Dyldam Parramatta Eels Head Coach Brad Arthur is preparing his side for a hard-fought, physical contest against an imposing Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs forward pack on Friday night.
The Eels’ traditional rivals will be looking for a third straight win to start the 2016 season, while the Blue and Gold took on the two 2015 Grand Finalists back to back to kick off the year.
“We’ve had a tough start, with the two Grand Finalists from last year,” Arthur said.
“They’ve been physical, those contests, and I’m sure tomorrow night’s going to be physical. That’s the challenge for us: making sure we stay in the contest for 80 minutes.”
With new interchange rules in place for 2016, Arthur sees a tendency for the middle of the field to open up in the early rounds of the season.
“The game is definitely faster,” Arthur said.
“With the interchange, fatigue is setting in and the opportunities to play through the middle third of the field have become greater, especially when teams are still trying to find their match fitness.”
“We’re only into Round 3, and in trial matches no one plays a full 80 minutes, so especially the big boys are still getting used to their time and one less interchange, probably in the first half.”
Arthur has been forced to reshuffle the Eels’ pack for Round 3, with Isaac De Gois replacing hooker Nathan Peats as the dummy-half recovers from a dislocated elbow, David Gower called onto the interchange bench as Kenny Edwards steps into the starting side in place of Manu Ma’u.
Arthur admits Peats and Ma’u are tough to replace, but expects their replacements to rise to the challenge against the Bulldogs.
“Peats does his fair share of work, but we’re lucky with the bloke that’s replacing him,” Arthur said.
“Isaac de Gois [and Nathan Peats], they’re the same type of player. Both’s work ethic is outstanding, and they’re both tough.”
“Manu’s got a week’s suspension, and he’s hard to replace, but Kenny Edwards was good for us off the bench and Dave Gower has been playing well for Wentworthville so it gives him an opportunity.”
Edwards missed the 2015 NRL Telstra Premiership season after picking up an ACL injury at the annual pre-season Auckland Nines tournament, making his return to the field in Round One from the bench against the Brisbane Broncos.
“It’s rewarding that he (Kenny Edwards) stuck at it,” Arthur said.
“And he was really good for us last year in terms of helping some of the other boys who play his position with the improvement of their game.”
“It’s hard to keep training day in day out and get flogged knowing your next game is not until the following year, so it was a tough period but hopefully that’s going to make him better.”
Eels’ halfback Kieran Foran will make his second appearance in Blue and Gold in Friday night’s game, and Arthur says the new recruit has been managing his hamstring through the week.
“He’s alright,” Arthur said.
“We rested him at the start of the week, [because] it was a short turn around and it was his first full 80 minutes.”
“We’ve got a good long turnaround on the back of tomorrow nights’ game so we’ll be able to give him a good 4 or 5 days off his legs, and then still give him a couple of sessions going into the Tigers game.”
The Eels kick off against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Friday, March 18, at 8.05pm. While the game is a Bulldogs home game, 2016 full-season Eels Members receive reciprocal entry rights - click through for the full game day information!