Dragons v Cowboys
WIN Jubilee Oval
St George Illawarra have bounced right back into the hot seat. Fresh from wins over the Sharks and Titans in recent weeks, the Dragons avenged their heartbreaking Round 6 loss against the Storm and then some following their 24-12 win on Monday night.
Short turnaround aside, the Dragons will be looking to go three in a row against the Cowboys this Saturday night, and will fancy their chances despite missing Trent Merrin and Josh Dugan with Origin duty.
The Cowboys are the definition of a rocks and diamonds team. They are spectacular at home, as shown when they beat the Rabbitohs last weekend 20-18, but when it comes to jumping on plane and travelling to a destination that isn't Townsville the Cowboys have struggled to deliver.
These away game troubles are compounded with Johnathan Thurston and James Tamou missing this game through Origin duty.
St George Illawarra will be celebrating the life of rugby league legend Reg Gasnier this Saturday and the Dragons have retired their No. 3 jersey for this weekend in honour of the late club legend, meaning Peter Mata'utia will wear the No.14 jumper in his return to the starting line-up, replacing Dugan in the centres. Dylan Farrell, Jack Stockwell and Dan Hunt have been named on an extended bench to cover for Trent Merrin. If Hunt is to play it will mark his 150th appearance for the Red V.
For the Cowboys, Thurston's absence has forced a backline reshuffle. Michael Morgan shifts to halfback and Matthew Wright moves to fullback which allows for Tautau Moga to make his Cowboys debut in the centres after signing with the club on Monday. Tamou's vacancy is filled by Sam Hoare who comes onto the interchange. Ashton Sims moves into the starting line-up and will captain the team. Jason Taumalolo looks set to make his 50th appearance for the Cowboys.
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Watch Out Dragons: Without Thurston, Scott, Tate and Tamou, this North Queensland side has a point to prove. Regardless of the fact that they haven't won a game away from 1300SMILES Stadium since late last season, this game is an important one in the context of the Cowboys' season. A win here is essential if they want to keep in touch with the top eight.
The two points will be there for the Cowboys’ taking if their young crop of forwards stand up and deliver against this Dragons pack. While you know what to expect from old heads like Ashton Sims, Glenn Hall and Scott Bolton, it will be Tariq Sims (24 tackle breaks, 29.9 tackles and 105.5 metres per game), Ethan Lowe (33.4 tackles & 77.3 metres per game) and Jason Taumalolo (45 tackle breaks, 21.4 tackles & 119.6 metres per game) that the Dragons will have to be wary of on Saturday night.
Watch Out Cowboys: The Dragons’ decision to hand Paul 'Mary' McGregor the head coaching position looks as though it’s beginning to pay off. Coming off the back of three wins from five games in the top job, McGregor has turned a bumbling Red V team into genuine dark horses for the top eight come September.
Everything is starting to click for the Dragons and it showed with Gareth Widdop affirming once again that he has what it takes to steer the team around after earning Man of the Match honours last Monday night against his old club the Melbourne Storm. Widdop sits nicely in the top ten for try assists throughout the competition, and alongside his nine line break assists and 34 tackle breaks, the Dragons are in safe hands for a long time to come.
Plays To Watch: The Dragons proved on Monday night there is more to their attacking arsenal than meets the eye, scoring two tries from kicks against the Storm. Widdop laid on an inch-perfect kick for himself to score the Dragons’ second of the night while Benji's cheeky deflected grubber found its way to Mitch Rein to close out the game for the Red V.
Making the most of his time in first-grade after replacing Brent Tate following his season-ending injury during Origin II, Curtis Rona produced two outstanding – albeit similar – try assists in their win on Saturday night. They both came off kicks which enabled Rona to bat it back to his teammates and allowed them to cross for two crucial four-pointers. The first may have been labelled a fluke, but when it happened for a second time it quickly became the Cowboys’ play to watch out for on Saturday night.
Where It Will Be Won: With each team missing a key back and forward thanks to Origin duty it will come down to who capitalises on the missing players the most on Saturday night. While the Cowboys are left worse off with the loss of Thurston and Tamou which is further compounded by the injury to Matt Scott, the Dragons will still feel the pinch without Merrin and Dugan. With such players missing, the forwards will need to lift in order for their respective backlines to shine.
The History: Played 24; Dragons 11, Cowboys 13. The Cowboys and Dragons seem to get results against one another in blocks. North Queensland is currently sitting on three consecutive wins against the Red V, including their last fixture against one another in Round 14 last year where they prevailed 22-16, but that's only off the back of three Dragons victories before that. Since 2005, the Cowboys only just hold a slight advantage over the Dragons, with eight wins compared with the Red V’s seven victories.
What Are The Odds: Despite the Dragons' win over the Storm, there’s a startling 10 times the interest in the Cowboys ($3.55), who haven’t won away from home this season. Sportsbet.com.au punters are very keen on North Queensland at the line, receiving 10.0 start. Dragons are $1.28.
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 5:30pm.
The Way We See It: The loss of Thurston and Tamou for the Cowboys will be too much of a stretch for the North Queensland side. Considering they haven't won away from home since Round 25, 2013 and this game has the Dragons extending their winning streak to three written all over it. Dragons by 14.