Jed Cartwright 17. Keaon Koloamatangi

Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Dave Munro, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell;

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