BACK in round eight, Parramatta almost did the unthinkable, coming within a solitary point of overhauling a 31-point deficit in the final 13 minutes against Wests Tigers. They did so by playing ''nothing to lose'' football.
With the Eels' finals hopes now over, Tigers halfback Benji Marshall believes they will tonight be playing the same sort of dangerous game - only for 80 minutes, rather than 13.
''We know we can't afford to let that happen again,'' Marshall said yesterday of his side's late slump against the Eels. ''Our season's on the line. We need to go out and play that way. We probably took the foot off the pedal a bit that day. We can't afford to let that happen again. We've done a lot of work on defence this week, trying to target where we think they're going to come. Defence will win us the game.''
While Tigers coach Tim Sheens has not made an issue this week of the side's near-capitulation against the Eels, it will be in the back of his players' minds. The Eels have won their past two matches, and their last victory, over Brisbane, included the sort of football that they showed at Parramatta Stadium.
''When you've got nothing to lose, you can throw the ball around without any consequences,'' Marshall said. ''We don't have that luxury. We have to win. If we lose this game, the odds get slimmer.
''They've been playing some of the best football they've played all year. When they play off the back of off-loads and quick play-the-balls, they're pretty hard to stop.''
Sheens also expected the Eels to find the same sort of ''carefree'' football. ''I don't need to remind them of it,'' Sheens said. ''They've been reminded of it through the year, that we went to sleep. By the same token, I'm not taking anything away from Parramatta - they played the sort of footy they played against Brisbane, [in round 21], just offload out the back to whoever was standing there, and the bounces went their way. That doesn't always happen, though.''
The Tigers are focused on not being drawn into playing that sort of football themselves.
''It's all about our attitude to win,'' Marshall said. ''We don't get many chances after this weekend. They're going to come out firing - they've been playing well, and we're going to have to match it, and play some pretty consistent football. We've been training, keeping it pretty simple and basic.
''As long as everyone knows their role, it makes it a lot easier.''
Marshall is a good example of a Tiger who has played a different role to the one he should have been in recent weeks. He has admitted that he needed to return to a more controlling game.
But Marshall maintained that his move back to halfback - after being shifted to five-eighth last round against South Sydney - would help him do that.
''I thought I would have enjoyed five-eighth a bit more, but being away from the ball, and not being able to control … I've turned into a control freak lately,'' Marshall said.
''Getting back there, it will feel good to be in control.''