Both teams suffered defeats against less fancied rivals in Parramatta Eels and Canberra Raiders last weekend but face an ugly five day turnaround to kick-off round three of the NRL Premiership.
LAST TIME OUT
North Queensland Cowboys will be the team everyone chases during the season and the Parramatta Eels were the first to have their scalp this season. It was a dour battle with both teams struggling with completion rates. Despite a late try to Jason Taumalolo the defending premiers went down 16-20 at Pirtek Stadium. Matt Scott was placed on report for a crusher tackle and has decided to challenge this at the judiciary, providing an unwanted distraction coming up to Thursday night’s game.
Sydney Roosters have two straight losses to start 2016 and look a long way from the minor premiers three years straight. They looked home against Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium when Jayden Nikorima split the defence to score with twenty to play. But the Raiders equalised through Jarrod Croker’s try and superb boot from the sideline. Sam Williams potting a field goal near full time giving Canberra back to back wins at home for the first time since 2014.
It’s a big test for Jackson Hastings and Jayden Nikorima up against Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston. Hastings and Nikorima have the talent but so far have struggled to steer the ship. They may be handed a valuable lesson by Morgan and the great Thurston. A big improvement will be needed in the kicking game by the Roosters halves if they are to put pressure on the Cowboys running it out from their line in the tropical steamy conditions of Townsville. If they can’t excel at this part of the game, Sydney Roosters might be in for a long night.
The engine rooms of both sides pack punch. Matt Scott and James Tamou are quality Origin representative props with Jake Granville one of the most improved rakes in the game. On the opposing side Kane Evans is a big lad destined for rep honours and will partner Dylan Napa in the front row. Jake Friend holds the advantage in the nine jumper with a good kicking game which the Cowboys should be well aware to shut down.
When these two sides met way back on March 7, 2015 at 1300 Smiles Stadium, the Cowboys blitzed Sydney Roosters 28-4 after keeping the Bondi club scoreless at half time 22-0. That was in a Roosters side that had the names of RTS, Pearce, Maloney, Jennings, Waerea-Hargreaves and Boyd Cordner – all these men missing from the squad right now. One wonders how a less-experienced squad this time around will cope with the heat in Townsville considering the Roosters have won five of seventeen outings in Townsville.
North Queensland go in as favourites at home and won’t allow the Roosters to dictate terms. The key direction of Thurston and Morgan will help steer the ship and expose the inexperience of Latrell Mitchell at fullback. Despite Mitchell exploding onto the scene, Thurston will make sure the talented teenager is worked over in front of a hostile home crowd.
Unfortunately for Roosters fans it appears not only a long travel to Queensland’s north but a long evening on the scoreboard unless Jake Friend gets support from senior players to step up.
Expect the five-day turnaround debate to rage this weekend with both sides having players during the off-season express concern over the short turnaround time.
Cowboys by 20
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston, 8 Matt Scott, 9 Jake Granville, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn, 15 Atalani Asiata, 16 Scott Bolton, 17 Ben Hannant
Roosters: 1 Latrell Mitchell, 2 Daniel Tupou, 3 Dale Copley, 4 Blake Ferguson, 5 Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 6 Jayden Nikorima, 7 Jackson Hastings, 8 Kane Evans, 9 Jake Friend, 10 Dylan Napa, 11 Aiden Guerra, 12 Mitchell Aubusson, 13 Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Interchange: 14 Isaac Liu, 15 Sam Moa, 16 Ian Henderson, 17 Mitchell Frei, 18 Eloni Vunakece, 21 Brendan Elliot