Eels v Cowboys preview
Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
Two sides at either end of the ladder meet in a game that will be a lot closer on the field than on paper.
The Eels are hoping they have their mojo back after a surprise Friday night win in Penrith, while nothing seems to be stopping the North Queensland juggernaut. Even the football gods seem to be on their side as they escaped from the Sea Eagles' clutches at the death last week.
It is a long turnaround for both teams, which aids the visitors and their recovery of Origin stars Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, James Tamou and Michael Morgan.
Chris Sandow found form in his second game back after being dropped to the Wentworthville Magpies, and the whole team lifted on the big stage of Friday night football.
If last week was a "danger game" for North Queensland, this one also has the warning beacons flashing. The Cowboys were admittedly complacent last week, and took it to the 11th hour to get over Manly for their ninth straight victory.
Eels coach Brad Arthur will bring David Gower to the bench in place of Joseph Paulo, while Danny Wicks and Junior Paulo swap between starting and the bench.
Cowboys headman Paul Green, who this week signed on for another three years in the north, has named an unchanged side from last week, with Rory Kostjasyn at 18th man.
Watch Out Eels: Parra's defence needs to be on high alert against the league's third most potent attacking side. It is a recipe for disaster as the Eels have conceded the second most points of any team this season with 278 from their 12 matches. Their defensive woes make sense as they average the most handling errors in the competition, meaning that they are required to expend more energy defensively, especially in the second half of games – they have completed the highest number of second-half tackles of any club this season (2338). Spelling more danger for the home side, the Cowboys also average the most run metres per game with 1778.
Watch Out Cowboys: Last week's performance was a long way from their best, completing at just 67.5 per cent; well below their season average of 78.2 per cent. Complacency kicked in very early and it may just take a loss to snap them out of it after fullback Lachlan Coote hinted said they had "switched off" on the back of Matt Scott's early try. Other than that, the Cowboys are looking very solid across the board.
Key Match-Up: Chris Sandow v Johnathan Thurston. Expect a big one from Sandow as he looks to measure himself against the league's best. When Sandow is on, so are his 16 teammates, such is his infectious personality both on and off the field. He is known for his form fluctuations week-to-week, but we are tipping that last week's bumper game against the more fancied Panthers is the start of a monster second half of the season in the 26-year-old's final year of his contract.
If Sandow is one of the more erratic halves in the league Thurston is one of the sturdiest. Cowboys fans know what they are getting from their champion every week and the long turnaround will no doubt freshen up both him and fellow Maroon Michael Morgan after the pair looked a little flat backing up from Origin I.
The History: Played 31; Eels 13, Cowboys 17, Drawn 1. The last time these sides met at Pirtek Stadium, Morgan almost won it at the death for North Queensland with a backfield line break, but his offload went to ground as he was being tackled. They lost that game 18-16. The Cowboys have typically had it tough against the Eels in Sydney, losing seven of their last 10.
What Are The Odds: Eels ($2.70) v Cowboys ($1.47). There have been four times as many individual bets on the Cowboys in head-to-head betting. North Queensland receiving the start in line betting has proven just as popular according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Chris Sutton; Touch Judges – Grant Atkins & Brett Suttor; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Henry Perenara.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm
The Way We See It: Parramatta fans are some of the league's most parochial and their side always seems to grow an extra leg on the Pirtek Stadium turf. If the ladder and form is anything to go by, pencil in the Cowboys for their 10th straight, but the NRL does not always work that way. If the Cowboys haven't learned from last week's Manly scare and stumble out of the blocks this time around, an upset may well be on the cards. Class should prevail in the end, however. Cowboys by 8.