Again a side with September aspirations must make the trip up north into the arena to test their mettle. This week it is the much improved Parramatta Eels and there are a couple of reasons why this shapes to be a very interesting match up.
In the last couple of years the script would have read: Eels V Cowboys at Townsville, Cowboys by more than a landslide!. But things have changed in the West. Parramatta have made some key signings (Foran) and they have the most in form winger in the comp.
I don't think this match up will be a drubbing like last week. Both sides are very good defensively (sitting 2nd and 3rd in the comp in points conceded) and points will have to be earned. Lets looks at the major strength and weakness of each side and then where I think the major match up is in the game.
Major Strength, The salary Cap Breach
Don't believe what they tell you in the media about the club not been focused on the breach and that all the players are concentrating on is football. I don't believe it. Also I think it's a strength and I think it's a driver. This team has a good list and they are playing well enough to go top 4 and also go very deep in September. Possibly to the dance if things go their way. So the threat of losing competition points means racking up as many as they can before a decision is brought forward.
Major Weakness - The Radradra Reliance
The more Radradra carves up sides on the edge the more that he will have a target on his back. And in the first few rounds of the comp whenever the Eels have found themselves in trouble their formula has been simple. Get the ball to Semi and get him to do something. This can be a dangerous trap for them to fall into. Yes he is the most devastating winger in the comp and is close to playing himself into an Australian jumper. However by the back end of the season, Norman and Foran et al. will have to figure out a craftier way to use the Fijian. Just throwing the ball wide wont wash against the Cowboys defense.
Edwards talks to the media about the task ahead.
Major Strength, The Cowboys
By then end of the year if they keep up this form there wont be anything left to say about them. They have the best list in the comp, enough said.
Major Weakness, They don't have one
I honestly look across their list and can't find anything. The only thing that you can point out against the Rabbitohs (and if you go back to round 2 when the Eels beat the Cowboys) it was the Cowboys poor ball control that let them down. And in round 2 they still only lost by four points. But the Eels can't rely on the Cowboys having an off night for them to get a sniff. If your game plan is to win by the other team losing it for themselves. You were never in the contest.
Where the Game Will be Won and Lost
In the halves. It is Foran and Norman v Thurston and Morgan. Keiran Foran is an excellent pivot and he is combining well with Norman. He is strong defensively and has an excellent kicking game. Norman has a slick pair of hands and dances across the field to slip passes to his outside and I would think rather than troubling Morgan defensively with Norman, Paul Green will leave the job to one of his more mobile back rowers, Cooper perhaps?. Morgan the strongest ball runner of the bunch and if Parramatta has someone to target running at it's Norman. He has conceded the most tries against this year for the Eels (4). JT will have a target on his back from Beau Scott. And I like that Scott doesn't shy away from the contest. However part of the reason that Thurston is a future immortal is because he is so tough. Every time he gets knocked off his feet he bounces up and says 'is that all you got' He is pound for pound one of the toughest men in the comp.
After Souths failed to bring the boom up north I'm certainly hoping the Eels can push the Cowboys at least into a contest. Don't get me wrong it's fun to see The Cowboys lay 30 points on every side every week, but it's more satisfying to see them rise to a challenge. Closer than last week I pick the Cowboys to get home by 8, 18-10.
The North Queensland Cowboys play the Parramatta Eels at 1300 Smiles Stadium, Saturday April 23. Check your local guides for kick off time.
Nth Qld: 1. Coote 2. Feldt 3. O'Neill 4. Linnett 5. Winterstein 6. Morgan 7. Thurston 8. Scott 9. Granville 10. Tamou 11. Cooper 12. Lowe 13. Taumalolo Interchange: Kostjasyn,Kaufusi,Botlon,Hannant.
Eels: 1. Gordan 2. Radradra 3. Jennings 4. Takairangi 5. Gutherson 6. Norman 7. Foran 8. Paulo 9. Peats 10. Alvaro 11. Ma'u 12. Scott 13. Moeroa Interchange: De Gois,Terepo,Wicks, Edwards.