Warriors v Cowboys
Mt Smart Stadium
The Warriors have not won since July 7 last year. That is a run of outs of almost nine months now. And they don't look like winning any time soon. Losses in the first three rounds – against Parramatta, 40-10, Sydney Roosters, 16-14, and Cronulla, 28-4 – added to their eight-game losing streak to finish last season just continues a tale of misery.
Okay, so they got close to the Roosters near the end of their Round 2 match at Eden Park in Auckland, but where was the concentration and determination from the Warriors while the Roosters were establishing a 16-0 lead? There weren't any real positives to come out of either game against the Eels and Sharks, because the Warriors were well beaten a long way from home in both.
The Cowboys started the season very encouragingly, with a 24-12 win over the Bulldogs in what was a Bulldogs home game that the club took to Gosford, but then they had a reality check when premiers Melbourne came to Townsville and wiped the floor with them on their own home ground, winning 32-10.
The size of that defeat must have really rocked the Cowboys, because they were off their game against the Knights at Hunter Stadium on Monday night. The Knights were way better than them, winning 34-6. The Cowboys were well beaten in the forwards, and out wide they simply couldn't stop the Knights from making big incursions. All up they could manage just 1062 metres on the night – unheard of stats for them – as the Knights powered to 1542 metres.
The pressure is probably more on the Cowboys than the Warriors in this game, because it won't surprise anyone if the Warriors lose again. It will surprise a lot of people if the Cowboys don't win here, though. Many people were tipping them to win the premiership, and if they were to become the first victim of the Warriors in a long time it would be time to ask serious questions.
Under-siege coach Matthew Elliott has made two changes to the team that was crushed by the Sharks, calling up Glen Fisiiahi to the wing and relegating Bill Tupou to 18th man, and replacing Steve Rapira with brother Sam.
Meanwhile Cowboys coach Neil Henry has given the 17 who lost to the Knights a shot at redemption here.
Watch Out Warriors: Surely international props Matt Scott and James Tamou will fire up for the Cowboys and make it their business to be the dominant forwards on the field in this game. That way, Johnathan Thurston might get some room in which he can weave his magic from halfback. The Aussie bookends were surprisingly quiet against the Knights, Scott running just 79 metres and Tamou 97 metres. If it’s wet and the game is played in tight, expect them to bounce back. (Heck, expect them to bounce back regardless of the weather!)
Watch Out Cowboys: Everyone is waiting for Shaun Johnson to explode at halfback for the Warriors. The 22-year-old is potentially one of the biggest stars in the NRL, but like so many of his teammates he is way down on his best form. Could this be the week when he finally cuts loose again? Only Canberra’s Sam Williams and Souths Adam Reynolds has run fewer times than Johnson’s four runs a game. That’s not nearly enough involvement given his speed and his sidestep.
Plays To Watch: There are few things more dynamic in the NRL than Thurston and Matt Bowen combining in attack to carve up the opposition. They have a great understanding, and against a struggling Warriors side they might put on a show.
Warriors centre Konrad Hurrell has come up with just one try in this so far sorry season for the team. He scored 12 in 17 games last season. He's a dynamo given the opportunity, and if there is a Warriors revival here, he will be a key player.
Where It Will Be Won: The Warriors have no hope unless they can compete with a Cowboys forward pack that looks tremendous on paper but which overall hasn't lived up to that rating so far this season. The Cowboys look to have the edge in the backs as well, so they really just need the forwards to do their job to set the team on the road to victory.
The History: Played 31; Warriors 16, Cowboys 15. The Warriors have won three of the past five meetings between the sides.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger and Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Paul Mellor & Reece Williams.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 6pm (4pm AEST).
The Way We See It: It would take a brave man to tip the Warriors against any team at the moment. Perhaps the worst thing against them this week – even worse than their own form – is the fact the Cowboys would have been embarrassed by their own performance in losing to the Knights. Cowboys to bounce back and win by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.