The Dyldam Parramatta Eels will travel to GIO Stadium on Saturday evening to take on the Canberra Raiders in their final match of the regular NRL season.
The match is a must-win for the Blue and Gold as they look to force their way into the top eight and to grant themselves a finals football run – though they are relying heavily on the Storm to pip the Broncos and the Warriors to lose to the Penrith Panthers to snag a finals berth.
With the Raiders' finals chances out of the picture and the team managing to steer clear of the wooden spoon already, it will be the Eels with everything to play for in this do-or-die fixture.
Eels Head Coach Brad Arthur said he’s been preparing his side for a fired-up Raiders outfit, despite their position on the premiership ladder.
“They’re looking to build into next year,” Arthur told Sky Big Sports Breakfast.
“No one wants to sit through a whole pre-season off a loss. They’ll have plenty to play for, and hopefully we’ve just got that little bit more desire, and more to play for.”
Parramatta are coming off the back of a disappointing 42-12 loss to the Newcastle Knights last round despite leading the match 12-8 at half-time, whilst the Raiders have won back-to-back matches.
And Arthur said the bleak result from Round 26 would have weighed on his team’s minds.
“I’m sure the boys are still hurting from last week’s embarrassing performance,” Arthur said.
“We’re a young squad and we’ve been up for about 5 or 6 weeks in a row, and just mentally in the second half against the Knights we tried to take soft options and get a quick win.”
“I just think we had 17 players there on the weekend and not one of them was probably willing to roll up their sleeves and get into the contest physically.”
“When we only complete at 58% and miss 38 tackles it just shows you one thing and that’s your attitude: you haven’t turned up ready to play.”
As the Eels look to adjust that attitude and keep their finals hopes alive, Arthur is sticking with his line-up from last week.
But with Ben Smith’s suspension ruling him out for three weeks, second-rower Pauli Pauli is a chance to join the bench after being named as 18th man last week.
“Pauli is solid for us off the bench,” Arthur said of the 19-year-old forward.
“It’s hard for those young boys to be up and up every week, and he just sort of hit a bit of a flat spot [in the last few weeks].”
“He’ll be used in short doses trying to be explosive and add a bit of impact for us, and he’s got a really good footy nous, a great offload, good speed for a man his size. He carries the ball like it’s a tennis ball!”
The Raiders have made one noticeable change by sending Dane Tilse to the bench to make way for co-captain Brett White to play in his last NRL match.
Last time the two sides met in Darwin, the Blue and Gold came home with an 18-10 win, including two valuable tries to co-captain Jarryd Hayne.
Motivation will be on the Eels’ side, though if the Brisbane Broncos are able to overcome Melbourne on the Friday night, it will signal the end of Parramatta’s season even if they beat Canberra due to their negative for-and-against.
There is no doubting how important this match will be to the Eels, who haven’t had a glimpse of finals football since 2009, and a busload of Eels supporters will also heading to Canberra on the Blue and Gold Army bus to help the boys home.
“I feel that we owe it to our fans to perform well; to go and do everything that we can to get into the eight,” Arthur said.
“Surely we can adjust our attitude and restore a bit of pride in the jersey and then we’ve just got to wait and see what happens over the weekend.”
As soon as Sunday night's matches conclude, if the Eels qualify for finals, all 2014 Members will receive an email with details on how to purchase tickets for week one of the finals. Make sure to check your inboxes, as tickets go on sale at 10am on Monday, September 8!
Canberra Raiders v Dyldam Parramatta Eels
GIO Stadium, Canberra
NRL kick off: 5.30pm
Referees: Ashley Klein and Chris James