Cowboys v Eels preview - 2017 Round 9

North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels Friday 7:50pm at 1300SMILES Stadium

Eels chase third straight as JT races the clock

It may not have been the most clinical performance, but in the end the Cowboys showed that even without their stars they can get the job done. Having been humbled by the Dragons a fortnight ago, the makeshift Cowboys proved too good for a spirited Newcastle outfit, with youngster Kalyn Ponga giving both sets of supporters plenty to ponder. Remaining in Townsville for the Friday night clash, coach Paul Green will be pondering whether to play Johnathan Thurston after naming the superstar halfback on an extended bench. With the exception of Thurston's late inclusion, the Cowboys will field the same side that triumphed 24-12 last week, however former Raider Shaun Fensom may make his way into the final lineup should he be declared fit to return from injury.

Having suffered a four-game losing streak after a promising start to 2017, the Eels will be out to continue their run of good form in recent weeks as they chase a third consecutive victory. Holding off a fast-finishing Penrith outfit last Saturday at ANZ Stadium, the Eels will be looking to overcome a poor recent history in Townsville with their last success occurring back in 2010. With utility Brad Takairangi sustaining a knee injury in the 18-12 win over the Panthers, Kenny Edwards will line up alongside Corey Norman in the halves, while reliable forward David Gower takes the vacant position on the bench. Coach Brad Arthur has been reluctant to tamper with his squads so far this season, however with a lack of versatility to draw from off the bench, don't be surprised to see Will Smith or Cameron King drafted into the field squad for their club debuts.

Last meeting: Round 8 2016 - Cowboys 32 Eels 16

Who to watch: It can be dangerous to label a player as the next big thing, but if ever someone deserved such high praise, the form shown by Coen Hess over the opening two months is befitting such a tag. Regularly destroying opponents with his bulldozing running style, the 20-year-old has been a colossus to the extent premiership winner Ethan Lowe has been relegated to the bench to accommodate him. With a try-scoring strike rate to rival some of the best wingers in the league, Hess will have no qualms about the task ahead of him on Friday night, while should his form continue over the next month don't be surprised to see him make his Queensland debut in Origin I.

He may have experienced a turbulent time off the field in recent years, but based on his showings once the whistle blows it's hard to deny the work of Kirisome Auva'a in 2017. Having been let go by South Sydney midway through last season for contract breaches, the premiership winning centre has added a new dimension to the Parramatta right edge, with his determined running causing plenty of trouble for opposition defences. With the Samoan side to face England set to be named at the conclusion of this weekend's matches, look for Auva'a to put his best foot forward in the hope of adding a representative jersey to his impressive return to the NRL.

The favourite: With the likely inclusion of Johnathan Thurston set to dramatically boost their chances, the Cowboys are favoured to come away with the two points.

My tip: Even without Johnathan Thurston, it's hard to see the Eels being good enough to outlast the Cowboys in North Queensland. Cowboys by 10.

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. John Asiata 7. Michael Morgan 8. Patrick Kaufusi 14. Ray Thompson 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo . Ethan Lowe 15. Ben Spina 16. Corey Jensen 17. Ben Hampton

1. Clint Gutherson 2. Semi Radradra 3. Michael Jennings 4. Kirisome Auva'a 5. Josh Hoffman 19. Will Smith 7. Corey Norman 8. Suaia Matagi 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 6. Kenny Edwards 14. Beau Scott 15. Daniel Alvaro 17. Siosaia Vave 18. John Folau 19. Will Smith

Referees: Grant Atkins, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Ricky MacFarlane; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten;

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