Eels v Cowboys: Hayne returns, Morgan rested
Of all their heavy losses this season, Parramatta's thrashing from Newcastle last week ranks right up there among the worst, prompting coach Brad Arthur to question his team's desire and use words like "embarrassing" to describe his team's inept performance.
Making matters worse, Arthur will have to re-shuffle his line-up after key players suffered injuries in the 30-4 loss.
Parra fans had high hopes for 2018 but now they are just hoping the club avoids its 14th wooden spoon in its 72-year existence.
The Cowboys saved their 2018 campaign with last week's impressive road win over Manly, getting the job done with their weakest team (on paper) of the season.
They are still a fair way off being mentioned as a title contender but the Cows have four wins from 13 games and are the only team near the bottom of the ladder that seems capable of putting together a lengthy winning streak.
With Origin stars Gavin Cooper, Michael Morgan and Coen Hess back on deck, they should have little trouble against a side that is going nowhere fast.
Key match-up: Clint Gutherson has an important battle on his hands against future immortal Johnathan Thurston. Gutherson was one of Parramatta's best and most consistent players when they finished fourth last season but hasn't re-captured that form in 2018. JT is coming off a good performance against Manly and knows it's up to him to get his team firing.
For the Eels to win: With Mitch Moses out injured, coach Brad Arthur will have to entrust Corey Norman with the job of directing the Eels around the park, while Gutherson has to lift in the play-making department. The Eels have to find a way to play free-flowing footy to keep the Cowboys guessing in defence.
For the Cowboys to win: Can't wait to see if Jason Taumalolo's wrecking ball performance against Manly was a one-off or if he is definitely back to the form that makes his one of the most damaging players in the world. If their Origin trio returns injury-free the Cowboys will be confident of making it two straight wins for the first time this season.
Eels stat attack: The Eels have the worst attack in the NRL, averaging just 13.4 points per game and having scored just six tries in their past four games. They will be in for another rough night if they can't find a way to the tryline.
Cowboys stat attack: The Cowboys clearly enjoy the heat up in Darwin, as their defence and attack has proved to be lethal in the Northern Territory. The men from Townsville have scored 82 points and conceded just 18 in two games in Darwin.
And another thing: The Cowboys produced one of their best efforts of the season last week and did so without several key players. They have to continue to scrap for every win for the rest of the season if they want to play finals footy. Last-placed Parra didn't handle being favourites against Newcastle last week but they can rest assured they'll be back in the underdog's corner again this week.
Match: Eels vs Cowboys
Venue: TIO Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys, Saturday 7pm (7.30pm AEST) at TIO Stadium, Darwin
Eels: 1 Bevan French, 2 Josh Hoffman, 3 Michael Jennings, 4 Jarryd Hayne, 5 George Jennings, 6 Clint Gutherson (c), 7 Corey Norman, 8 Daniel Alvaro, 9 Cameron King, 10 Peni Terepo, 17 Marata Niukore, 12 Brad Takairangi, 13 Nathan Brown
Interchange: 14 Reed Mahoney, 15 Tim Mannah (c), 16 David Gower, 18 Siosaia Vave
Marata Niukore replaces Manu Ma'u in the second row with Siosaia Vave joining the bench. Jarryd Hayne returns from a hip injury at centre with Brad Takairangi replacing the suspended Tepai Moeroa in the second row. Corey Norman (foot) returns at halfback for Mitch Moses (knee). Nathan Brown starts at lock, switching Peni Terepo to lock. Tim Mannah (fractured eye socket) returns to replace Suai Matagi on the bench. Reed Mahoney has been named to make his NRL debut on the bench in place of Will Smith (hamstring). Ma'u and Raymond Stone were the two players left out 24 hours out from kick-off, with Suaia Matagi and Jaeman Salmon dropping out on game day.
Cowboys: 18 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Enari Tuala, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Sam Hoare, 17 Ethan Lowe, 14 Shaun Fensom, 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 15 Kane Linnett, 16 Corey Jensen
Maroons fullback Michael Morgan is out while fellow Queensland representatives Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess have dropped back to the bench, with Lachlan Coote starting at fullback and Ethan Lowe and Shaun Fensom starting in the second row. Ben Hampton and Francis Molo drop off the extended bench. Mitchell Dunn and Javid Bowen were the two players dropped from the squad 24 hours before game time.
Head-to-head: Played 38; Eels 19 wins, Cowboys 18 wins, 1 draw
Matches at venue: Played 1, Cowboys 1 win
2017 results: Eels won 26-6 at 1300Smiles Stadium in round 9; Cowboys won 32-6 at TIO Stadium in round 14; Cowboys won 24-16 at ANZ Stadium in finals week 2
Points per game: Eels 13.4; Cowboys 16.4
Points conceded per game: Eels 22.9; Cowboys 20.1
Televised: Live on Fox League
Steve Turner's prediction: The Eels are in a hole and I don't see it getting any better this week. They have too many injuries and are a side that is extremely down on confidence. Brad Arthur needs a miracle from his men this weekend. The Cowboys were impressive last weekend thanks to Thurston and Taumalolo and once again Paul Green will be looking to both these players to inspire his side during the rep period to register another win.
Tip: Cowboys by 8