Schick Hydro Preview: Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys
TIO Stadium, Darwin
Thursday, 7.30pm AEST
The Parramatta Eels and the North Queensland Cowboys recorded scratchy wins in Round 13, with injuries hindering both performances. The Eels got over the New Zealand Warriors 32-24, while the Cowboys handled the Gold Coast Titans 20-8.
The Eels' injury woes are escalating, with Corey Norman, Frank Pritchard, Michael Jennings, Siosaia Vave and several others out. With Norman named in the extended squad there is a chance the five-eighth could play, and the Eels will be hopeful he returns to add some much-needed attacking options.
The Cowboys appear to be reaching the end of their horror run of injuries as they wait on Johnathan Thurston to be fully fit. The Queensland half has also been named in the extended squad, but needs to clear fitness tests to play. If he is out, Michael Morgan will once again need to step up and guide the team, as he has done the previous three weeks.
Why the Eels can win: Their win over a sloppy Warriors side was gutsy, finishing the game with just one man on the bench. Despite this they were energetic in attack, with Suaua Matagi running for 151 metres, while Kenny Edwards charged for 141 off the bench. Mitchell Moses had a quiet game, recoding only 25 metres, but will be out to make amends this week, while Clint Gutherson will be eager to live up to his previous performance which included a try assist, a try and 107 running metres. Michael Morgan will need to be on high alert for Manu Ma'u, Tepai Moeroa and especially Beau Scott who will be putting pressure on the halfback in the form of bone crunching tackles. Scott has had success with the strategy on Johnathan Thurston in the past, and it could be a key aspect of their plan to neutralise Morgan's increasingly dominant performances.
Why the Cowboys can win: They dominated possession against the Titans, and finishing with 62 per cent they should have scored more points, but the Cowboys never let their missed opportunities get to them. They played patient football, forcing three line dropouts and keeping the ball in the Titans' end of the field. It's something they'll need to do again this week, and forwards Scott Bolton, John Asiata and Jason Taumalolo will need to match it with the Eels' big, mobile pack. They should be up to the challenge, with Bolton and Taumaolo running for 147 and 225 metres respectively, while Asiata ran for 86, but worried the Titans' defence with his ability to work the ball. If the Cowboys are to win in Darwin, Michael Morgan will need to be the man of the moment again this week, with debutant Kyle Laybutt stepping into the five-eighth role. It will be interesting to see what the young Cowboys' product can contribute, and it will be costly for the Eels to focus on Morgan and leave Laybutt unchecked.
The history: Eels v Cowboys: Played 35; Eels 18; Cowboys 16; Drawn 1. The Eels have the edge on the Cowboys, and dominated North Queensland at home in their last meeting. Neither team has ever lost at GIO Stadium in Darwin, with the Cowboys having won their only game there, while the Eels are three from three.
What are the odds: Sportsbet's betting market looks very even but punters are well and truly in the Parramatta camp. While there may be slightly more bets on North Queensland, there's twice as many dollars staked on the Eels to win this one. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Adam Gee. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Jason Walsh and Clayton Sharpe. Review officials: Luke Patten and Ashley Klein.
Televised: Channel Nine and Fox League – Live coverage from 7.30pm
NRL.com predicts: The return of either or both of Corey Norman and Johnathan Thurston would have a big influence on the game either way. North Queensland will be eager to get one back on the Eels after their last performance, and will do so in front of what will be a largely supportive crowd in Darwin. Given the Cowboys' recent form and the Eels' host of new injuries the Cowboys are likely to have more cohesion in attack and defence. Cowboys by 6.