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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Eels eye redemption in North Queensland
Coming off Magic Round losses respectively, the North Queensland Cowboys will be hoping to extend a run of dominance over a Parramatta Eels side looking to bounce back from one of the worst showings in the club's history.
Outclassed by South Sydney, 32-16, last Sunday in Brisbane, Cowboys coach Paul Green will be hoping his strong record against the Eels paves the way for similar fortunes on Saturday night, having won seven of 11 clashes since being appointed to his position in 2014.
Currently sitting in 13th position with three wins over the first nine rounds - on par with their record over the same period last season - two key members of the inaugural premiership winning team will celebrate milestone matches with captain Michael Morgan becoming only the 15th player to reach 150 appearances for the club, while aspiring Queensland debutant Kyle Feldt will play his 100th game after making a successful return from injury last Sunday.
Keeping the same squad that tried hard in defeat against the Rabbitohs, Jake Granville has been preferred ahead of Kurt Baptiste as starting hooker after coming off the bench last Sunday.
Statistics can be used to tell a variety of stories - for the Parramatta Eels, the debacle of last week's 64-10 loss to Melbourne serves as one of the lowest points in the history of a proud club.
Since being admitted into the NSWRFL in 1947, the Parramatta Eels have competed in 1,643 premiership matches.
Of those matches over the past 72 years, the blue and gold's have conceded 60 points on just six occasions - a statistical occurrence of 0.365%.
Going down by 54 points to equal their fourth-largest loss - alongside last year's awful showing against the Sea Eagles at Lottoland - Brad Arthur's side additionally recorded the second-most points conceded by Parramatta in a match for the third time, while narrowly being saved the ignominy of surpassing the 68-0 all-time loss against Canberra in 1993.
For a club that has seen the heights of four premiership titles, last Saturday's loss was the ninth time this decade the Eels have conceded a half century in a premiership match.
Coming off such a shameful performance the Eels will be hoping to bounce back, but having won just twice the week after conceding 60 points, the prospect of playing in Townsville - a venue where they have lost ten of their past 12 visits - will require nothing short of a rugby league miracle given past history.
Responding to the self-described ‘soft' and ‘rubbish' performance, coach Arthur has swung the selection axe with George Jennings, Josh Hoffman and Will Smith coming in for Maika Sivo, Michael Jennings and Jaeman Salmon, while elevating Manu Ma'u to the starting side ahead of Tepai Moeroa.
Last meeting: Round 24 2018 - Cowboys 44 Eels 6
Who to watch: Showing signs of the form that saw him identified by the Cowboys as a strike weapon four years ago, Justin O'Neill has enjoyed a career resurgence with seven tries in six matches this season. Managing just three tries in the previous two years combined, the 28-year-old two-time premiership winner has been a prominent threat on the Cowboys right edge to emerge as a dark horse for an Origin recall. Previously representing Queensland and Australia in the years following North Queensland's first premiership title, O'Neill will be keen to add to the Eels woes, while enhancing his own reputation after spending time with Townsville Blackhawks earlier in the year.
Having come through the lower grades in the halves at Newcastle and Penrith, Will Smith has been granted a rare start at five-eighth on Saturday evening. Beginning his NRL career alongside Jamie Soward during the Panthers finals run five years ago, the 26-year-old Indigenous All Stars representative has been largely reduced to a utility role since joining Parramatta in 2017, gaining occasional starts at fullback and hooker during times of injury. Making his 50th appearance in the NRL after spending the past two months on the sidelines, Smith may prove to be the influence needed to change the Eels' fortunes with his natural talent and years waiting in the wings readying him for the chance to make the number six jersey his own.
The favourite: While neither side has demonstrated enough consistency to come into the match with strong support, the Cowboys record at home over the Eels has them preferred in the betting markets.
My tip: Despite a terrible record in North Queensland and following on from 50-point losses, the Eels should save face in a match unlikely to be remembered fondly by the annals of time. Eels by 6.
1. Jordan Kahu 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Tom Opacic 5. Ben Hampton 6. John Asiata 7. Michael Morgan 8. Matt Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Mitchell Dunn 16. Scott Bolton 17. Francis Molo
1. Clint Gutherson 2. George Jennings 3. Josh Hoffman 4. Brad Takairangi 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Will Smith 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Daniel Alvaro 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Marata Niukore 13. Manu Ma'u 14. Peni Terepo 15. Tim Mannah 16. Tepai Moeroa 17. Oregon Kaufusi
Referees: Chris Sutton, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Clayton Sharpe, Drew Oultram; Video Referees: Henry Perenara, Bryan Norrie;