Craig Cauchi previews the early Friday night game between St George Illawarra Dragons and North Queensland Cowboys at WIN Stadium as the NRL returns after taking a week break.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have been disappointing for the last few months and would have been expecting a better effort against Manly after their drought breaking win. While they have struggled to field a full strength team throughout the season, the effort from their depth players on the back of a few poor performance from some key players has certainly not helped.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys have lacked a little cohesion recently and with a bit more luck on their side could have won their previous games. They’ll be desperate to improve on their season and will be hoping for a lift from their Origin and rep players and those selected to fill in for the injuries that keep mounting.
St George Illawarra Dragons
There are two changes to the side that lost to Manly with Timoteo Lafai returning from injury and Jeremy Lattimore taking Jai Field’s spot on the bench. All Origin players have been named to play and with the reserves being filled with backs it seems that there won’t be any players being rested.
St George Illawarra Dragons squad: 1. Matt Dufty 2. Jonus Pearson 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Corey Norman 7. Ben Hunt 8. Blake Lawrie 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Jacob Host 12. Tariq Sims 13. Tyson Frizell INTERCHANGE: 14. Jeremy Lattimore 15. Reece Robson 16. Korbin Sims 17. Luciano Leilua RESERVES: 18. Jai Field 19. Jordan Pereira 20. Lachlan Maranta 21. Josh Kerr
North Queensland Cowboys
Scott Drinkwater has come straight from Melbourne and straight into the starting fullback position with Michael Morgan moving back into his five-eight position. Jordan Kahu pushes Enari Tuala out of centre and onto the wing with Javid Bowen moving to the reserves. Jordan McLean returns to the forward pack from injury while Coen Hess and Josh McGuire are out for this match through injury and suspension. Reuben Cotter and Corey Jenson take up two of the bench positions for now but with Matthew Scott named in the reserves there is potential for some changes.
North Queensland Cowboys squad: 1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Jordan Kahu 4. Tom Opacic 5. Enari Tuala 6. Michael Morgan 7. Jake Clifford 8. Scott Bolton 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Shane Wright 13. Jason Taumalolo INTERCHANGE: 14. Reuben Cotter 15. John Asiata 16. Corey Jensen 17. Francis Molo RESERVES: 18. Peter Hola 19. Javid Bowen 20. Matthew Scott 21. Emry Pere
HEAD TO HEAD
The sides met in a first round encounter with the Cowboys emerging victorious 24-12. Much of the criticism of the game was directed at the new look Dragons spine and the role Matt Dufty was playing off the bench. This time around the Dragons will have no issues in regards to speculation around the spine. For the Cowboys, their performance in Round 1 was built largely around the work of their forwards, led expertly by Jason Taumalolo. The recent history between these two teams has been back and forth but before that, the Cowboys had the better of the Dragons in this matchup.
Ben Hunt and Michael Morgan were teammates this past Sunday and were playing in different positions to where they play for their club. Morgan will slot back in to his roving role, switching between five-eight and fullback while Ben Hunt will be leading his team from halfback. How both these players respond to the result on Sunday night will go a big way in determining the result of this match. Morgan will need to bring his running game and test the Dragons defence out wide. If he pushes forward and supports his forwards, he could find some big gaps up the middle through second phase play. It will be his responsibility to pick the Dragons apart. While the Dragons will look to Ben Hunt’s kicking game in order to turn the big Cowboys pack around. Ben Hunt’s kicking game in Origin was decent, behind a losing pack, and the Dragons will be looking for him to continue his kicking form to ensure they are giving the opposition the ball back at the right end of the field.
The matchup in the middle is an important considering the players both teams have available and not available. The momentum will be back and forth in a tight struggle. And just like the first time these two teams played it will come down to who will make the biggest impact off the bench. The first time these teams played it was John Asiata who helped cement the Cowboys momentum off the bench. The Dragons will be hoping the players off the bench can maintain the rage of the starting pack and deliver an 80-minute performance without any fadeouts.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday, 28th of June
Venue: WIN Stadium
Referee: Henry Perenara and Liam Kennedy
WHO WILL WIN?
The Cowboys forwards have the ability to play long minutes and continue the intensity from the bench. The Dragons will be searching for a big effort from their Origin forwards, if they are selected to backup. But they need more from their bench, who have yet to prove that they are willing to for an entire match. The Cowboys will be hoping for something big off the back of their close losses and should be too strong. COWBOYS BY 10