Date: Saturday, 18th May, 2019
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
Kick Off: 5:30pm
Head Referee: Chris Sutton
Assistant Referee: Phil Henderson
Head-to-head: Played 41 Eels 20 Cowboys 19 Drawn 2
Odds: Cowboys $1.67 Eels $2.25
Broadcast: Foxtel, Kayo
Last Four Encounters:
Cowboys 44 Eels 6 1300SMILES Stadium (2018)
Eels 20 Cowboys 14 Marrara Stadium, Darwin (2018)
Cowboys 24 Eels 16 ANZ Stadium (2017 Finals)
Cowboys 32 Eels 6 Marrara Stadium (2017)
The Warm Up
How do you put the embarrassment of a 64 to 10 hiding behind you in seven days?
The disastrous result equalled the second highest points conceded by the Eels in their 73 seasons. To be honest, at one stage I thought the score was going to hit 80.
The positive is that the Eels have the opportunity to do so within seven days. The negative is that the opportunity takes place in the heat of far North Queensland.
Last week’s thrashing at the hands of the Storm left many Eels fans incredulous. Demonstrating less foresight than a telephone line psychic, my preview had described the match as being worthy of a finals fixture and I questioned the Storm’s credentials in attack.
I’m red faced but moving on.
The Cowboys sit in the bottom six of the NRL in a number of key metrics, including missed tackles, runs, run metres and tackle breaks.
However they feature in the top 6 in others such as hit ups, hit up metres and dummy half runs. It doesn’t take a genius to see that they play to their strengths – their big forwards, including one J. Taumalolo.
Though the Eels sit second in line breaks and fourth in total run metres, their middle defence has been horribly exposed in matches against the Knights and the Storm.
It’s hard to see the Cowboys needing to change their usual pattern against the Eels. Parramatta’s deficiencies literally suit the Cowboys to a tee.
Defence is a measure of attitude. Which team will turn up with the right mindset?
Having a Punt
After last week, you could forgive any Eels supporter from being scared off the punt. There’s a particular supporter I know who always punts against his Eels – it makes the losses more bearable, and it’s been a good earner in the last decade. That said, I know he’d swap every dollar earned for an Eels win.
I’m really not confident about an Eels victory, but I suspect that this will be a high scoring affair. For that reason, I’m suggesting an investment which doesn’t involve picking a winner.
Try the total match points market, with over 41.5 points at odds of $1.90 with NSW TAB. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, and agree with me that this will be a high scoring affair, then total match tries might be for you. I like 10+ tries @ $4.80.
The favourites for first try scorer are listed below:
Eels: Ferguson $10 George Jennings $10
Cowboys: Feldt $10 Hampton $11
Feed Your Footy Brain
Including this clash, six of the last seven meetings between these clubs have taken place in the far north of Australia. This includes two of the Eels Darwin “home” matches. The only game to take place in Sydney during this period was the 2017 Finals fixture.
In terms of venue/location, the advantage has unquestionably been with the North Queensland team.
The Cowboys have also become another of the Eels bogey teams in recent times. Since 2011, the Eels have emerged victorious in only four of the last fourteen matches.
Just how many bogey teams can we have?
Tracking: Manu Ma’u
The NRL’s scariest man? Maybe. Manu’s stare has certainly featured in footage and photos from Eels clashes ever since he first pulled on the Blue and Gold jersey.
Back in early 2017, I wrote of the journey that Ma’u and Suaia Matagi had taken to become NRL players. You can read that here. That journey says plenty about the strength of character required for such players to achieve success in professional sport after making such horrible decisions in their youth. For someone like Munz, the late start to his career means that at 30 years of age, he has yet to play 100 first grade games.
Of course injury has not been kind to him. He battled his way through rehab during the pre-season, and was on fire during the pre-season trial against the Panthers, only to be forced from the field with an MCL injury. After spending more time on the sideline over the first six rounds, the Tongan Terminator has now forced his way into the starting line up at the expense of Tepai Moeroa.
As a middle forward, Ma’u will provide both mobility and aggression around the ruck. Given the Eels defensive issues last round, such attributes will be a welcome addition.
Ma’u has always be noted for his ability to offload when hitting the edges of the ruck, and it’s likely he’ll be encouraged to do similar in the middle. Within reason. After all, the go forward from hit ups must remain a priority for the Eels middle men. Any shifts must be earned.
Danger man: Jason Taumalolo
There’s no rocket science involved here. This is the bloke most likely to deliver the damaging blows to a questionable Eels middle defence.
A bloke of his dimensions should not possess a pace and step that would rival some of the game’s best outside backs. The man is a freak.
In a less than stellar season for the Cowboys, Taumalolo is averaging 170 running metres, with a season high of 315. No other forward in the Cowboys pack comes close.
There’s no point in detailing what this rampaging lock can do to an opposition. We’ve all witnessed it. The question is, how will the Eels stop it? Will there be an Eels player on a personal mission to shut the rampaging Cowboy down?
Or is it mission impossible?
Eels : 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
Interchange: 14. Peni Terepo 15. Tim Mannah 16. Tepai Moeroa 17. Oregon Kaufusi 18. Kane Evans 19. Matt McIlwrick 20. Jaeman Salmon 21. Bevan French
Cowboys: 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
interchange: 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Mitchell Dunn 16. Scott Bolton 17.Francis Molo 18. Corey Jensen 19. Gideon Gela-Mosby 20. Shane Wright 21. Jake Clifford
John Asiata vs Will Smith
I just couldn’t ignore this match up.
Both are 26 years old, but that’s where the similarities end.
When it comes to size, I’m not sure that you could achieve a more ridiculous mismatch.
Asiata might be better known as a forward, but he’s no stranger to the pivot role. At 104kg, the former Eels junior dwarfs his 88kg Parramatta opponent. He might not possess the quick acceleration of Smith, but his step, mobility and deft ball skills defy his frame. There’s the threat from his running game and his capacity to put runners into space.
The lightweight Smith has long been dogged by injury. Since debuting with the Panthers in 2014, the Newcastle junior is only making his 50th top grade appearance in this week’s round. It will be his first NRL match this season.
Smith’s strength is definitely his running game. He has lightning acceleration and can change direction without losing pace. This makes him the ideal foil for Moses, with the Eels half preferring to hold the major responsibility for the team’s game management.
It will be an interesting contrast of styles to watch.
And The Winner Is?
The Eels have the capacity to win this clash. They’ve already beaten teams with more impressive form than the Cowboys, so as fans, we know that the Eels at the best can take the premiership points here.
I would be less than authentic in any preview if I ignored some cold hard facts.
I could possibly ignore the Taumalolo factor. I could even ignore the Eels ordinary 2019 form on the road and their recent history against the Cowboys.
However, I cannot ignore last week’s performance along with the loss of the Eels left side attack weapons, Jennings and Sivo. That’s some significant firepower, and strong defence, sitting on the sideline.
As much as I want to see the Eels get into the grind to win this, I just don’t see this as being a close contest. I believe that whichever team gains the ascendancy will get away from their opponents in the warm conditions.
My heart hopes and prays that it will be the Eels to take control. My head says otherwise.
I hope I’m wrong.
Cowboys 38 Eels 18
Man of the Match – Jason Taumololo