Dairy Farmers Stadium
Two teams have been named for this clash – but just who fronts up to play won’t be known until kick-off.
The Dragons have been ‘rewarded’ for their great form so far this season and have eight players involved in the Friday night representative games and another two who were replaced from the games due to niggling injuries.
With some luck they’ll all suit-up and take their place in Townsville but should anything go wrong the Dragons’ 17 might look very different to the one that ground out a desperate one point win over the Warriors last weekend.
That win moved the side into second spot on the NRL ladder, but with Darius Boyd, Matt Cooper, Beau Scott, Ben Creagh, Jamie Soward, Ben Hornby, Justin Poore, Michael Weyman, Jeremy Smith and Jason Nightingale all no certainties to back up, the task against the 11th-placed Cowboys becomes a heap tougher.
Sure, the home side has Johnathan Thurston and Luke O’Donnell on rep duties, but at least they can still have a reasonable week of training, while the Dragons will be running with a skeleton squad.
North Queensland have been very scratchy so far in 2009, with their loss to the struggling Eels last weekend proof they are far from being at their peak.
But they always play better at home and if they are ever going to take advantage of the Dragons, this is the match to do it in.
Watch out Cowboys: Dragons coach Wayne Bennett is the master at getting individuals to lift when they are most needed. As such, he’ll be working overtime on his players who aren’t in the rep games.
Look for huge efforts from the likes of Dean Young, Matt Prior, Brett Morris and Dan Hunt. With both regular props playing the night before, Dan Hunt will need to lift his performance. From the bench this year he has averaged 83 metres gained and has one line break but he’ll be expected to boost these stats.
Young has been solid without being spectacular, giving him plenty of motivation to dominate, while Brett Morris, when given an opportunity, has been electric. He has three tries and three line breaks and is averaging 110 metres; with added responsibility he could be a game-breaker. Against the Warriors he also showed his value in defence, making some classic cover tackles and holding firm against the bigger Warriors outfit.
Watch out Dragons: Beware the dummy-half – especially close to the line! The Cowboys have scored more tries from dummy-half than the rest of the sides in the NRL. It is important the Dragons’ markers and ‘A’ and ‘B’ defenders are awake to potential scooters or they will be staring down the barrel of their third defeat of the year.
In fact 66 per cent of all of the Cowboys’ tries have come from within 0-10 metres of the line so if the Dragons can just muscle up on their goal line, they’ll be doing well. If not, the Cowboys could be deadly.
Where it will be won: This match will come down to field position. For the Cowboys to be successful they need to be attacking close to the line. Their new attacking structure has slightly blunted their previous ability to score from ‘anywhere’ and without majority possession and field position they’ll struggle to score enough points against a strong Dragons defence.
The Dragons have been pretty impressive across the ground, gaining on average 1426 metres a game compared the Cowboys 1269 metres but with Poore and Weyman backing up they may be down on their usual output.
Both sides will need to treasure possession and make the most of chances when they come.
The History: Played 17; Cowboys 9, Dragons 8. The Cowboys have won the past three games in a row against St George Illawarra and hold a 5-2 advantage at Dairy Farmers Stadium – where the Dragons haven’t won since 2005.
Conclusion: It is hard to tip a side without knowing just who will be suiting up.
If the Dragons are at full-strength then they have the defence to trouble the home side but if they are decimated or even just too tired then the Cowboys could clean them up.
Matt Bowen is warming to the task more and more each week; this could potentially be his breaking-out party if defenders are a little slow to react. It only takes the slightest hesitation for him to slice through and start piling up the points.
If you can wait until Saturday to make a decision, use all the time you have.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Alan Shortall; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.