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Are the Bulldogs or Eels set to implode, or merge?

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Expert
20th March, 2019
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The most intriguing Round 2 NRL clash sees the Bulldogs host the Eels on Sunday afternoon.

Meetings between the two sides meant little in 2018, as Canterbury slumped to seven losses from their first nine matches before snaring a 20-12 victory over Parramatta in the corresponding fixture.

The two famous clubs also met late in the season with the blue and gold hosting at ANZ stadium – this week’s venue – and claiming a hard-fought, 14-8 victory.

Sadly for Parramatta it was not enough to avoid their 14th wooden spoon.

Canterbury did manage to show signs of life with four wins from their final six matches, however, aside from the fans of these clubs, not many paid much attention to the plight of either in 2018.

Still, Sunday afternoon is set up superbly.

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Brad Arthur has a June deadline to convince his employer that he is indeed the man to lead the club into the future. It has been no secret that Arthur would be under the pump from day one, yet the Eels could not have started the season in better fashion.

Their gutsy 20-12 win over the Panthers showed purpose in attack and an intensity in the forwards rarely seen last season. The youthful and widely lauded Panthers stood stunned in the headlights as the Eels kept them teetering throughout, never allowing them to settle. If not for the sin-binning of Michael Jennings, the Panthers may not have had any impact on the scoreboard.

Michael Jennings

Isaah Yeo tackled by Michael Jennings. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)

Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon in Auckland, the Bulldogs met the Warriors with hopes to parlay the solid finish of 2018 into an opening-week victory.

Such a win would have caused an enormous rethink for the many who have the blue and whites as strong favourites to steal away Parramatta’s spoon.

Unfortunately for Dean Pay’s men, those prone to a little investment may well have doubled down on their bets after a putrid display. Stephen Kearney’s men dissected the Bulldogs through the centre of the park with power running and dangerous offloads. The Canterbury forwards were Lilliputians as the Gulliver-sized Warriors swatted them away like flies.

The seven tries to one, 40-6 victory was as emotionally humbling as the numbers suggest.

So the fallout from this weekend’s match could be significant, with both coaches on notice.

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Pay has more time to prove himself considering many of the decisions made by his club’s new administration. However, after taking numerous forward steps in 2018, his team’s Round 1 effort was akin to a drag race in reverse.

As for Arthur, in his sixth year at the helm, there has been no pattern of consistent performance. Another polished performance and Parramatta fans will see change afoot. Alternatively, a loss to the spoon favourites after teasing the blue and gold army for all of seven days might see the knives back on the wet stone.

If Canterbury prove Round 1 an aberration, the collective sigh of relief emanating from Belmore will blow a gentle breeze across the inner west of Sydney. The fans have been rabid and, frankly, nasty this week on social media.

Dean Pay, coach of the Bulldogs

Dean Pay coach of the Bulldogs (AAP Image/Michael Chambers)

Sunday may well prove whether they are undermanned and hopeless or were just a team caught under-prepared and on the hop.

Marcelo Montoya and Kerrod Holland have another chance to prove they are defensively capable, after Pay named the same squad that took the field in New Zealand.

Additionally, the forwards are afforded an opportunity to redeem themselves and physically match a Parramatta pack that out-muscled Penrith’s big men.

Daniel Alvaro, Tepai Moeroa, Shaun Lane and Marata Niukore were monstrous and if their effort is a pre-cursor to the season, Parramatta fans should strap in for an exciting ride.

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Young five-eighth Dylan Brown and hooker Reed Mahoney looked like world beaters. Supporters will be hoping for a confirmation of the discovery of two new superstars and not a deflating crash back to terra firma.

Come the final whistle, one set of fans may be hunting for a Cumberland Oval-type structure on which to vent, the other will feel a whole lot better.

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These neighbouring clubs will no doubt bring both hammer and tongs, yet with relocation and mergers back on the agenda, perhaps they are missing an opportunity.

The Canterbury Eels or Parramatta Bulldogs both have something of a ring to them, don’t they?