The Bulldogs have now firmed to $1.78 favourites with Australian bookmakers, with the Eels $2.05 outsiders in the Sydney based NRL elimination final this Saturday Night.
Amazingly even after 3 consecutive losses and a recent loss against the Eels in regular season; the Bulldogs still remain outright favourites. The Eels have done their best to talk up the strike power of the Bulldogs, their off-field plan seemingly working – with the Eels relishing the underdog tag for the game.
With Sonny Bill Williams returning for the Bulldogs, their scrum build certainly does look potent. Nearly every player in the Bulldogs forward pack is an international; with the likes of Willie Mason, Mark O’Meley, Sonny Bill Williams, Andrew Ryan and Reni Mautuia locking in together.
There is no question the Dogs will be a force centre field, but can their struggling halves and outside backs get the job done when the gaps open? A fresh Sonny Bill Williams should be worth at least 6 points to the Dogs if not more, an extra gallop last week for Willie Mason and Mark O’Meley should have them getting closer to prime match fitness.
The Bulldogs have gone to great lengths to pull the shutters down at training this week, reports of Matt Utai, Corey Hughes and Luke Patten all having niggling injuries have been hidden from reporters and prying cameras.
The Bulldogs will most certainly be targetting Eels new boy Joel Reddy with high balls and fringe running forwards; however the same can be expected of their own Matt Utai – with the shorter and possibly injured Utai lining up against the likes of Eric Grothe. With Hazem El Masri on the other flank, expect both Bulldogs wingers to be heavily targetted by larger, high flying Eels outside men.
The key to this game for the Eels will be a mistake free, positive start. The Eels tend to struggle after early setbacks, while the Bulldogs have a mentally strong grinding style – they can usually dig themselves out of problems no matter how far gone the game is. When these teams met recently, the early parade of Eels tries really set the scene for Parramatta. The Eels growing an extra leg that eventually saw them close out the match.
Referee Shayne Hayne takes control of this game and his laid back style will probably be slightly more suited the Bulldogs. The Eels rely heavily on quick play the balls and the Bulldogs will fight hard to slow the ruck and assist their lack of speed. Hayne tends to take a back seat and not ‘over officiate’ like Steve Clark and Paul Simpkins do. Expect the Bulldogs to take full advantage of this and try to gain a slight edge.
NRL Tip: Bulldogs in a close one.