The premiership heats up with the competition heading into the last five rounds, the North Queensland Cowboys will host the Melbourne Storm at 1300SMILES Stadium this Friday night and will no doubt produce an epic top 8 match.

LAST TIME OUT

The Cowboys were away against the Sydney Roosters in the previous round and were beaten 22-16 in a close encounter. The North Queensland side looked the better in the opening exchanges after conceding a freak try by left centre Latrell Mitchell breaking away down the edge for a four-pointer. The Cowboys lead the at the break because of great team tries with shifts through the hands for fullback Lachlan Coote to throw a crisp last pass for Kane Linnett  and winger Kyle Feldt. A short ball from halfback Michael Morgan to a barnstorming forward in Coen Hess had him find the try line and lead 16-6 at the half. An outstanding performance by Sio Siua Taukeiaho had the Roosters coming back in the match and while huge impact off the bench and converting his own try. Luke Keary in the 61st minute found a chink in the Cowboys tired defence and finished the game with a try to close out the match 22-16.

The Storm were last down in Melbourne hosting the Manly Sea Eagles for Cameron Smith’s 350th NRL match. The home side was only leading into the half 12- 6, the Sea Eagles were unable to contain the Storm come the second half with the visitors conceding 5 tries. It was a Smith masterclass showing why he was a future immortal setting up 4 tries in the match and one that was very special, a grubber behind the line early to find his halfback Cooper Cronk untouched in the 73rd minute. The skippers man-of-the-match performance lead the Storm to a impressive 40-6 thrashing against the Sea Eagles.

KEY BATTLE

The Cowboys return to their home in Townsville for this titanic clash against competition heavyweights Storm. The key matchup come Friday nights fixture will come down to the influence of halfbacks Michael Morgan and Cooper Cronk, Morgan is playing as the main playmaker now and will have to play one of his best games to topple the unstoppable Storm and seasoned veteran halfback Cronk.

Cowboys half Michael Morgan has taken on the reins of the side since Johnathon Thurstons season was over and while many were skeptical he has produced some great performances to have the side still sitting comfortably in the top 8. The form of Morgan hasn’t been as consistent since taking on the responsibility of lead playmaker but with that he has produced 13 try assists, 7 line break assists and 7 tries which have definitely factored into why the cowboys are still in reach of making finals. Come Friday night Morgan will need to produce his own masterclass and steer his side to an upset, with his 57 tackle busts and 8 line breaks he will need to break the game open as much as possible and use his handy short kicking game to get the Cowboys over the line.

The 2016 Dally M winner Cooper Cronk is having another vintage year backing up from last season and as the rounds draw to a close the departing halfback will want to be at his best. Cronk this round will be without his five eighth Cameron Munster and it will come as a test for him to overcome a tough and vigilant Cowboys outfit in Townsville. Having the form of fullback Billy slater returning and captain Cameron Smith at his career best Cronk will need to control the game as best he can through his tremendous kicking game so that Slater and Smith can produce like they have all year. Cooper has been a fantastic halfback this year without showing much dominance in games producing plays with his backs giving early ball so that they can deliver their natural skills in great field position. Cronk with 9 line break assists and 162 kicks throughout the year will want to make sure his kicking game is on song for the Melbourne side to come away with a clinical and convincing win away from home.

PREDICTION

The match this Friday gives an insight into how the Cowboys are travelling and if they can back-up after just playing a top four side in the previous week. The Storm have only lost one game away from home and have proven to be a handful all season,  with the loss of Munster to an ankle injury a huge performance will be needed by Cronk. However the form of the Storm against all types of opposition up and the ladder makes them too sturdy for the home side to contain. Captain Cameron Smith showing why he deserves the Dally M medal this year week after week controlling games, the skipper will undeniably need his halfback to also produce a solid game to get the win. This match could produce one of the best that viewers have seen this year, both sides will be strong on the night but the Storm will be too much for the courageous Cowboys to handle with the Melbourne side coming away with a convincing win late in the match.

Storm by 12

SQUADS

North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm, Friday 4th August, 7.50pm at 1300SMILES Stadium.

Cowboys: 1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper (c) 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Shaun Fensom 17. Corey Jenson 18. Braden Uele 19. Kayln Ponga 20. Sam Hoare 21. Javid Bowen

Storm: 1. Billy Slater 2. Suliasi Vunivalu 3. Will Chambers 4. Curtis Scott 5. Josh Addo-Carr 6. Ryley Jacks 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Cameron Smith (c) 10. Tim Glasby 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Joe Stimson 13. Dale Finucane 14. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 15. Kenneath Bromwich 16. Jordan McLean 17. Slade Griffin 18. Nate Myles 19. Jahrome Hughes 20. Brodie Croft 21. Robbie Rochow