Cowboys v Eels preview

Embed from Getty Images
North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels Friday 7:50pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

The North Queensland Cowboys and the Parramatta Eels will play for the first spot in this season's grand final when they go head to head at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.

It's been a successful year for the boys from the North with the Cowboys proving all experts wrong in season 2022. Todd Payten has proven his worth as an NRL head coach successfully guiding his troops to week three of the finals for the first time since the retirement of Johnathan Thurston. Much has been put down to the emergence of an energetic pack of forwards that can turn the game with one blockbusting run or a big hit in defence.

Last start was a nail-biting 93 minute epic against Cronulla when they won on the back of a two point field goal from Val Holmes. Whilst their attack was incredible, the defensive aspects would've made Todd Payten ballistic in the coaches box. The return of Tom Dearden has made this attack shine, his call-up to the QLD squad has made Dearden a much better player. Their back five has been immense coming out of yardage, Peta Hiku had 314 running meters last start while Feldt and Taulagi are reliable coming out of yardage. The Cowboys are as per program for their first home preliminary final in franchise history.

Parramatta's season has been marred by inconsistency, and it's safe to say that trend has continued in the finals. But, it's not the prior form that counts coming into the finals. It's how you play on the day. The conditions could work against the Eels in this one, just like they did in Darwin earlier in the season. The big plus, is Dylan Brown playing in career best form with Mitch Moses recovering from his concussion against Penrith a fortnight ago. From the 17 that ran out for both sides that day, the Eels will have 10 of the same players in the same position on Friday, while the Cowboys will have 16. 

Parramatta come into this one on the back of a big victory over Canberra winning by 36 points, ignoring all the outside noise in the wake of a damaging report into their pathways. Their attack was world class with Canberra having real difficulty wrapping up the ball. With the way North Queensland like to wrap up the footy in defence, it'll be a big test for the likes of Paulo, Lane and Campbell-Gillard to get the Eels on the front foot and take the ascendency against the Cowboys in this one. On the team front, Brad Arthur has opted for Bryce Cartwright ahead of Makahesi Makatoa with Jake Arthur preferred in the side. Tom Opacic is in doubt with a hamstring injury sustained last week.

Last meeting: Round 8 2022 - Eels 4 Cowboys 35

Who to watch: It's been a quiet week for the Cowboys while everyone has focused on the Sydney sides and that's the best thing for young Tom Dearden. In his maiden finals campaign, Dearden has defied all expectations guiding the Cowboys to an unlikely final four berth. Dearden's kicking game, particularly around the red-zone will be key if the Cowboys are to get home in this one. 

He's been in the headlines following his KO against Penrith, but there's no denying Mitch Moses has emerged as one of the game's dominant playmakers in 2022. The ability to create something out of nothing and turn the game on the back of one kick is a rare trait for playmakers. Moses has that in spades, watch for Moses to spark the Eels to their first grand final since 2009.

The favourite: North Queensland are slight favourites for this clash. In finals footy, they've met twice with the Cowboys winning both clashes. As far as preliminary finals are concerned, they last met in 2005 with the Cowboys defeating Parramatta 29-0. 

My tip: I like the Eels' chances in this one and it's a game that'll go right down to the wire. But I think the difference is going to be the engine room of the Cowboys. It's been an underrated part of their game and Jason Taumalolo will be looking to deliver the Cowboys first grand final appearance since 2017. Cowboys by 6.

1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Reuben Cotter 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Luciano Leilua 16. Coen Hess 17. Griffin Neame 18. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown

1. Clinton Gutherson 2. Maika Sivo 3. Viliami Penisini 19. Bailey Simonsson 5. Waqa Blake 6. Dylan Brown 7. Mitchell Moses 8. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 9. Reed Mahoney 10. Junior Paulo 11. Shaun Lane 12. Isaiah Papali'i 17. Marata Niukore 13. Ryan Matterson 14. Bryce Cartwright 15. Jakob Arthur 16. Oregon Kaufusi 18. Makahesi Makatoa

Referees: Grant Atkins; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Adam Gee;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre