There are plenty of parallels between the two teams. Last year, both teams under-performed but both also had plenty of opportunities to come up with the two points before ultimately dropping their lollies.
I think where both teams have strengthened, and to my mind it is the most under-rated area of the current game is in their second row strength.
Your edge forwards are critical because they're the guys who hold defences up. If you're carrying powder-puff second rowers, teams just slide and your outside backs end up with little space to work in.
The Raiders made a supremely successful pillage on the Super League and their UK pairing of John Bateman and Elliott Whitehead have been fantastic, while this week they also welcome back Joseph Tapine. Meanwhile, for the Eels Sean Lane and Marata Niukore, to my mind, have been the side's unsung heroes. Interestingly, all four have been used as eighty minute players for most of the season.
For the Eels, that has resulted in the unusual situation where Parramatta had five middle forwards playing for 33 minutes of less, last week. One might surmise that is a response to the rash of head injuries that regularly saw his front-row stocks depleted last year, while it also gives the Eels the opportunity to ease young forward Oregon Kaufusi into the game.
Both sides also boast relatively unheralded halves combinations who have been getting the job done. Their halves are both former boom youngsters who have struggled to fulfill their potential. Sam Williams looks something like the player he looked like he was going to be, when he took the Under 20 competition by storm,while Mitchell Moses is showing that he can be a dominant half-back. Jack Wighton and Jaeman Salmon play the role of unlikely supporting halves, and have both performed well there.
Each side has a couple of experienced centres and powerful wingers, so you look through the two sides and for the most part, they line-up pretty evenly.
With maybe two exceptions. For the Eels, Junior Paulo has been immense and for mine, he is looking like the buy of the season right now. With a much improved kick return, and then Paulo performing a one-man wrecking ball through the middle, the Eels finally have the go-forward that was missing last year.
Indeed, it's somewhat ironic that the Eel's edge lies in their size. Last year, it was the Raiders who had the big-boppers while Parra carried a mobile, aggressive pack. This year, that's pretty much reversed. If Paulo can get the Eels going early in the set, and put the Raiders on their heels so as they're unable to negate Parra's size difference with their line speed, the Eels should have a distinct advantage.
For the Raiders, Josh Hodgson is their maestro and brings a level of guile that few hookers, outside of Cameron Smith, get anywhere close to matching. Parramatta need to concentrate on slowing down the ruck as much as possible to limit Hodgson's threat. At the same time, they will need to keep in mind they are playing at Canberra in front of a parochial home crowd with Henry Perenara officiating. That's a recipe for a penalty blow-out, so the Eels will need to find the balance between winning the ruck without giving away penalties. For mine, that really basic part of the game, is where this match will be won and lost.