Both the Dragons and the Cowboys have had really strong starts to the season, and are both sitting firmly in the top eight; North Queensland have four wins under their belt, and the Dragons have five. The St. George Illawarra side will be hosting the Cowboys at WIN Stadium in the final fixture of the triple header on Saturday night as part of the Easter long weekend.

Last Time Out

The Dragons once again had a field day, defeating the Manly Sea Eagles convincingly at Lottoland last Saturday afternoon. The game they played was something that had not been predicted from them pre-season, and as a team they are showing the competition what they have to offer. They waltzed out onto Manly’s home turf bursting at the seams with confidence, and that was evident all throughout the match. Their thirty-five point pile up began with a fortuitous try from Gareth Widdop in the second minute of the match, and from there they continued to pile on the points, and walk away with the two competition points, bumping them to the top of the ladder, overtaking the Melbourne Storm whose winning run was broken on Sunday afternoon. The Dragons were tough and hardly gave Manly a chance (but by the same token, Manly hardly gave Manly a chance) to get back into nor win the game in front of a home crowd. They are on an incredible run and will be tough to beat, assuming they keep up this form for a bit longer.

The North Queensland Cowboys hosted the struggling Wests Tigers at 1300 SMILES Stadium on Saturday night, most likely thinking they had this one over the visitors. Little did they, or anyone know that the Tigers would come out firing in both attack and defence, under the direction of newly appointed coach Ivan Cleary, and collectively leave the Cowboys stunned, scrambling to catch up. The Cowboys didn’t score until the twenty-sixth minute, and were hoping to gain the momentum off the back of this try, however the gutsy effort from the Tigers prevented this. The Cowboys were expected to win despite a different looking side running out given injuries to the regular starting thirteen. They lacked some effort in defence, however more so in attack, which is where they usually win games. Big names such as Lachlan Coote were missing from the roster, and now as a result of the match co-captain Johnathan Thurston is due to miss up to a month after succumbing to a calf injury late in the second half. How much more impact will this have on the Cowboys’ success?

Key Battle

The locks from both the Dragons and the Cowboys are crucial to their side, and will be important in the overall defensive effort, and could ultimately be a deciding factor. The Dragons’ Jack de Belin and the Cowboys’ Jason Taumalolo are strong and have huge impacts on the attack, but more so the defence of their team.

    However, statistically speaking it is Taumalolo who can have a more damaging impact, and is also influential in attack, accumulating an average of two hundred and forty-eight run metres in twenty-one runs per match, while de Belin only averages one hundred and thirty run metres in fifteen runs per game. Both have a similar tackle success rate, and de Belin has scored one try, while Taumalolo is still waiting to cross the chalk for the first time this season.

Five-eighths Gareth Widdop and Michael Morgan will also be important for the way their side attacks. Morgan will have to step up and show leadership given that his halves partner, Thurston is out for this match and more following after sustaining a calf injury last weekend. Widdop has been sensational for the Dragons so far, along with halves partner Josh McCrone.

Prediction

While both the St George Illawarra Dragons and the North Queensland Cowboys have made a strong start to the season, and both sides are convincing when they are at their best, it’s hard to go past the Paul McGregor and the Dragons at the moment, given the incredible form that they’re in. The Cowboys are undoubtedly a great side, however the amount of injured players they currently have and the display they showed on Saturday night against the Tigers, they currently don’t compare to the table topping Dragons side, especially at their home ground down in Wollongong. Dragons by 10.

Squads

St. George Illawarra Dragons

1. Jason Nightingale 2. Nene McDonald 3. Euan Aitken  4. Timoteo Lafai  5. Kurt Mann 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Josh McCrone 8. Russell Packer 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Hame Sele   17. Taane Milne 18. Blake Lawrie 19. Kalifa Faifai Loa 20. Luciano Leilua 21. Jacob Host

North Queensland Cowboys

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby 6. Michael Morgan 7. Ben Hampton 8. Patrick Kaufusi 9. Blake Leary 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ethan Lowe 15. John Asiata 16. Corey Jensen 17. Ben Spina 18. Sam Hoare 19. Enari Tuala 20. Javid Bowen 21. Braden Uele