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2021 NRL Round Five Preview, Eels Vs Dragons

Nathan Smith previews the Parramatta Eels hosting the St George Illawarra Dragons. This is what we have to look forward to.

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TEAM NEWS

Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Parramatta, Date: Sunday, 11th of April, Time: 6:15pm

Eels Team

1. Clinton Gutherson
2. Maika Sivo
3. Tom Opacic
4. Marata Niukore
5. Blake Ferguson
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. Oregon Kaufusi
15. Isaiah Papali’i
16. Will Smith
17. Bryce Cartwright
18. Ray Stone
19. Haze Dunster
20. Keegan Hipgrave
21. Jordan Rankin

Team Changes

IN: Bryce Cartwright, Haze Dunster, Jordan Rankin, Ryan Matterson
OUT:

Dragons Team

1. Matthew Dufty
2. Cody Ramsey
3. Jack Bird
4. Zac Lomax
5. Mikaele Ravalawa
6. Corey Norman
7. Adam Clune
8. Blake Lawrie
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Paul Vaughan
11. Josh Kerr
12. Tariq Sims
13. Tyrell Fuimaono
14. Poasa Faamausili
15. Trent Merrin
16. Daniel Alvaro
17. Brayden Wiliame
18. Jackson Ford
19. Kade Ellis
20. Jordan Pereira
21. Max Feagai

Team Changes

IN: Jack Bird, Jordan Pereira, Kaide Ellis, Max Feagai
OUT:

Referee: Grant Atkins

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Eels

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Last week, Parramatta made it four straight wins with their Easter Monday victory against the Wests Tigers. If there’s a concern leading into this game, it’s that many of their fundamentals were missing, with multiple dropped balls costing them opportunities to score, and on two occasions gifting the Wests Tigers points. Though Parramatta remain undefeated, they’ve only had one performance this year that one could consider a perfect 80 minutes.

The Eels team has remained largely unchanged throughout the year, which has been a huge boost to their cohesiveness. This week, Ryan Matterson returns to the field for the first time in two weeks after suffering a head knock against the Storm. This pushes Isaiah Papali’i back to the bench: he was particularly strong against the Tigers last week. Most interestingly, Keegan Hipgrave will make way for Bryce Cartwright, who debuts for his new club this week. After Cartwright played reserve grade last week following a pre-season injury, Brad Arthur has deemed him ready to go for first grade. With a one year contract to play for, Cartwright will be expected to leave nothing on the line in the games he plays this year.

Dragons

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A sold-out stadium in Newcastle is one of the more intimidating sights in rugby league. It was the sea of red and blue, complemented with passionate roars for the home team, that the Dragons found themselves up against. They handled themselves well despite the circumstances and were able to chalk up their third straight victory. There were question marks over their new coach, Anthony Griffin, coming into this season, however a moderately successful opening to the year indicates he might have them on the right track. Parramatta is the first side they’ve faced that sits in the upper echelons of the competition.

Griffin has announced a primarily unchanged team for this week’s round. A big inclusion for the team will be Jack Bird, who returns from a one-game suspension. Ben Hunt remains sidelined with a serious leg injury, with a timeframe yet to be decided. As such, a greater responsibility falls on the shoulders of the often maligned five-eighth Corey Norman to steer the team around the park for this one.

PREVIEW

Both teams are on the back of a winning streak coming into this game. Parramatta remain undefeated, while the Dragons have won their past three and are quietly building a case to feature in the 2021 finals series. As such, both teams are coming into this game full of confidence, which ensures there’s every chance of an exciting contest.

There’s an array of match-ups to get excited about. The Eels captain Clinton Gutherson can be expected to run well beyond a healthy amount of kilometres and feature in close to every play. His opposite number, Matt Dufty, is a speedster who only needs a couple of seconds to hit first gear and blitz defenders across the park.

Mitchell Moses has been good without being brilliant this year, with suggestions there’s a much needed element of maturity to his game that hadn’t previously been there. Meanwhile, Norman – one of his opposing halves – will be looking to get one up on the Eels after taking much of the blame for their spectacular fall from grace in 2018 and subsequently leaving the club.

When Junior Paulo grabs the ball and runs it up the field, he’ll find the likes of Paul Vaughan waiting on the opposite end. At a combined weight of 233 kilograms, the collision between the two big men will be a good chance to test the stability of the newly built Bankwest Stadium’s steel columns.

Ultimately, both team lists have classy players that will be integral in determining the outcome of this one.

KEY STAT

The head-to-head stats are pretty even between these two. Parramatta holds a slight edge, having won 20 of their 38 encounters. The last time these two teams met, the Dragons were able to put in a brave performance for departing coach Paul McGregor and come up with a 14-12 victory. If the victory wasn’t enough, they were able to do it in front of an Eels home crowd at Bankwest Stadium. As such, they’ll feel confident that the stadium itself won’t be a factor. Prior to that, the Eels came away with a win back in 2019: though at 12-4, it was by no means a dominant display. Ultimately, the stats suggest that there hasn’t been much between these sides in recent years, which means it could be tight.

PREDICTION

Early odds have Parramatta as overwhelming favourites, which is something the Dragons will be relishing: expect them to come out firing and score early points. However, over the course of the 80 minutes, Parramatta have shown enough this year to suggest they’ll be able to endure any moments of worry and come out on top.

Parramatta by 10.

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