Round 8: Eels v Cowboys preview
Back in-form Cowboys face huge Parramatta test on brand new Bankwest turf
The Cowboys played the reverse card last week, bouncing back from being down 34-0 at half time two weeks ago to carry a 26-point lead against the Knights at the break last round, and went on with the job against the odds to score a 32-20 victory over Newcastle.
The Eels looked to have the 2 points signed, sealed and delivered, leading the Raiders by 12 points with 5 minutes to go before going to sleep and finding themselves in a golden point shootout. They showed character that has lacked in Parramatta sides of recent years to somehow come away with the win courtesy of a King Gutho field goal.
Brad Arthur had a selection headache regarding the replacement of injured halfback Mitchell Moses, who is expected to miss around 3 weeks with a calf complaint. He's gone with former Dragons utility Jai Field, a rookie who showed a lot of promise in his limited outings with the Red V. David Gower replaces Daniel Alvaro on the interchange bench in what will be his first NRL match since Round 24 last year.
The pressure on Cowboys coach Paul Green was somewhat alleviated following their victory last week and he has re-payed his players by keeping the same 17, albeit with a slight reshuffle to the backline with Tom Opacic moving to the centres and O'Neill to the wing. Valentine Holmes is also a chance to return from injury after being named in the reserves.
Both sides are coming off good attacking performances and appeared to be strolling to victory before late lapses saw their respective matches become closer than they should've. The Cowboys will be very lucky to start as well as they did last week against the Eels and can't afford to let in a similar influx of tries.
Parramatta will be confident after beating their second top 4-quality opponent in 3 weeks and supporters would've been happy with a rare golden point victory. They'll have to avoid complacency because the Cowboys have shown what they can do to opponents who don't take them seriously.
Who to watch: The silver lining for the Blue and Gold that's arisen from Mitchell Moses' injury is that it gives rookie half Jai Field a chance to prove himself at his new club. Field played 11 first grade games over 3 years for the Dragons but was let go over the off season and landed in Parramatta. Friday night will be his 5th time starting and will likely look to bring some attacking spark to solidify his position as first-string backup should Brown or Moses spend any more time on the sidelines.
North Queensland halfback Jake Clifford enjoyed arguably his best match in first grade last week, racking up a try assist, 7 tackle breaks and a try of his own to be rewarded with 3 Dally M points for his efforts. He had big shoes to fill last season replacing the great Johnathan Thurston and started this year outside the top 17. More performances like last week will give Paul Green a serious headache as to what to do when captain Michael Morgan recovers from injury.
The favourite: Unsurprisingly, the Eels are clear favourites to continue their strong form of 2020 with a win over the Cowboys on Friday night.
My tip: The Cowboys were overwhelmingly poor after the resumption of the NRL but showed good signs to respond with their best game of the year against quality opposition last week. Expect their strong form to continue and for this match to be close over the first 40 or 50 minutes, however Parramatta simply have too much strike and quality around the park to let this one get away from them. Eels by 14.