Eels v Cowboys preview - 2017 Round 14

Parramatta Eels v North Queensland Cowboys Saturday 7:30pm at TIO Stadium

Can the Eels be the new NRL dark horses?

Having disappointed for so many years, the performances of the Eels this season have left many to ponder whether the 2017 crop could be the ones to restore the famous club to their former glory. Currently sitting in eighth position, the Blue and Golds have shown glimpses of brilliance at times this season, however with few notable scalps and at times lacklustre performances against the NRL elite, it's difficult gauge the true form of Brad Arthur's men. Showing tremendous grit to down to the Warriors last Friday, the Eels will head to Darwin in search of a third successive win. In the wake of last week's injuries, several new faces have been named including former Titans outside back Nathan Davis, while game breaker Corey Norman has been included on an extended bench. Should Norman come into the final 17, expect a reshuffle to see Bevan French move the wing, Clinton Gutherson take over fullback duties and Norman partnering Mitchell Moses in the halves. Saturday will also mark a special occasion for utility Kenny Edwards, who will play his 50th game for the club after debuting back in 2013.

They may be winning games, but the Cowboys appear to be running on empty as the midway point of the season approaches. Suffering a notable injury toll over the first three months of 2017, coach Paul Green has been forced into a series of selections in stark contrast to the consistent squad that served last year's defending premiers so well. Naming young playmaker Kyle Laybutt to make his first grade debut alongside Michael Morgan in the halves, speculation will mount up until kick-off regarding the fitness of Johnathan Thurston, who has been included as part of an extended bench. Making their second appearance at TIO Stadium in Darwin, the Cowboys will be hopeful of replicating their 50-point haul against the Roosters in 2012; however with the leger tied at three wins apiece in recent meetings against the Eels, the Cowboys will be preparing for a closely fought encounter.

Last meeting: Round 9 2017 - Cowboys 6 Eels 26

Who to watch: What started as a selection brought about by necessity has proven to be an absolute masterstroke of coaching in moving Clinton Gutherson to five-eighth. Having shown glimpses of talent on the wing and centres at Manly and in the initial stages of his time at Parramatta, Gutherson has proven to be the most valuable player for the Blue and Golds with his versatility and consistency endearing him to supporters and coach Brad Arthur alike. At 22-years-old, the dynamic playmaker has considerable development left, but based on his showings so far in 2017 it would not be beyond the realms of possibility to see Gutherson earn representative selection in Australia's World Cup squad.

Having taken a risk in shifting to North Queensland at the end of 2011, Kane Linnett has proven to be one of the clubs most underrated purchases. Consistent in his displays and blessed with a turn of pace that goes largely unnoticed, the 28-year-old centre has been a quiet achiever for the Cowboys so far this season with an average of over 100 metres in each of his performances. Managing just one try in 12 matches, the former Roosters grand finalist will be hoping to add to his tally against the Eels by reacquainting himself with the white line and registering his 50th try for the Cowboys.

The favourite: With uncertainty surrounding the availability of both Norman and Thurston, neither side can be split.

My tip: At their best the Eels are capable of winning the competition; the big issue is whether they can bring that form on a consistent basis. Having accounted for two lacklustre teams over the past fortnight, Saturday shapes as a test of where the side stands. Eels by 1.

1. Bevan French 2. Semi Radradra 3. Brad Takairangi 6. Clint Gutherson 5. Nathan Davis 21. Corey Norman 7. Mitchell Moses 15. Daniel Alvaro 9. Kaysa Pritchard 10. Tim Mannah 11. Manu Ma'u 12. Tepai Moeroa 13. Nathan Brown 8. Suaia Matagi 14. Beau Scott 16. Kenny Edwards 17. Will Smith

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 19. Johnathan Thurston 7. Michael Morgan 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Shaun Fensom 17. Ben Spina

Referees: Adam Gee, Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh, Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees: Ashley Klein, Luke Patten;

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