North Queensland Cowboys will start life without JT when they host St George-Illawarra Dragons at 1300 Smiles Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
North Queensland Cowboys
Having made their way through the pre-season with little concerns, the Cowboys enter their first season after Jonathan Thurston’s retirement, with Michael Morgan now their chief playmaker. Add to that a few new additions to their squad and the Cowboys could be building to something nicely in the opening rounds.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The St George Illawarra Dragons will also see a new combination played out in the halves but through experimentation rather than retirement. The Dragons forwards will be geared up to get the better in this one as a few fringe players will need to step into the roles left by experienced players such as Jack De Belin and Korbin Simms.
North Queensland Cowboys:
Former Broncos Jordan Kahu, Tom Opacic, and Josh McGuire will all play their first game for the Cowboys, while Nene Macdonald’s first game will come against his previous team. The big change comes in the halves, with Michael Morgan returning from injury to skipper the side and Te Maire Martin getting the first crack at the number six jersey over Jake Clifford.
North Queensland Cowboys 19-man squad: 1. Jordan Kahu 2. Javid Bowen 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Tom Opacic 5. Nene Macdonald 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan (c) 8. Matt Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13 Jason Taumalolo 14. John Asiata 15. Josh McGuire 16. Mitchell Dunn 17. Francis Molo 18. Ben Hampton 19. Jake Clifford
St George Illawarra Dragons:
Matt Dufty will begin his role as an x-factor off the bench with Gareth Widdop confirmed as fullback and Ben Hunt and Corey Norman in the halves, seeing a massive shake-up to the Dragon’s spine. A series of suspensions gives Jacob Host the opportunity to take his place in the run on-side, taking Tyson Frizell’s right second row position, with the Australian international moving into lock.
St George Illawarra 19-man squad: 1. Gareth Widdop (c) 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Jacob Host 12. Tariq Simms 13 Tyson Frizell 14. Jeremy Lattimore 15. Matt Dufty 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Luciano Leilua 18. Zac Lomax 19. Josh Kerr
HEAD TO HEAD
This will be the 31st encounter between these two clubs, with results over these matches being split evenly. North Queensland Cowboys have a better record against the St George Illawarra Dragons playing at their home , 1300Smile Stadium. Racking up some pretty big wins against them in previous years. And while the Dragons, in the past, have struggled in the Sunshine State, their recent results from last year appeared to have bucked this trend. Even recording a 24-10 win over the Cowboys last year in round 19. It was in this match that Dragons winger Jordan Pereira scored a try in his debut NRL match and now this time around, his fellow winger Mikaele Ravalawa will make his NRL debut.
Jason Taumalolo vs Tyson Frizell
Two of the most important forwards, and two that might not necessarily come head-to-head, involve the two number 13’s. Jason Taumalolo was still at his damaging best last year despite the less than successful outcome and will always continue to have a big impact on games. Tyson Frizell has spent the last few years playing out on the right edge, where his bullocking runs have been difficult for defenders to handle. Now he needs to bring that same aggression and determination into the lock position. And while both players will get through a mountain of work, it will be interesting to see if they are used as a link to the backline, and a ball playing option themselves. Opposition sides will be looking to lessen the impact these two players have in order to gain the ascendancy up front.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 16th of March
Venue: 1300 Smiles Stadium
Referee: Ben Cummins, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski
WHO WILL WIN?
This will be close. The Cowboys will be looking to forget about last season on the back of a successful pre-season. The Dragons will be looking to leave behind an eventful one. Both sides will look to ease their new spine combination and rely on their forwards to really get them through this game. The Cowboys might just have the advantage with playing their opening match in front of their home fans. Cowboys by 4.