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Eels players during their Round 21 loss to the Titans at Cbus Super Stadium.

Their quest for a finals berth has now been replaced by a battle to avoid the wooden spoon but the Eels will be bolstered by the return of three star players for Saturday's clash with the Panthers in Darwin.

Parramatta's 24-14 loss on Monday night on the Gold Coast sees them level on 18 competition points with the Titans and Panthers and with only Newcastle and the Wests Tigers one win behind them on the Telstra Premiership table.

The Eels' chances of knocking over the Titans were dealt a blow before kick-off when Will Hopoate and Brad Takairangi were ruled out due to injury but both are expected to return to the team against Penrith along with five-eighth Corey Norman.

An extended squad including all those who played on Monday night will fly to Darwin on Tuesday and spend the week in the Northern Territory capital but coach Brad Arthur refused to use the absence of key players as an excuse for their loss to the Titans.

"Both of them should be OK and Corey should be right too," Arthur said of his missing backline stars.

"It's difficult but it's not the halves and it's not the centres, everyone's got to put their hands up and take a bit of responsibility right through the coaches and the players.

"We've just got to try and tidy up that execution. Our forwards are laying a platform for us, we've just got to try and play off that a little bit better."

Saturday's game in Darwin – an Eels home game that is the second in a four-year deal to play a game in Darwin – represents the final leg of a gruelling travel schedule the Eels have had to endure over the past three weeks.

Successive Monday night fixtures in Townsville and the Gold Coast are followed by a trip to the Top End but Arthur insisted the players were showing no signs of any ill effects by their effort against the Titans.

"It's what it is and that's not an excuse. That's got nothing to do with our poor execution in attack," Arthur said.

"If it was going to be evident anywhere it would be that we were flat and didn't have any energy but I thought we did. We just weren't good enough. They kicked really well and caught us out a bit."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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