Published on theroar.com.au 12/3/13
It has been four long years since 75,000 people packed ANZ Stadium to watch the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs go to war. On that night, the Eels would not be denied in a thrilling grand final qualifier.
But it has been slim pickings for Parramatta since. The once mighty Eels have floundered to finishes of 12th, 14 and 16th over the past three seasons.
While the Eels have struggled to find that winning feeling, the Bulldogs have gone from strength to strength under the strict regime of coach Des Hasler.
Playing a wonderful brand of football, the Belmore club were as dangerous as anyone in 2012.
With eventual Dally M Medallist Ben Barba thrilling crowds up and down the country and a monstrous ball playing forward pack rolling over the advantage line, Canterbury claimed the minor premiership.
The Melbourne Storm would beat them in the decider, but the foundation was laid for an exciting future.
That was until only a few weeks ago.
On the eve of the 2013 National Rugby League season, Barba was stood down. That foundation isn’t gone, but the cracks are already showing.
The Bulldogs failed to fire on Saturday night at Gosford and went down to the North Queensland Cowboys.
They were good, but weren’t good enough. The Bulldogs are suddenly just another team.
Meanwhile, a resounding 40-10 win over the New Zealand Warriors has Eels fans believing again.
Just like that, with a click of the fingers, we have ourselves another Thursday night blockbuster at ANZ Stadium.
That is the beauty of rugby league. Nothing is ever guaranteed in our game and everything can change faster than you can say ‘Hayne plane’.
For the time being, the bragging rights are with the Eels. Canterbury are Barba-less and winless to start the year.
Even if we are only one round down, Parramatta are undefeated and above their fierce rivals on the ladder.
You can hear the Bulldogs fans fuming from here. After all, they’ve only played one game.
But what happens if Parramatta down the Doggies on Thursday at Homebush?
Pressure is the great equaliser in the NRL. For the Bulldogs, the pressure sits squarely on the shoulders of playmakers Kris Keating and Josh Reynolds. When the chips are down, you go to your halves.
In the clutch, on the big stage, can Keating or Reynolds win their side a match?
The Eels are basking in a demolition of the Warriors on Saturday afternoon. There is no pressure on them coming into this match. Jarryd Hayne and Chris Sandow were damn good but that doesn’t mean coach Ricky Stuart is expecting miracles just yet.
If they go down to the Dogs, it’s only round two.
But what if Parramatta win? Canterbury would go to 0-2 and the pressure continues to build.
“I am happy for the players,” Stuart said after the victory on Saturday.
“They have worked really hard over the summer and I am just happy because I saw some smiles on their faces again. They have been bashed around like a brown dog there for 18 months and it had been tough at this club for a long time.
“There will be some tough days ahead, but we will go through those days together. But this is a good day and I am really happy for them. It also gives the fans something to smile about finally.”
Canterbury have everything to prove and plenty to lose. Parramatta are just happy to be playing good football again.
Beware the happy football team. The smiles may continue after round two for the Eels faithful.