Robson, Mannah back for Eels
While most teams are resigned to losing players over the State of Origin period, the Parramatta Eels are set to welcome back two key figures ahead of Friday night's showdown with the Sydney Roosters.
Club captain Tim Mannah will return to action for just his sixth game of the season, and will be joined in the starting side by mid-season signing Jeff Robson.
It will be the second stint at the Eels for the 33-year-old halfback after he led them to the 2009 grand final during his first stint at the club.
He has since played for the Sharks and Warriors, but returns to western Sydney after being granted an early release seven games into his career across the ditch.
Robson wasted little time reacquainting himself with the club, leading the Wentworthville Magpies to a drought-breaking win over Penrith last weekend in the Intrust Super Premiership.
Eels forward David Gower said it would be good to bring someone with Robson's 166 games worth of NRL experience into the squad, especially at this stage of the season.
"He's an old head, both literally and age-wise," Gower joked when asked about Robson's return.
"It's good to have another bloke with an older head than me. He's a very experienced guy and if Brad (Eels coach Brad Arthur) gives him the nod, he's going to bring that element of experience to us."
Gower believes the return of the veteran playmaker will likely lessen the load on current halfback Corey Norman, who has been the focal point in attack after Kieran Foran was ruled out for the season.
Norman has had a stellar 2016 with ball in hand, leading the Eels in try assists (11), line break assists (5) and kick metres (5,045), but will appreciate having the steadying influence of Robson in the side this weekend.
It's a role Robson played in 2009 with more dynamic players such as Daniel Mortimer and Jarryd Hayne given the freedom to let loose in attack while he was more composed and controlled the game with his kicking game.
"He's probably going to free Corey up a little bit," Gower predicted.
"I think he's had to probably take complete control of us for the last month, six weeks since 'Foz' (Foran) got hurt. I think it's going to allow Norman to play his more natural game."
Robson will be joined by one of his teammates from the 2009 decider with the Eels set to regain the services of Tim Mannah for the first time since Round 9.
The veteran prop has been restricted to just 136 minutes this season after he fractured his shoulder blade in Round 4 and then aggravated a scapula injury five weeks later against the Bulldogs in his first game back.
The Eels pack has more than held its own this season, but Gower is well aware just how vital Mannah's inclusion will be against the Roosters' formidable forwards.
"I was speaking to Timmy today and I only think he's played three or four games this year," Gower said.
"He's feeling fresh and he's ready to go. Timmy leads from the front by his actions and we're looking forward to him getting out there and ripping in for us on Friday night."