Eels v Roosters preview

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Parramatta Eels v Sydney Roosters Saturday 7:35pm at CommBank Stadium, Parramatta

Underwhelming Sides Look to Right The Ship In Intriguing Clash at CommBank

You truly never know what you're going to get as a Parramatta fan. You could tell 10 thousand of the Blue and Gold army that they were going to win this game by 50 or lose it by 50 and both would be as believable as each other. The Eels shock 30-point loss to the last-placed Bulldogs last week was certainly their worst defeat in years.

It means that the Eels have now beaten the clear top two teams in the Panthers and Storm, while also losing to two of the bottom teams in the Tigers and Bulldogs. So much for the flat-track bully label. Parramatta would probably kill to be able to show the same intensity on a flat track they do on an uphill track this season.

It remains to be seen whether the Eels can back this most recent loss up the way they backed up the Tigers one (a whopping 37-point victory over Newcastle). Obviously, they're facing a higher quality opponent in the Roosters, but they also at least showed some fight against the Tigers, only losing by a field goal in the dying stages.

The Bulldogs haven't dominated a mid-table team like they dominated the Eels in years. Parra were never in the contest, and it was clear they didn't turn up to play from very early on. Each spine player had their worst game of the season by some distance, and sometimes a loss like that one can do irreversible damage to a team's confidence. A win over the Roosters on Saturday would certainly ease some of the concerns which undoubtedly have crept inside the Eels building since the Queen's Birthday disaster.

Having been touted pre-season as one of the favourites for the premiership, the season so far for the tri-colours has been disappointing to say the least. Past the halfway point of the year, the Roosters are in 8th position and sit level on competition points with the Dragons. Some of their losses have come against the aforementioned Dragons and Bulldogs as well as the Knights, games had they won they would most likely be sitting in the top 4 right now.

But it's easy to play hypotheticals, and the fact is that the Roosters didn't deserve to win any of those games. The last two weeks have been extremely disappointing, losing winnable games against a Raiders side missing Wighton and Papalii and a Storm side fielding a bits and pieces backline. When you consider that their next to opponents will be the Eels and the Panthers, both most likely at or near full strength, it becomes a very possible scenario that the Roosters will be heading into their Round 18 bye sitting outside of the top 8.

It's not like the Roosters have a cupcake schedule for the run home either, in the final 8 rounds they play Manly and Melbourne away while hosting the Broncos, Cowboys and Rabbitohs. They also have return matches against lower teams that've proven they can rise to the challenge in the Knights and Dragons.

The bottom line is that the Roosters simply don't have the luxury of waiting around for combinations to click and players to improve, they have to win and win now if they're serious about not just making some noise in the finals, but making the finals at all.

It's certainly not an exaggeration to say that this matchup shapes up as one that could put the winner's season back on track while also derailing the losers'.

In team news, Brad Arthur has made no changes whatsoever to the 17 that got embarrassed on national television last week, perhaps attempting to send the message that "you got us into this, you can get us out of it."

For the Roosters, Paul Momirovski has finally been dropped after weeks of terrible defensive performance, with Billy Smith being called in as the replacement at left centre. Sam Verrills makes his return to first grade at hooker, pushing Drew Hutchison to the bench and Terrell May out of the team. Egan Butcher has come onto the bench, replacing Daniel Suluka-Fifita, who signed with Souths during the week.

Last meeting: Round 10 2022 - Roosters 31 Eels 24

Who to watch: There are many who believe that had Reed Mahoney not been injured for the Eels semi-final against the Panthers last year that the Eels would've beaten the eventual premiers and perhaps advanced to the grand final. If the Bulldogs-bound rake performed in that game like he has for the majority of 2022, it's fair to say that the Eels probably would've lost by more than the 2 points the Panthers put between them. He, like basically everyone else on his team, had his worst performance of the season last week, but unlike everyone else on the team, there were signs it was coming for Mahoney. Last week he led his team with 5 ineffective tackles, while also missing two, and there were various occasions when the Eels were on the attack that he killed their momentum with poor options out of dummy half, opting for a crash ball on the last when his halves were calling for the ball out the back multiple times. At his best, Mahoney is a top 5 hooker in the competition, but right now it looks like while he may still be at Parramatta, his mind is at the Bulldogs, where he'll be moving next year and beyond.

With Trent Robinson proving he is capable of dropping underperforming players by doing just that to Paul Momirovski, Sitili Tupouniua should be spending every spare moment working on his defence and ball handling skills if he doesn't want the same fate to befall him. After coming onto the scene three years ago as a talented ball handling back rower, Tupouniua hasn't improved much at all, and about the only thing you can count on him for these days is to miss some crucial tackles and drop the ball at a pivotal moment. Last week was a prime example of a performance Roosters fans have come to know all too well, with Sitili missing 5 tackles and having another 3 ineffective ones for a grim tackle efficiency of 81.4%. This wasn't the worst part about his game however; with under 10 minutes to go and the Roosters down by two, Sam Walker put in an excellent kick that could not have gone into Tupouniua's hands more perfectly. All he had to do was catch the ball and fall to the ground and the Roosters have the lead and most likely achieve a season defining win. Instead, he dropped it cold, and on the ensuing 7 tackle set the Storm went up the field and scored the match sealing try. If it was a one off, it could be forgiven, but Tupouniua has proven over his career that his handling and defence is well below average. Egan Butcher, a highly touted second rower, has been named on the bench this week, and that could be bad news for Tupouniua's job security.

The favourite: At the time of writing, the Eels are slender 1.5-point favourites over the Roosters in this one.

My tip: Both sides have been underperforming, but the Roosters were a key moment away from beating the Storm last week, while it felt like the Eels needed 50 more key moments to go their way to just get within 10 points of the last placed team. Roosters by 10.

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Bailey Simonsson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 15. Ryan Matterson 13. Isaiah Papali'i 12. Marata Niukore 14. Makahesi Makatoa 16. Oregon Kaufusi 21. Ky Rodwell 19. Jakob Arthur

1. James Tedesco 2. Daniel Tupou 3. Billy Smith 4. Joseph Manu 5. Joseph Suaalii 6. Sam Walker 15. Drew Hutchison 8. Lindsay Collins 9. Sam Verrills 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Angus Crichton 12. Sitili Tupouniua 13. Nat Butcher 14. Connor Watson 16. Egan Butcher 17. Fletcher Baker 19. Daniel Suluka-Fifita 20. Paul Momirovski

Referees: Todd Smith; Sideline Officials: Drew Oultram, Jon Stone; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;

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