Cowboys v Eels: Schick Preview
Schick Hydro Preview: North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels
Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST)
The North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels both have easy goals to identify, with the Cowboys eager to jump into the top four, while the Eels are sitting only one win from the top eight.
The Cowboys will be anxiously awaiting the performance of halfback Johnathan Thurston in their final training session before the game, which will decide whether or not he plays in the Friday night clash. The Australian representative's addition to the team will be a huge boost to the Cowboys who have struggled in the last month, winning two from four.
The Eels also have issues on the injury front, having named Kenny Edwards in the halves alongside Corey Norman after first pick Brad Takairangi was ruled out with an injury sustained in last week's win over the Penrith Panthers.
Why the Cowboys can win: The return of Johnathan Thurston will be a huge boost for the Cowboys in terms of playmaking ability. The playmaking genius is impossible to overrate and he also brings leadership and structure to North Queensland, an area that they have struggled with in previous weeks and has caused them to fade in and out of games. If Thurston doesn't play it will fall on Michael Morgan and John Asiata's shoulders to lead the Cowboys to victory. With the ever-destructive Jason Taumalolo being backed up by the improving performances of Scott Bolton, Ethan Lowe and Coen Hess, as well as their bench proving impact with the likes of Ray Thompson, Corey Jensen and Ben Spina, the Cowboys have potential to seize momentum at any point in the game. Their near-comeback against the St George Illawarra Dragons is proof that they're always in the contest, and it will be to the Eels' detriment if they let the foot off the throttle at any point against the Cowboys.
Why the Eels can win: Hot off their wins over the Panthers and the Wests Tigers, the Eels will be full of confidence and eager to make it three in a row. The presence of Corey Norman in good form will go a long way to earning their victory, given he's surrounded by strong outside backs like Semi Radradra who knows how to find the line. They'll only be able to execute this if their forwards can dominate the Cowboys' pack, and given the Cowboys' recent patchy form and tendency to drift out of the game physically and mentally they could very well be rolling up the field. This will give Norman ample space to work the ball to his speed-men, who will be coming up against a recently re-formed Cowboys backline consisting of Kyle Feldt, Justin O'Neill, Kane Linnett and Antonio Winterstein. At their best, the Cowboys' defence is hard to beat, having conceded the second fewest tries in 2016, although their form in 2017 has been less consistent, with the fifth most tries conceded.
 Telstra Premiership: Michael Morgan vs Corey Norman
Tries, Try Assists, Line Breaks, Line Break Assists.
The history: Played 35; Cowboys 16; Eels 18; Drawn 1. The Eels only just edge the Cowboys in their overall head-to-head record from their 35 meetings, although the Cowboys have been dominant at home, having only lost to the Eels once in their last 11 meetings in Townsville.
What are the odds: Both sides have been backed to win 1-12 according to Sportsbet, so punters are expecting a tight tussle in Townsville. There's nearly three times the amount placed on the Cowboys in the head-to-head market. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Dave Munro. Assistant referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: Dave Ryan and Tyson Morel. Review officials: Jared Maxwell and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine and Fox League – Live coverage from 7.30pm
NRL.com predicts: It's a tough game to pick, given the varied form of these two teams in the last month. They've both won two from four, but the Eels have won two in a row, while the Cowboys lost two in a row before beating the Newcastle Knights. If the Cowboys have Thurston it should be enough to get them over the Eels at home, but without him the Eels could end their poor form in Townsville. Cowboys by 8.