Sharks match to test Eels credibility - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Sharks match to test Eels credibility

By Steve Jancetic 21/06/2008 02:36:14 PM Comments (0)

Having had a few false dawns already this season, Parramatta coach Michael Hagan knows his side's clash with Cronulla is about more than just two competition points.

Sunday's meeting at Toyota Park is about making a statement, the sort many critics had expected much earlier in the season after they were installed as one of the premiership favourites.

Having beaten up on a travel-shy Canberra and forward-deprived Wests Tigers over the past fortnight, this is a chance for Parramatta to prove they real deal against a Sharks riding high in a five-way share of the competition lead.

"It's a more legitimate test, in fairness to Wests Tigers and Canberra they were a bit understrength," Hagan said.

"We played pretty well in both those games and we're pretty well at full strength ... this will prove a tougher test both physically and mentally.

"We're getting there, the representative period hasn't affected us too much and I think that has allowed us to keep the nucleus of the team together and I think our good players are hitting some form."

None more so than star halves Brett Finch and Feleti Mateo, who have put the drama of Tim Smith's departure from the club behind them to give Eels fans hope of a potent one-two punch for years to come.

Smith was the one earmarked to guide the Eels into the next decade, but that responsibility has now fallen to Mateo, who seems to have take his game to another level in recent weeks as he grows more accustomed to the No.6 jumper.

"The understanding between Feleti and Finchy - which we'd done a lot of work on in the pre-season because we knew Tim was going to miss the first couple of games - it's taken a few weeks for that combination to bed itself down a bit," Hagan admitted.

"Like last year with Tim and Brett, it took probably eight or ten weeks last year to get that understanding going.

"There's enough positive signs there for us that we're not too far off the better teams and I think Sunday against Cronulla is a good example of where we do sit."

The Sharks have won their last three and five of their last six, and with a bye still up their sleeve, are in the box seat for push at a top four finish.

Defence has been their strong suit with only top two sides Manly and Melbourne having conceded less points this season.

It will need to be at the fore again on Sunday, particularly out wide, with hulking Eels wingers Tony Williams and Taulima Tautai sure to give opposite numbers Misi Taulapapa and Luke Covell plenty of opportunities to test out their tackling techniques.

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