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The first week of the finals comes to an end this afternoon when the Parramatta Eels take on the Newcastle Knights at Browne Park in Rockhampton. Join The Roar for live scores and commentary from 4:05pm (AEST).
The winner stays alive this season, and can head into a date with one of the Panthers and Rabbitohs in a sudden-death semi final next week; for the loser, that’s all she wrote in 2021.
We can’t read anything into the Eels’ thrashing at the hands of the Panthers last weekend. Brad Arthur elected to rest a heap of key players after their terrific performance against the Storm the week before. We get to see whether that performance against the minor premiers was just a one-off, or whether the Eels are a genuine threat once again.
Against the Storm, the Eels’ pack returned to their best, with Junior Paulo and Nathan Brown both very impressive. If they can produce that again, Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson will have plenty of room to be at their attacking best.
The rested players return this week, but there are some other big-name inclusions. Reagan Campbell-Gillard has been named to return from his groin injury, whilst Ryan Matterson has been named outside the 17. He could well force his way in by game time.
Adam O’Brien also rested some key players for the Knights last weekend, but Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce did play for a half against the Broncos. Brisbane’s 35-22 victory was obviously poor preparation for the Knights, and has them favourites for a first-week exit. However, it’s important to note that they were locked into seventh before the round even begun, leaving them with absolutely nothing to play for. That’s definitely not the case this week.
The Knights pack was weakened last week, and they do return to something like full strength against the Eels. Jayden Brailey sat the week out, and his creativity around the ruck and steady defence will be welcomed back for this do-or-die clash.
In big news for the Knights, Daniel Saifiti has been named after a month on the sidelines. David Klemmer is also in despite carrying rib cartilage damage, and will be needled up pre-game. Sauaso Sue also returns to the line-up.
On paper, these teams look evenly matched. In fact, only a fortnight ago, I would have leaned towards the Knights in this one.
Based on their formline against the Storm however, the Eels may have found their early season form.
If they can recreate that against Newcastle, they will win.
Parramatta Eels by 10
1. Clint Gutherson (c) 2. Haze Dunster 3. Will Penisini 4. Waqa Blake 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Ray Stone 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Nathan Brown
Bench/Reserves: 14. Will Smith 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Isaiah Papali’i 17. Makahesi Makatoa | 18. Ryan Matterson 19. Oregon Kaufusi 20. Tom Opacic 21. Jake Arthur
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Enari Tuala 3. Kurt Mann 4. Bradman Best 5. Hymel Hunt 6. Jake Clifford 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Jacob Saifiti 9. Jayden Brailey (c) 10. Daniel Saifiti (c) 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Connor Watson
Bench/Reserves: 14. Sauaso Sue 15. David Klemmer 16. Josh King 17. Brodie Jones | 18. Phoenix Crossland 19. Jirah Momoisea 20. Simi Sasagi 21. Jack Johns