7.30pm (AEST), Saturday, April 23 at 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
Parramatta’s sensational form has been the talk of the NRL, but defending champs North Queensland have been electric at home – and the Cowboys also have revenge for a early-season loss to the Eels on their mind.
Strapping centre Kane Linnett returned at centre for rookie Javid Bowen in a late change last Friday, while Patrick Kaufusi came in for Josh Asiata on the bench. The Cowboys have used only 19 players in the opening seven rounds.
Eels front-row veteran Tim Mannah could make a return from injury this week, with Daniel Alvaro or Danny Wicks the player likely to drop out. The blue-and-golds’ line-up is otherwise very settled.
Parramatta leads the tally narrowly in 34 clashes since 1995, winning 18 games to North Queensland’s 15, with one drawn. At home, however, the Cowboys have an 8-5-1 advantage. The Cowboys have won six of the last eight – including a 46-4 drubbing in Townsville last season – but the Eels grafted out a stirring 20-16 upset at Pirtek Stadium in Round 3 this year.
The Cowboys have won three on the trot since their Good Friday golden-point loss to the Broncos, destroying the Dragons (36-0) and Rabbitohs (44-18) at home, and grabbing a tense 23-18 away win against the Panthers. Second on the ladder, their attack is the best in the NRL, while their defence rates third.
In the wake of their last-minute loss to the Panthers, the Eels smacked the Raiders 36-6 at home and outlasted the Sea Eagles 22-10 at Brookvale in a finals-quality contest. The Eels currently sit in fourth, with the second-best defence and 11th-ranked attack in the NRL.
A preview of the upcoming Anzac Test where the superstars are almost certain to be opposing each other in the No.6 jumpers, Kieran Foran and Johnathan Thurston hold the key for their respective teams in the No.7 this weekend. Both captains are blue-chip game-breakers and among the most competitive playmakers in the code.
Stats That Matter
North Queensland are 5-2 ATS in 2016, with a 4-3 over number. Parramatta are 5-2 against the start with a perfect 7-0 under record. The Cowboys are 31-10 at home since the start of 2013 (23-18 ATS). The Eels have covered 10 of their last 13 away, including their last six straight. The Cowboys have scored 40-plus in each of their last four home games against the Eels.
Parramatta will look to replicate the game-plan that garnered victory over North Queensland in Round 2 – bustle Thurston and frustrate the Cowboys with physical defence in the middle and desperate scrambling, while remaining patient with the ball and seizing their opportunities. The Cowboys are so tough to beat at home, but there’s a struck match between these teams – who are genuine contenders for the NRL premiership – at present. The halves battle will be ripper and both sides boast slick backlines, but it could be won up front, with the Cowboys’ international-stacked pack looking to square the ledger against the bruising Beau Scott-led Eels forwards. Buckle up for one of games of the season so far, with the Cowboys’ home-ground advantage set to get them a tight win.
The Way It’s Shaping
Cowboys by 4
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