Cowboys v Wests Tigers
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 8.30pm Qld time (9.30pm AEDT)
COWBOYS fans get their first chance to see their heroes at home this weekend and they can do so pretty content in the knowledge that despite suffering a first-round loss, this season’s team looks much stronger then last year’s version.
Sure the Cowboys were knocked off by Brisbane in Round 1, but it was by the barest of margins (19-18) and the signs were there to suggest they’ll have more success than failure in 2009.
Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen proved they still have a dynamic connection, one that will bring home plenty of competition points, and their new-look forward pack showed some aggression.
Willie Tonga also showed he could return to his attacking best out in the centres.
Coach Neil Henry has named Ashley Graham to return to the other centre position in place of late drop-out Shannon Hegarty, while second-rower Scott Bolton will come off the bench to start in place of the suspended Manase Manuokafoa.
James Tamou, Grant Rovelli and John Williams have been added to the side, making up a six-man bench.
The Wests Tigers were opening-round winners thanks to a 34-26 result against Canberra on Monday night.
With a quick turnaround the Tigers have named Robbie Farah to start after he started from the bench last week, which pushes Dene Halatau to the pine.
Danny Galea and Corey Payne have been added to make a six-man bench.
Watch out Cowboys: Thurston may be one of the world’s best halfbacks, if not the best, but he needs to find space with his kicking game a heap more often if the Cowboys are to compete.
Against the Broncos Thurston, Bowen, Travis Burns and Aaron Payne only found space with 25 per cent of their kicks, compared to the Tigers who found space 62.5 per cent of the time.
This means the Cowboys’ kick-chase team has trouble dominating the opening tackle of a set and puts them on the back foot. With a big unit like two-try hero Taniela Tuiaki bringing the ball back, this can be extra important.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Cowboys’ wrecking ball Carl Webb looks likely to be a superstar from the bench this season. Despite making four errors against the Broncos Webb made 93 metres in just 40 minutes and scored a blockbusting try.
Should he rid his game of handling problems Webb could be a game-winner each and every week. The Tigers need to be ready for him when he is unleashed into the game.
Where it will be won: This game is going to be an attacking feast. Both sides have the natural instinct to go hell- for-leather when it comes to chancing their arm so it will be whichever side cuts down their errors that will likely flourish.
The Tigers completed 79 per cent of sets against the Raiders while the Cowboys managed to complete just 62 per cent against Brisbane, so if the home side is to compete they’ll need to lift their game.
The Cowboys might have only made two line breaks in the opening round compared to the Tigers’ eight but with Bowen and Thurston they have two of the most dynamic players in the competition.
The history: Played 19; Cowboys 10, Wests Tigers 9. The Tigers have won six of the past eight between the two clubs – including the last three straight. However, overall at Dairy Farmers Stadium the home side holds a 7-2 advantage.
Conclusion: This is one of the round’s most difficult matches to tip. The Cowboys showed plenty of promise against the Broncos but also showed their vulnerability. The Wests Tigers showed great character to come from behind to beat the Raiders and look to have gained some size to go with their attacking prowess, but a trip up north is always difficult.
The more game time Thurston and Bowen get together the better they’ll be but the same can be said for Benji Marshall in his new role as a halfback.
Whenever a decision is in doubt the safest option is generally the home team – but go with your gut on this one.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Gavin Reynolds; Video ref – Russell Smith.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 9.30pm (AEDT).
* Statistics: NRL Stats.