Dairy Farmers Stadium
With a quarter of the season done and dusted these teams currently look like also-rans, but a win here could be just the springboard they need to push up around the periphery of the finals zone – or even in it if results go their way.
Both have mustered just two wins from their opening six games but have the roster to mount a challenge if the desire is willing.
For the Cowboys, this game represents a chance to prove their fighting spirit. They are still without the big trio of Johnathan Thurston, Aaron Payne and Luke O’Donnell, making their life much more difficult – but they come up against a Parramatta side that has failed to win in Townsville for 10 years!
Last weekend’s loss to Newcastle dropped the side to 13th spot and showed just how tough life without the big guns is. But with a home crowd and some hunger, they are capable of better.
Will Tupou is out of the side, which sees Ashley Graham return to the centres and Michael Bani come onto the wing. The Ty-Williams-at-five-eighth experiment is over, with Grant Rovelli coming in and the pack has been reshuffled.
Antonio Kaufusi is out, with Carl Webb moving up to prop, Willie Mason earning a starting spot in the second row and Steve Southern coming onto the bench. Manase Manuokafoa has also been axed from the bench, with Issak Ah Mau coming in.
The Eels finally got back into the winner’s circle against South Sydney last week to move up to 11th on the ladder, but to be frank their opposition didn’t put up much of a fight.
For the Parramatta faithful to believe change has come, they’ll want to see a clinical demolition of an under-strength Cowboys.
Joel Reddy is back from suspension in the centres, with Eric Grothe being dropped to the bench and Krisnan Inu moving to the wing.
Watch out Cowboys: The Eels are still looking to get their second-phase game back into top gear and this might be the match they do so. So far this season they have punched out 92 offloads – near the top of the NRL pile, but below last season’s standards. The Cowboys aren’t far behind with 82; however, the problem lies in offloads conceded.
The Eels have been great in shutting opposition second-phase down, allowing just 56 this season, while the Cowboys have permitted 73. If the Cowboys don’t come up with a way to limit offloads, the Eels could get well and truly moving.
Those they need to watch out for are Nathan Hindmarsh (11), Eric Grothe (11), Feleti Mateo (10) and Nathan Cayless (9).
Watch out Eels: The Cowboys are busting far more tackles per match than the Eels this season and with each missed tackle by the Eels, the chances for the Cowboys’ attack multiply.
So far in 2010 the Cowboys are breaking 35.2 tackles per game, while the Eels have been super soft in breaking just 24.2 tackles a match.
If you don’t bend the opposition back you end up with limited chances to attack and the Eels have experienced this first-hand so far this year.
The most prolific tackle-breakers for the Cowboys in this week’s line-up are Willie Tonga (28), Scott Bolton (18), Willie Mason (16), John Williams (15), Steve Rapira (14) and Shannon Gallant (14). Be warned Eels: these guys won’t submit lightly.
Where it will be won: A moment of brilliance, or weakness, will decide this game. Both sides are far from their best and will try their best to grind out field position before launching attacks but more likely than not it will come down to a brilliant run, break or try from an individual or a lapse in judgment, a poor missed tackle or a bad penalty from someone else.
The home side’s ace in the hole is Willie Tonga. With eight line-breaks and six tries this season Tonga will be commanding plenty of ball on the left side, up against the poor side of the Eels’ defence. If he can get early involvement he could show the way to victory.
The Eels’ left centre, Timana Tahu, is the other one to watch. Week by week he is getting better and better, with his brutal defence and aggressive attack. Look for Tahu to also get early ball here.
Last week it was a Tahu hit and a Luke Burt chase that turned Parra’s fortunes… who will step up this week?
The History: Played 23; Cowboys 9, Eels 13, drawn 1. The Eels have won three of the past four between the two clubs, including the only encounter between the teams last season. On that occasion they prevailed 28-18 at Parramatta Stadium.
At Dairy Farmers Stadium it is four wins each, with the one draw – although the last time the Eels won in Townsville was way back in May of 2000!
Conclusion: Parramatta’s victory last weekend could easily fool you into thinking they had turned the corner, when in fact the Rabbitohs virtually handed them the match with a mountain of errors.
It is true the Cowboys are still very much weakened, but they are not out of this contest. The Eels will need to lift again this week if they are to get their first win in Townsville in… oh, forever… or they will be ambushed by a hungry home side.
Parramatta should win, but whether they will is far from certain. Go with gut feel.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 1pm.