North Queensland Cowboys for the first time in a month return home to battle against the St. George Illawarra Dragons on Saturday night at 1300SMILES Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Cowboys last round were tasked with taking on a Raiders side who in Canberra had finals aspirations still in sight. The North Queensland team looked in touch of winning having scores only 14-12 at halftime, however, Raiders blew the game out with 4 tries in the final 15 minutes to win 38-12.
Dragons fell to a Wests side trying to find another win after four straight losses. The Dragons from the outset looked flat after many origin players backing up, with some Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah magic grabbing an upset win over the St. George side 20-16 at Jubilee Oval.
Coen Hess starts once again for Shane Wright. Justin O’Neill replaces Antonio Winterstein on the wing, Francis Molo joins the interchange.
No changes for St. George Illawarra after their upset loss to the Tigers in their last start.
These sides have a history for close fixtures in their last few games played, many matches being during the Origin period these two now meet as the build-up to finals commences. The Dragons have won the last three of their past five clashes against the Cowboys all being six points or less.
A return for the home side in North Queensland will have them out to find a needed win to stay clear of a potential wooden spoon while hurting the Dragons chances of finals. The key matchup of these two sides will rely upon the captains in Johnathan Thurston and Gareth Widdop with JT looking to finish strongly for his last season and Widdop to lead his side to finals and out of premiership pretender talk discussed in the last month.
It has been a tumultuous season for JT in his last year in the NRL. The Cowboys coming in after such an impressive campaign without himself and Matt Scott in 2017 had them tipped to go close to another premiership, however through that expectation and the style of play that North Queensland use has the script not going according to plan. The career of a future immortal is closing, however, Thurston’s stats have been quite impressive though it’s been a tough year, the halfback has produced 18 try and 14 line break assists. If Cowboys are to beat a Dragons side vying for a kickstart to the back end of their season he will need a genuine masterclass that he has produced over the years with support of Taumalolo and other forwards, to provide a good enough platform for himself to dominate possession to put that into points and blow a premiership favourite off the park with his supporting play and famous conversion kicking.
Widdop after a tough Origin period for Dragons, his side has to now shake off the average performances they have been dishing up to return to the form of the beginning of the season. Its another close comparison of the 2017 and 2016 campaigns with Dragons starting strong and failing to perform after that 10 week period during Origin, looking towards finals creeping the same scenario is showing its face once again. The St. George captain with an outstanding season has fallen off from what he was creating at the start to the year where he was in the conversation for a Dally M medal for his efforts. There has only been 3 try assists in the last 9 rounds for the Englishman who will be gearing up for a man of the match performance with his natural short kicking and wide passing to outside centres or wingers, creating as many lethal opportunities for his side to bounce back. Against one of the best halves to ever play in JT, Widdop will need his backs to take advantage of their playmaker’s gameplan to have any chance of taking a required win against an underdog home team.
The Cowboys will be looking for win number 250 in the NRL in what will be their 590th match.
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Enari Tuala, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Justin O’Neill, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 John Asiata, 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14 Ben Hampton, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Francis Molo, 17 Corey Jensen
Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack de Belin
Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Luciano Leilua
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 21st July
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
Referee: Adam Gee
WHO WILL WIN?
These two sides over the past few seasons have had close encounters but this could be very different. A bounce back to form is needed for Dragons to not slip any further down the ladder as they hunt for a top-four finish, while Cowboys want to regain some respect from their home supporters and avoid coming in contention for this year’s wooden spoon. If the Dragons can beat the Cowboys using their strong pack of forwards in the middle their previous execution in plays will have their halves and backs produce a large scoreline on the home side. Cowboys are too far off the mark with a few still carrying injuries and other key players out in which would be too much for the occasion. Dragons are wanting a crucial win to propel their season back to what it was earlier in the competition with St. George having a challenging period playing flat and not the way they’ve wanted will have the side pile on the points in a clinical display from the entire squad but primarily their playmakers. Prediction: Dragons by 14