The NRL gets underway this week with a cracking game on Thursday night when sixth-place Parramatta take on a Brisbane Broncos side who are just one place above them on the ladder.
Both sides sit on 24 points, just two points away from the North Queensland Cowboys who are second on the ladder, so it could not be tighter as the business end of the season fast approaches.
The Eels and Broncos should make the eight and are looking up at the top four not down, but it is still tight below them and there is work to be done to book a finals spot.
Parramatta have been patchy of late while the Broncos have also suffered a couple of setbacks. Both sides need to find some consistency ahead of finals.
It has all the makings of an exciting, closely-fought game, so let’s take a closer look at both sides heading into the CommBank Stadium clash.
What: Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos
Where: CommBank Stadium, Sydney
When: 19:50 (AEST) Thursday 21st July 2022
How to Watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Eels 14/25, Broncos 29/20
Parramatta have won the last two games, but both have been against sides near the bottom of the NRL ladder.
Brad Arthur’s men beat the Warriors by 10 points last week and Wests Tigers the week before that but will face a much bigger test of their credentials when they face the Broncos.
The Eels can beat anybody when at their best. Indeed they are the only team to beat the Penrith Panthers this season.
However they are also more than capable of turning in a shocking performance as well. The Canterbury Bulldogs smashed them by 30 points a few weeks ago while they also lost by one point to the Wests Tigers at the start of the season.
If the Eels can find their best form and keep consistent they could go deep into finals but they need to hit their straps sooner rather than later.
They do face some tough games in the coming weeks with clashes against the Panthers, Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs and Storm to come. They also have another date with the Broncos so it is going to be a hectic end to the regular season.
Parramatta have the edge over the Broncos in recent years though and can take plenty of heart from that, although Kevin Walters’ side are a different animal these days.
The Eels have won six of the last seven meetings between the two sides, winning by an average margin of 29 points. However it is fair to say that this game is likely to be a lot closer.
Parramatta have been boosted by the news that Ryan Matterson has recovered from a rib injury and will take his place in the side. It means that Marata Niukore will revert to the bench.
Bryce Cartwright is close to returning from a rib injury but the game against the Broncos comes a week too soon.
The Broncos have made great progress this season and are now looking to take their game to the next level over the remaining games of the season.
Beating the Eels on their own patch would be a real scalp and a huge statement of intent with finals fast approaching.
They suffered a double setback when slipping to defeats against two of the NRL’s big hitters the Melbourne Storm and North Queensland Cowboys, and need a result against the Eels.
The Broncos were also far from convincing when they edged out the struggling Gold Coast Titans by just four points last week.
However they have taken great strides this season with 11 wins so far and have a great chance to build on that.
They are also boosted by the return of their State of Origin stars who had been away in camp as they prepared for game three of the series.
Pat Carrigan, Corey Oates and Kurt Capewell are all back in the fold, while star prop forward Payne Haas returns to the side following a shoulder issue.
Brisbane have spent the week in New South Wales preparing for the game and Walters will be hoping that extra bit of team bonding will help his side to get the job done against the Eels.
"Origin had its impact on us but we're just all looking forward now," Walters said. "Getting back as a group, we haven't done a lot of training, it's more just being around each other and reconnecting so that we have a strong finish to the season.
"That starts for us, tomorrow night against Parramatta."
It is not all good news for the Broncos though as Selwyn Cobbo suffered a concussion on Origin duty and will be forced to sit out of the action.
Billy Walters is also out with a hip injury so Jake Turpin is set to play at hooker.