The Cowboys remain in the top eight after knocking over the Knights, whilst the Eels head north after winning the battle of the west over an inconsistent Penrith. With a possible smoke and mirrors naming in the line-up for the Cowboys, will we see the return of Thurston, or will Coach Paul Green keep the Eels guessing right up until the final cut.

LAST TIME OUT

For the hosts, they faced up to the hard working, but obviously in need of a rebuild Newcastle side and even with names like Thurston, Scott and Granville out with injury, we saw what Newcastle need to be aiming for. Depth, and with the inclusion of Ray Thompson in as the second hooker, we saw how good the Cowboys depth really is. With what would be the best side they could have fielded, the level of play difference between the back-up Cowboys vs the main Knights showed a clear difference in the quality of play. It is not enough to have a good starting 25, you need to have the depth playing at the next level who are ready and raring to go.  The impact of Thompson was clear as the Cowboys restricted the Knights to a try per half and very little field position.

The Eels hosted their western neighbours and in a tight finish remained in front after controlling the first half. Their second win on the trot was based off the fantastic performance of Corey Norman, whose performances both on field and with Matty Johns have been instant classics. They let the Panthers get a sniff late in the second half, but they had done enough and deserved the win.

KEY BATTLE

Although many eyes will be watching to see if JT can get cleared in time for this contest, this game’s most interesting contest will be at the base of the play the ball. Last weekend, the forgotten Ray Thompson returned for the Cowboys and while the Cowboys wait on the return of Jake Granville, we are seeing a battle for who will slot onto the bench for the second Hooker position that is favoured by them. With a real challenge to this spot, Blake Leary will have to significantly up his production, and this will be to the Cowboys advantage. Their opponent Kaysa Pritchard was a tackling machine for the Eels, with 53 made as well as three handy runs that caused some defensive concerns for the Panthers. His night may be a tough one, having to matchup to two differing playing styles.

PREDICTION

The Eels will have to overcome the loss of five-eighth Brad Takairangi and how Kenny Edwards goes after a full week of practice will have significant input into how the Eels can set themselves in attack. He was missed in the second half, and the Panthers exploited his absence. The Cowboys, when on song, are hard to defend against, but they have not all been singing the same tune so far this season, and they are beatable at home. The Eels should look to exploit players like the recently returned Antonio Winterstein, it would be foolish not to let Semi Radradra test his one on one defence.

The Cowboys are in sixth place on the ladder and this is with missing a significant chunk of their salary cap. A lot of that may return on Friday, but how will Thurston be used if he is cleared to play. Given the flexibility of John Asiata, will he start the game as listed and then resume his normal role in the pack after some of the initial heat goes out of the game. To win, the Cowboys need to keep the defensive effort up from last week, but against a side like the Eels, they will also have to make more of their chances when they do have the ball.

Prediction: Both sides are wearing a number of injuries, but if the best footballer in the game returns, then the Cowboys should be well on the way to a win. Without him, they should still be able to take the points, but it will be closer. Cowboys by 4.

SQUADS

NQ Cowboys: 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,
9. Blake Leary, 10. Scott Bolton, 11. Gavin Cooper (c), 12. Coen Hess,
13. Jason Taumalolo, Interchange from: 14. Ray Thompson, 15. Ethan Lowe,
16. Ben Spina, 17. Corey Jensen, 18. Johnathan Thurston, 19. Ben Hampton,
20. Sam Hoare, 21. Shaun Fensom.

Parramatta Eels: 1. Clinton Gutherson, 2. Semi Radradra, 3. Michael Jennings,
4. Kirisome Auva’a, 5. Josh Hoffman, 6. Kenny Edwards, 7. Corey Norman,
8. Suaia Matagi, 9. Kaysa Pritchard, 10. Tim Mannah (c), 11. Manu Ma’u,
12. Tepai Moeroa, 13. Nathan Brown, Interchange from:14. Beau Scott (c),
15. Daniel Alvaro, 16. David Gower, 17. Siosaia Vave, 18. John Folau,
19. Will Smith, 20. Marata Niukore, 21. Cameron King.