Our weekly feature - The Armchair Expert - returns just in time for the finals!
This week we look a...
6 hours ago
Surprise packets out for redemption
Having shown glimpses of a side on the rise following their impressive showings over South Sydney and New Zealand, the Eels plummeted back to earth following a frustrating performance against the Cowboys last Saturday. Outclassed by the return of Johnathan Thurston, the Eels lacked fluency in attack following the positional reshuffle brought on by Corey Norman's inclusion. One week on, the Blue and Gold's should benefit from the harsh lessons endured during the 32-6 loss, namely the first-time partnership of Corey Norman and Mitchell Moses. In the only major change, Kirisome Auva'a has been named in place of Nathan Davis on the wing, while Michael Jennings may be a welcome inclusion having been included on an extended bench. Winning their past six matches during Origin affected rounds, the Eels will fancy their chances against a Dragons outfit that has finished on the wrong side of the scoreboard in the past five clashes.
While the final result would have displeased the Dragons on Queen's Birthday Monday, their 16-2 loss to the Bulldogs stands as somewhat of an anomaly in an otherwise positive season to date. Having improved their attacking potency drastically from the mundanely stagnant form all too prevalent throughout 2016, the joint venture will be looking to move onto Sunday's clash against an Eels side reeling from a similarly poor showing. Forced to make do without the services of Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell, Jason Nightingale will once again move to fullback allowing former international Kalifa Fai-Fai Loa to come back into the side, while Tariq Sims will make his first staring appearance of the year. In other selection news, young backrower Jacob Host returns to the bench after a stint with Illawarra, while Will Matthews could play his first match after recovering from a dislocated hip sustained in the Charity Shield. Managing just three wins from eight Origin affected fixtures in the post-Wayne Bennett era, the Dragons have benefitted against significantly depleted sides, but with the Eels only gaining in quality the Red V can expect a tough encounter.
Who to watch: While far from reaching the depths that second year syndrome has been known to hit, Eels young gun Bevan French hasn't been able to replicate the blistering form that saw him announce himself as a star of the future in 2017. Moving to fullback following the departure of Michael Gordon, the 21-year-old has managed just three tries this year, well below his remarkable strike rate from twelve months earlier. Having shown remarkable ability in just over 20 appearances in first grade, French is destined for a fruitful career in the NRL and will be looking to reacquaint himself with the try line on Sunday.
In another life Joel Thompson would have amassed greater representative achievements than a just pair of Country jerseys. Possessing a toughness and tenacious attitude at the forefront of the Dragons revival, the former Raider has been in superb touch throughout the season much to the delight of his teammates. Set to terrorise the troublesome Parramatta right edge defence, headlined by defensive liability Mitchell Moses, Thompson should relish the opportunity to find open space and help the Dragons add another two points to their competition total. At 28-years-old and on-contract until the end of next season, the proud Indigenous representative has been a standout in a much-improved Dragons outfit.
My tip: At their best the Eels have the potential to cause plenty of headaches throughout the season. Facing off against a Dragons outfit missing some of their most potent attacking players, the home side should be too strong. Eels by 10.
4. Clint Gutherson 2. Semi Radradra 3. Brad Takairangi 20. Michael Jennings 1. Bevan French 6. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 16. Kenny Edwards 13. Nathan Brown 14. Beau Scott 15. Suaia Matagi 17. Will Smith 19. Siosaia Vave
1. Jason Nightingale 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Kurt Mann 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Kalifa Faifai Loa 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Josh McCrone 8. Russell Packer 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tariq Sims 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Jacob Host 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Hame Sele 17. Taane Milne