The Eels, after a 10-match unbeaten run, lost their first match in the domestic rugby league competition to Tupapa Panthers 13-31 in round 12.
That loss, senior player Clive Nicholas said, was a good wake-up call for the team heading into the final rounds of the competition.
“I think the loss was a blessing in disguise. It’s a good wake-up call for the boys and the team, especially when we are entering the final rounds with the knockout competition just around the corner,” Nicholas said.
The Eels have been sweating over the injuries of some of their key players and their unavailability has been a major problem for the side in the last couple of matches.
Lai Rogorogoivalu and speedster Samu Alafua are the notable two who have been sidelined due to injuries they sustained in the earlier rounds.
Nicholas said the team had been feeling their absence, as they occupied key positions in the side.
“We have been really struggling without Samu in our attack out wide and missing the firepower of Lai as well,” he said.
“This has affected our game plan and we have been working on adjusting the plan to suit the players we’ve got and the areas we need to work on to counter the Bulldogs.”
Rogorogoivalu is set to make a timely return today but winger Alafua is still unavailable, Nicholas said.
“The match against Bulldogs is a crucial one for us. They are no different from the Panthers and are much bigger and stronger than when we beat them in round one.”
Despite missing their stars, the Terry Piri-coached Eels still have some top players in the game, with a couple of young rising stars to guide them through. There will be lot of expectation placed on both their commanding centre Tua Ravula and lock Tama Nicholas, who starred in the loss against the Panthers last week.
Meanwhile Bulldogs, who a fortnight ago ended the unbeaten run of the Panthers, will be out to avenge their opening round 10-28 loss when they travel to The Swamp today.
The Meti Noovao-coached side has been in devastating form lately, picking up the pace in the crucial rounds of the competition.
Guided by their heavy forwards and a fast and furious backline, the side will want to win at any cost to remain in the top three and possibly improve their chances of a second-place finish.
In the other premier match today, the TKV Warriors will play Ngatangiia Matavera Sea Eagles at Nukupure Park.
The Warriors are yet to record a win in the competition, and against the Sea Eagles they face an uphill battle to score their first.
The premier matches will kick off at 4.30pm.
Nukupure Park, Ngatangiia: 3pm U19s, Sea Eagles v Bears; 4.30pm Premiers, Warriors v Sea Eagles. The Swamp, Avatiu: 11am Junior Development, Eels v Bulldogs; 3pm Premier Reserves; 4.30pm Premiers.