Parramatta have admitted what everyone else in the NRL fears: reigning premiers North Queensland are better than last year.
The Cowboys have gotten their premiership defence off to a strong start, winning five of their seven games to sit just behind 2015 runner-up Brisbane.
Paul Green’s men are even more frightening in front of their home fans, racking up a combined 144-32 scoreline in their four games in Townsville so far this year.
Next up, the Eels.
“I thought they were the benchmark last year and they’ve probably taken it to another level this year,” Tim Mannah said at the club’s Blue and Gold Heart Round launch on Monday.
Parramatta have surged to fourth spot on the NRL ladder on the back of consecutive victories over Canberra and Manly in what is their best start to a season since their last premiership season in 1986.
The Eels, as well as on-field captain Kieran Foran, got their season going with an upset of the Cowboys in round two, and Mannah is confident his team can repeat the effort.
“The boys are going to really have a tough day ahead of them this Saturday night but I think the way we’re travelling, we’re pretty confident that we can get the job done,” he said.
Second-rower Beau Scott also acknowledged that the Cowboys had somehow found another gear this year, and was wary of the Cowboys’ potency in attack at home.
“They’re playing red hot footy. They’re putting a lot of points on teams up there and that’s one thing we’re going to have a look at,” Scott said.
While most players are loathe to talk up the significance of a match, the NSW State of Origin star said he was treating the game as a trial for the upcoming series.
And that includes re-acquainting himself with Johnathan Thurston.
“If I can limit what he does this week, it’s a bit of a trial run going forward into Origin,” he said.
Mannah, who hasn’t played since injuring his shoulder in round four, initially targeted a return to take on the Cowboys but has postponed his comeback one more week.