Eels prepare for their biggest test
Parramatta players will be riding a wave of confidence when they embark on the NRL's toughest road trip this week – and they'll need it when they travel to the killing fields of 1300SMILES Stadium.
The Cowboys have won all four home games so far this year, with a combined margin of 140-32, an average of 35-8 per game, making Townsville the number one graveyard for away teams so far this year.
But working in the Eels’ favour is that they boast the NRL's second best defence (just 75 points conceded in seven games, second to the Broncos by just two points) as well as the fact they have beaten the premiers once this year already.
Parramatta players are under no illusions that they face a far sterner test this Saturday than in their upset 20-16 win in Round 2 at Pirtek Stadium, however.
"We know it's a tough roadie this week, probably the toughest roadie in the comp but for us in terms of a team I think it's a massive test for us," forward Kenny Edwards told NRL.com.
"We've been talking about how our defence has been good so far but I think this will be the biggest test so far."
Back-rower Beau Scott – one of the biggest contributors to Parramatta's remarkable defensive turnaround this season – will again have eyes for playmaker Johnathan Thurston after making the four-time Dally M winner heavily in previous club and Origin encounters.
"It's about shutting down the key playmakers and JT's one of them and that will be our role on the weekend," Scott told NRL.com.
"We're defending well as a unit; we've got plenty of improvement in the attack side of things but as long as we can keep ticking the boxes the way we're defending."
While the Eels have had a fairly tough draw to start the year in terms of their opponents, it has thus far been a friendly one in terms of travel with all seven of their games so far being played at Pirtek or ANZ.
"We've been lucky the first seven or eight rounds, we haven't left Sydney but it's a trip we have to do every year so it's nothing we're not accustomed to but in terms of playing them in their home ground," Edwards said.
"The crowd will turn up, they're vocal, they love their team and it's a really hard trip to get up for - it's so far away and so hot and humid up there."
Edwards hasn't featured in an NRL game in North Queensland yet but remembers how hot it can get from his time in the NYC.
"I haven't played up there, it's my first time playing up there. I played up there in 20s and all I remember is the heat. Obviously those boys get to train in it every day, they live in it so they're used to it," he said.
"It will test our forward pack – Matt Scott and big Jimmy Tamou and [Jason] Taumalolo are probably the form middle of the comp so far so it will be a good test for us to go up there and try and take it to them."
Having won that battle in Round 2 would be a huge confidence booster, he added.
"In our last game against them it showed who won the middle won the game. We're lucky our boys Junior [Paulo] and big Timmy [Mannah] did a good job and were able to limit what their forwards did so hopefully we can go out there and do a job on their middles."
Mannah won't feature this time round as he takes one more week to recover from a fractured shoulder blade but he was well aware of the threat their all-international starting middle forwards pose.
"For them, that's a real strength for them. Everyone talks about Thurston and the backline but I think Scott and Tamou, Taumalolo – they set a huge platform for their backs to do their job. They've got a really balanced team and it's going to be a good challenge," Mannah said.
"At home this year they've been unbelievable and it's going to be a good test for us to see how we go but I think that's kind of what you want, you want to test yourselves against the best and it's a good opportunity for us to do it.
"We came off with the right result the last time we played them a few weeks ago and our defence had a big part to do with that so hopefully we can do the same thing this time."