An emotion-charged Parramatta will be out to begin their long climb back up the NRL ladder when they host a desperate South Sydney side on Friday night.
Just one day after farewelling cap victim Nathan Peats, the strife-torn Eels are expected to be cap-compliant by kickoff in what could be a sellout crowd at Pirtek Stadium.
The last time Parramatta hoisted the full house sign was for Benji Marshall’s horror return to rugby league with the Dragons in 2014.
Now under vastly different circumstances, Eels coach Brad Arthur says never before have the blue-and-gold army been needed to turn out in droves than against the Rabbitohs.
“They’ve had just as many excuses as the playing group to walk away from this team and this club, and they haven’t,” Arthur said.
“They’re probably needed more than ever right now.”
Arthur is confident his men wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the occasion, given they were also rocked by skipper Kieran Foran sensationally dropping out of the team to address personal issues just two weeks ago.
And with the darkening salary cap cloud also hanging over them, they gazumped Canterbury by eight points a week later.
“I think they’re growing,” Arthur said. “This can only make them stronger, all this stuff that we’ve gone through, we say this week, but this has been ongoing for two months.”
Struggling South Sydney are similarly desperate to put some demons to bed after being defeated in their past four games on the bounce – their biggest losing streak under coach Michael Maguire.
The premiership-winning coach has now gambled on shifting fullback and captain Greg Inglis to five-eighth in a bid to kick-start his team’s stuttering season, where they’ve won just three games and sit 12th.
Arthur said it was obvious why the Queensland and Kangaroos star has got the spotlight.
“He’ll touch the ball more,” he said. “He’s a big, strong thing, so he’s going to be hard to handle. They’re obviously looking to get the ball on his hands more.”
Isaac De Gois will start for Peats, while co-captain Tim Mannah is also out with a shoulder issue.
For the Rabbitohs, Chris Grevsmuhl (who has been linked with an immediate move to Penrith), Damien Cook and David Tyrell have been dropped for Jack Gosiewski, Jason Clark and Paul Carter, while Alex Johnston also returns at fullback.
The Eels technically sit in fifth spot but are expected to fall to the bottom of the table when a final determination of the breach notice is decided on June 3.
STATS THAT MATTER
* After opening the season with 90 points in their first two games, the Rabbitohs have since scored 92 points in their past seven matches
* Semi Radradra scored 24 tries in his first 23 games at Pirtek Stadium, but is now tryless in his past four matches at home
* Greg Inglis ran for a career-high 280 metres in their last-start loss to the Wests Tigers.