Parramatta have been bolstered by the return of three experienced players for their do-or-die NRL clash with the Sydney Roosters on Friday.
With still two months to go in the regular season, sudden-death football has come early for both clubs, who need to win all nine of their remaining games to hit the expected 28-point mark to make the finals.
And while both are unlikely to achieve the feat, the return of Tim Mannah, Jeff Robson and Brad Takairangi give the Eels a strong boost.
Robson, the Eels’ 2009 grand final halfback, returns almost five years after leaving the club.
“He’s an old head, both literally and age-wise,” prop David Gower said on Tuesday.
“It’s good to have another bloke with an older head than me, which is positive. He’s obviously a very experienced guy and he’s going to bring that element of experience to us.
“He’s probably going to free Corey (Norman) up a little bit. He’s had to take complete control the last month since (Kieran Foran) got hurt. I think it’s going to allow Norman to play his natural game.”
Both Mannah (shoulder) and Takairangi (hamstring) slot straight into a starting side missing Michael Jennings to State of Origin duty.
The Roosters have named youngsters, Chris Smith and Joseph Manu, to deputise for their two Origin players in Aidan Guerra and Blake Ferguson.
Canterbury have also been strengthened by the return of Greg Eastwood against a Wests Tigers side that now has three players with the NSW team. Jordan Rankin shifts to fullback, with Josh Addo-Carr on the wing.
English international Zak Hardaker has been named to make his first NRL start, standing in for NSW winger Josh Mansour for a Penrith side now missing Sam McKendry (knee) for the season.
Suaia Matagi has been added to the bench, with Will Smith a surprise utility to take on a depleted Cronulla unit minus five Origin stars.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has been forced to call on Jesse Sene-Lefao, Matt McIlwrick, debutant Kurt Capewell and forgotten utility Fa’amanu Brown, who’ll play his first NRL game in two years.
In the fourth and final game of the shortened round, Clay Priest and Iosaia Soliola come in for Josh Papalii (injured) and Luke Bateman (suspended) at Canberra.
They face off against a weakened North Queensland team missing five players away with the Queensland team, replaced by Ben Spina, Coen Hess, Patrick Kaufusi, Tautau Moga and debutant Josh Chudleigh.