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Eels v Cowboys
Parramatta Stadium
Monday 7pm

Okay, seriously Parra… it’s time. Forget about the funk you are in and just go out and play some football!

We can delve into all of the reasons, the stats, the feuds, tactics (etc, etc) and find plenty of valid issues but the bottom line is the Eels aren’t having any fun. And it shows.

Footy is first and foremost supposed to be fun. Currently at Parramatta it is a chore, a job… even an annoyance. When the Eels were running hot last season there were a million smiles at every corner because they played like kids in the park, enjoying themselves and riding the waves of emotion.

This round’s final match pits the Eels against a 15th-placed Cowboys side that, barring a miracle of biblical proportions, are done and dusted for 2010.

The home side’s three straight losses have them four points adrift of the top eight in 10th spot on the ladder, making this encounter as close to crucial as it gets.

Most likely the Eels need six wins from the last nine games – and this is the easiest assignment they will get during the run home.

They will be sweating on the availability of their Origin duo Jarryd Hayne and Tim Mannah but also welcome back Justin Poore and Ben Smith.

Hayne will replace Tom Humble at fullback, while Smith takes Brendan Oake’s spot in the second row. Mannah and Poore join the bench at the expense of Manase Manuokafoa and Pele Peletelese.

For the Cowboys… well, this is just about it. When you lead Cronulla by a large margin at home and get run down, you know it’s not your year.

They need eight wins from nine games to have a crack at the finals… that doesn’t appear likely. With rose coloured glasses on it can be said the side is rested from the bye and hopefully charged up for one last push.

They need Johnathan Thurston, Willie Tonga and Matt Scott to get through Origin okay to start as named.

In changes from the Cronulla loss, fullback Shannon Gallant is out and Matt Bowen moves from five-eighth to the back. Grant Rovelli is the new five-eighth.

Ben Harris is out of the centres, replaced by Arana Taumata while Will Tupou comes on to the wing for John Williams.

Steve Rapira is back into the side at lock, which sees Dane Hogan move back to the bench while Anthony Watts also returns to the side on the reserves list.
Should he back up, Thurston will play his 150th NRL game, while for the Eels, Luke Burt needs one more goal for 500 in his career.

Watch out Eels:
Discipline could be a real tell-tale part of this fixture if the home side isn’t careful. Having given away 92 penalties for the year, the Eels are ranked 14th in the competition. This is putting them well and truly on the back foot despite their reasonable defensive record.

While the Cowboys aren’t doing very well in many areas, they have managed to be somewhat clean with the referees, having conceded just 70 penalties, the second best record in the NRL. If the home side loses the penalty count by a significant margin and hands Thurston and Bowen field position, they will be asking for trouble.

Watch out Cowboys: Nathan Hindmarsh is a proud man and he is absolutely filthy on himself for his efforts against the Warriors, particularly his three handling errors in the first half. You can be sure the former Test and Origin star will be in the thick of it all in this one. If ‘Hindy’ doesn’t top the tackle count we’ll be surprised.

And expect him to bring out the offload he has worked into his game over the past few seasons. He has 29 so far this year, but put him down for at least three in this match. Also look for him to better his average 91 metres gained a match… we smell triple figures.

Where it will be won: Attack. The Eels just have to get something going offensively or their season appears shot. Whispers exist about Daniel Mortimer reverting to five-eighth and Jeff Robson to halfback, but both play a similar role anyway.

The Cowboys have attacking stars in Thurston, Bowen, Tonga and even Scott Bolton. These guys can make something happen from just about nothing. The Eels need to break the shackles when in the green zone.
Either have a structured plan and execute it, or go for some off-the-cuff, offload-driven razzle-dazzle like last year.

If the Eels score six or less points again this week it will be the worst attacking streak in the proud club’s history.

The Cowboys are at the nothing-to-lose stage, so you can be sure they’ll chance their arm… the Eels better be ready to do the same.  

The history: Played 24; Eels 14, Cowboys 9, drawn 1. The Eels have won four of the past five between the two clubs, including three straight and a 24-18 win earlier this season. If they win it will be the first time they’ve ever had four consecutive wins against the Cowboys. At Parramatta Stadium the Eels have a 9-4 advantage. The last time the Cowboys won at the venue was 2006.  

Conclusion: At the end of the day this is a match of two struggling sides pitted against each other. If everyone backs up from Origin it could be anyone’s game.

The lean is to the Eels but it’s with minimal confidence. They have the potential, but so do the Cowboys. Don’t be afraid to go either way here, despite the Eels being favourites.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Luke Phillips; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
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