Heat increases on Eels as Opacic doubtful

·2-min read

Brad Arthur insists he will still be able to rely on Parramatta's starting front-rowers for big minutes in the Townsville heat, with Tom Opacic's injury set to throw further importance on prop rotations.

Opacic was due to go through a fitness test late on Wednesday on his hamstring injury, with Arthur conceding the centre is "doubtful" for Friday's NRL preliminary final against North Queensland.

If Opacic does not recover, the most likely option will include shifting Marata Niukore to right centre, after he has started at lock for the past month.

That would leave the Eels with Ryan Matterson at No.13 and without another big-minute forward on the bench, with Makahesi Makatoa the man most likely to return to the Eels interchange.

That is something that could present a challenge in Townsville, where North Queensland have never been beaten in a finals match in the September heat.

No other top-eight team relies on more minutes from their starting forwards than the Eels, with Junior Paulo and Reagan Campbell-Gillard averaging 99 minutes between them.

The pair also set the tone for Parramatta, with Campbell-Gillard admitting earlier this month that when one of them are off, the Eels traditionally struggle.

But with 30C forecast for Townsville on Friday, and a temperature of around 25C anticipated for kick off, Arthur was adamant it would not have an impact on his big men's ability to play big minutes.

"They get paid a lot of money and they'll be doing the same for me this way," he said.

"They're up for the challenge. The biggest factor is the sun. Not so much the heat ... and it's an 8pm kickoff time.

"(The night-time temperature) is a better proposition for us than playing at CommBank in the winter with the dew.

"Reg and Junior, they haven't even spoke about it. They are 60 minutes front-rowers and they want to play 60 minutes."

Parramatta players have spent this week training in the gym with heaters on, and will board a charter jet to Townsville on Thursday for the clash.

But some 13 years after their last preliminary-final appearance, they are adamant the conditions will not stand in their way.

Arthur was also insistent his team would not be overawed by the occasion, despite seeing it as a reward for four years in the top eight and four recent semi-finals exits.

"We're just excited. It's a great opportunity," Arthur said.

"Why wouldn't we want to be in this position? We're 80 minutes away from the game of our life.

"We've worked hard, not just this year but over however long now to get ourselves in this position."