Parramatta coach Brad Arthur believes his side has dealt admirably with the off-field distractions that have plagued them throughout the NRL season.
The Eels’ finals hopes go on the line against North Queensland on Monday night in the concluding match of round 20, with the club under siege again over allegations of irregular payments to players outside the salary cap.
The NRL has launched an investigation into claims aired in The Sydney Morning Herald last week that undisclosed third party payments have been made to Parramatta players including Will Hopoate and Jarryd Hayne.
It is an investigation that could adversely affect the Eels for the rest of 2015 and for next season too, with the loss of competition points a possible sanction.
It is the second time the Eels have been linked to salary cap irregularities after they were hit with a massive fine by the NRL earlier this year, while the club has also had to contend with Kieran Foran’s contract imbroglio.
Arthur said such issues were immaterial to his players.
“We have had a number of distractions this year but we have managed to put them aside and we have been competitive in every game,” Arthur told reporters in Townsville on Sunday.
“We have done a reasonable job in trying to shield the players from outside influences and the players are focused on what they can control and that is the attitude they take into this game.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough ask to come up here but it is a challenge the boys are looking forward to.”
The Eels need to win six of their last seven games to guarantee a finals spot, a task made harder by their crowded injury ward.
The Cowboys, who have won 13 of their last 14 games, will be keen to stay four points clear of third-placed Sydney Roosters on the NRL ladder.
Luke Kelly and Joseph Paulo form a makeshift halves combination for the visitors, with the suspended Chris Sandow moving to Super League outfit Warrington midweek and Corey Norman out for a month with a knee injury, up against one of the NRL’s in-form scrumbase partnerships in Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan.
“Chris has done what’s best for him and we have moved on,” Arthur said.
“It gives the opportunity to other players to step up.”
Reece Robinson returns from a facial injury at fullback for the Eels, with David Gower taking Anthony Watmough’s (knee) spot at lock.
For the home side NSW prop James Tamou returns from a one-week suspension incurred in State of Origin III.
North Queensland surged home to score five tries in 11 second-half minutes in the side’s meeting in round 13 to score a 36-30 win.
* The Cowboys have won five of their past six matches against the Eels.
* Matches between these sides in Townsville have been almost one way traffic with the Cowboys winning seven of the past eight games, the most recent six of those wins by 14 points or more.
* The Cowboys have won all five Monday Night appearances this season, scoring at least 30 points in their four most recent games. The Eels Eels have won four of their previous five MNF games, with their round 13 debacle against the Cowboys their only hiccup.