Eels and Ladders

When you look at this weekend’s fixtures at a glance, it looks simple. All three Warriors teams sitting in the top 8. All three Eels teams languishing in wooden spoon territory. Ladders are made for climbing, and this week in particular, with the top six sides on the NRL ladder playing each other, looks like a real opportunity for the Warriors to continue that climb.

But there’s something about this game that gives me an uneasy feeling. Maybe it’s the ghosts of the past two visits to Parramatta — a 16–36 loss in 2014 and a 10-40 hiding in 2013. Maybe I’m just worried that the men from Mt Smart simply haven’t been at their best so far this season. Or maybe it’s just that you can never predict when an Eel might come along and eat your dog.

And am I also correct to be concerned that the Warriors back five could line up on Saturday as: Lolohea, Wright, Peyroux, Kata and Maumolo? I get the impression The Beast isn’t fit, and something tells me Coach Cappy is quite keen to give Ken Maumolo an opportunity. In my opinion he’s still a bit of a project, after playing largely in the second-row or centres for the Under-20s, but he did perform strongly in the trials and has the strength and size to be a force in the NRL. If Maumolo does get his chance, or even if Fusitu’a is called-in instead, will that Warriors back five hold any fears for the Eels? Sure, the NRL isn’t yet aware that Jonathan Wright is transforming from Clark Kent to Superman (or at least Super-solid Man) at steady, if not lightning, speed, but that backline looks a far cry from what most people would have predicted only 10 rounds into the season.

Maybe it’s just pre-bye-week nerves. The game before the bye always feels like a key match. Win and it feels like two wins. Lose and it feels like a missed opportunity. Plus you’ve got two weeks to dwell on what went wrong. Should the men from Mt Smart leave Pirtek without the chocolates, there’s every chance they’ll find themselves slipping in the wrong direction, especially with the NRL ladder currently looking as congested as an Indian train. Everyone’s packed in the middle, but there’s plenty of room at the top.

Or perhaps that lingering uneasiness has something to do with the news that little Chrissy Sandow won’t be running out for the Eels this week. There’s no doubt in my mind it makes the Eels weaker, which is great as a Warriors fan, and the story out this week about his test-drive gone wrong makes for fantastic reading (who test-drives a car so close to game time?!). But every sports fan has players they sports hate, and little Chrissy will always be one of those players to me. As a fan you see your team as the ‘good’, even when they’re the bad guys, and every good needs an ‘evil’. As cliché as it’s become, there’s still no better storyline than good triumphing over evil.

I’m not quite sure what it is that bothers me so much about little Chrissy. Maybe it’s the way he celebrates by pointing to the crowd, or the way his stocky little legs scurry all over the field. That could be it. Or the way he never stops talking. But the reasons aren’t important. All that matters is that Saturday night’s game is noticeably lesser for his absence. As Eels go, he’s as slippery as they come, and without him on the paddock, a win simply won’t taste as sweet.

But, when it comes down to it, I think the main reason I’m so terrified is that this is a game I expect the Warriors to win. It’s a game they should win, against a side down on form, with problems of their own — a side that most likely won’t be there come finals time. And if any of you have been Warriors fans for long, you know better than to expect anything or take anything for granted on this Warriors rollercoaster. Sometimes it’s best just to take a seat, hold on tight and hope for the best.

NRL Warrior prediction:

As I’ve mentioned, it makes me shudder to think about this match. It’s one of those games where I feel like if I was just a casual fan, I’d go out on Saturday night, have a few drinks, check the result the next morning and be emotionless when I found out the Warriors had come away with a comfortable win. But it’s one of those games where it feels like when I inevitably do watch it, there’s every chance I’m going to spend at least half the game with my head in my hands. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes it’s easier not to think about what might happen, but instead to close your eyes, hold on tight and assume that everything is going to be okay. Warriors by 2.

And remember, it’s a Warriors triple-header again this week, with the Holden Cup game kicking off proceedings at 12:30pm on Sky Sport 2.

The I Heart Hoffman Quote of the Week:

‘It showed that if you keep working until that eightieth minute, good things are going to happen . . . if we have to play until the eightieth minute to get a win, that’s what we plan on doing.’

I heart Hoffman

Highlights from previous meeting:

Teams

WARRIORS

1 Tuimoala Lolohea

2 Jonathan Wright

3 Dominique Peyroux

4 Solomone Kata

5 Manu Vatuvei

6 Chad Townsend

7 Shaun Johnson

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Thomas Leuluai

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Ryan Hoffman

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Nathan Friend

15 Sione Lousi

16 Sam Lisone

17 Albert Vete

18 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

EELS

1 Reece Robinson

2 Semi Radradra

3 Will Hopoate

4 Brad Takairangi

5 Ryan Morgan

6 Corey Norman

7 Luke Kelly

8 Danny Wicks

9 Nathan Peats

10 Tim Mannah

11 Manu Ma’u

12 Tepai Moeroa

13 Anthony Watmough

Interchange

14 Isaac De Gois

15 Pauli Pauli

16 Richie Fa’aoso

17 Peni Terepo

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