It is Preliminary Final time in the NRL and we have a cracker to get things underway as the North Queensland Cowboys take on the Parramatta Eels.
The Cowboys have been the surprise package of 2022 and are now just one step away from a grand final appearance.
Who would have predicted that 12 months ago? Not many outside of Townsville as the Cowboys did not even make the eight in 2021.
However coach Todd Payten has worked miracles with his squad and they will be determined to keep the dream alive for at least one more week.
As for the Eels, many believe this will be their last chance to win the premiership for a while as a number of big names will move on next season.
It represents a great chance to go out on a high and after overcoming their semi-final hoodoo last week, the grand final is now firmly in their sights.
Winning in front of a passionate Townsville crowd will take some doing though. And like has been said so many time this season, let’s see which Eels side turns up.
We could be in for a great game so let’s take a closer look at each team heading into the match.
What: North Queensland Cowboys v Parramatta Eels
Where: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
When: 19:50 (AEST) Friday 23rd September 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Foxtel, Kayo
Odds: Cowboys 13/20, Eels 5/4
The Cowboys should be fit, fresh and ready to fire following a nice week off after the qualifying final win over the Cronulla Sharks.
They will also be looking forward to playing in front of a packed stadium. It is the first time that a finals game will have been played at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium since it was opened in 2020.
Home advantage is huge in this game. The Cowboys have lost just three games on home soil this season and two of those were very early in the season. So it has become something of a fortress.
The Cowboys have also beaten the Eels already this season and that victory came in Darwin which was the home of Parramatta for a week.
It was an emphatic 35-4 win and even though a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, the Cowboys will take heart from that result.
Coach Todd Payten is also boosted by the news he has no fresh injury concerns and can name the same 17 that beat the Sharks in thrilling circumstances two weeks ago.
It means that both Jamayne Taunoa-Brown and Jake Granville will keep their place in the reserves.
Parramatta have finally got the monkey off the back after breaking the semi-final hoodoo to book their place in the Preliminary Final.
It is their first appearance in a prelim in 13 years and they are now out to go one step further and book their spot at the big dance.
The pressure is off a little and they head to Townsville with the freedom to play their best footy. And when they do, they have shown already they can beat anyone.
If they can go all the way then it will break a 36-year premiership drought. But the first job is to get past the Cowboys.
And they will have to do it without the services of Tom Opacic who has been ruled out. That presents an opportunity for Bailey Simonsson who has been named in the centres to replace him. Waqa Blake is also another option for coach Brad Arthur.
Bryce Cartwright will also figure for the first time in a month when he starts on the bench.
Once again a lot of Parramatta’s hopes will rest on the shoulders of star playmaker Mitchell Moses.
Moses makes things happen and is up there in the try assists stats this season, while his kicking game is right up there too. He has been outstanding in recent weeks and needs to step up again.
His match-up in the halves against Cowboys star Chad Townsend could decide which way this game will go.
Townsend is also at the top of his game and his numbers are equally impressive. He has won a premiership already and his experience will be crucial in Friday night’s game.
If the form of these two sides this season is anything to go by we are in for a high-scoring, entertaining affair. Both sides have averaged just over four tries a game this year, so fingers crossed they keep that going on Friday.
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