Cowboys v Sea Eagles
The Sea Eagles may have smashed the Eels 50-10 at Brookvale Oval on Monday night, but they have still got a fair bit of work to do before they are back to their best.
They really only showed just how big the difference was between them and the hapless Eels after Eels prop Mitchell Allgood was sin-binned inside the final 10 minutes. The Sea Eagles squeezed three more tries in after that.
The Sea Eagles were well on top from the start, and were always going to win easily, but things still broke down in attack a bit too often to excuse for a team as good as they are when everything is working smoothly. It was a great result when you consider it came after three straight losses, but the Sea Eagles will know it can only be the start of a genuine rejuvenation.
The Cowboys are having an awful 2013. They put themselves under pressure early in the season by losing three of their first four games, and after stabilising to be 4-4 after eight rounds they have lost six of their past eight. They were always chasing the game against the Raiders at Canberra Stadium last Sunday, and ended up going down 26-18.
The 12th-placed Cowboys have lost four star players to State of Origin duty – Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate and Matt Scott to Queensland, and James Tamou to NSW – and star fullback Matt Bowen is still out injured. The fourth-placed Sea Eagles have lost Daly Cherry-Evans to Queensland and Anthony Watmough to NSW.
The Cowboys have moved Antonio Winterstein from the wing to centre to replace Tate, with Kalifa Faifai Loa the new winger. Ray Thompson has been switched from hooker to five-eighth, replacing Thurston. The Cowboys have a totally new starting forward pack, with lock Joel Riethmuller, second-rower Ethan Lowe, hooker Anthony Mitchell and prop Ricky Thorby coming in from outside of last week's 17 and second-rower Jason Taumalolo and prop Glenn Hall rising from the bench. Gavin Cooper and Tariq Sims drop to the bench. Michael Morgan has been added to what is a five-man interchange.
Peta Hiku comes in at halfback for the Sea Eagles, replacing Cherry-Evans. Jamie Buhrer rises from the bench, replacing Watmough. Richie Fa'aoso and Ligi Sao have been added to the bench. Tom Symonds is out injured.
Watch Out Cowboys: The Sea Eagles' strong three-quarter line of centres Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai and wingers Jorge Taufua and David Williams is intact, and they will be given every opportunity by the rest of the team to take advantage of any defensive uncertainty out wide caused by the positional switch of Winterstein and the elevation of Faifai Loa.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Twenty-year-old Taumalolo has shown glimpses of what he can do for the Cowboys this season, but not enough hard evidence. Now he has been thrust back into the starting side as coach Neil Henry searches for answers. This is a chance for Taumalolo to do what too many haven't done at the Cowboys this season and make an impact.
Plays To Watch: Let's face it, the Cowboys are not going to be able to risk trying to get too fancy here – they haven't got the personnel. They are going to have to play it tight and tough, and they need a hard-head like Glenn Hall to lead the way with a big, metre-eating performance at prop.
The Sea Eagles will try to take advantage of the opposition's problems by playing the game at speed. Their wider forwards and their outside backs are going to see a lot of ball, and look set to give the Cowboys nightmares.
Key Match-Up: When you take a key man out of a team's halves, suddenly things look dramatically different. Thurston gone from the Cowboys and Cherry-Evans from the Sea Eagles means we get Thompson and Robert Lui in the Cowboys' halves up against Kieran Foran and Hiku. It's going to be interesting to see how those pairings stack up against each other.
Where It Will Be Won: The Cowboys have lost two Test props and have mixed their forward pack up in a bid to spark something. The Sea Eagles, minus only Watmough, are much less affected up front, and if they can win the forward battle they will be well down the road to taking the match, because the Cowboys simply can't match them in the backs.
The History: Played 20; Sea Eagles 13, Cowboys 7. The Sea Eagles have won the past four clashes, seven of the past 10 – and two of the past four in Townsville.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Brett Suttor & Michael Wise; Video Referees – Jason Robinson & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Cowboys v Sea Eagles clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 7pm.
The Way We See It: The Cowboys have found it tough even when they have got their best players in this season. Without them, before Origin I, they were thrashed 31-12 by the Titans. Now they face another such challenge, and it doesn't look good for them. The Sea Eagles got the opportunity to start pulling their game back together against the struggling Eels and they can continue that process here. Even up in Townsville, it's the Sea Eagles by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats