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Warriors v Cowboys
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm (NZ Time)

Both of these clubs entered first grade back in 1995; since then they have had a nice healthy rivalry, with highs like finals against each other and lows like spiteful all-in brawls that spilled over the sidelines.

They enter this crucial clash smack bang in the middle of a dogfight, just outside the top eight and knowing a win will keep them in touch while a loss will see the gap widen that little bit more.

The Warriors are 10th with nine competition points while the Cowboys are one place back in 11th with eight points.

The Kiwi-based side comes off the bye and a loss to St George Illawarra before that, but they have been quite solid in recent games and have threatened to be good enough to be top four, rather then scrambling for top eight.

Denam Kemp returns to the wing at Patrick Ah Van’s expense while Sam Rapira returns at prop, pushing Jesse Royal to the bench and Lewis Brown out of the side.

The Cowboys managed a good win against the Dragons last week, thanks to a Johnathan Thurston stand-out performance, and will take a good degree of confidence into the clash.

They have kept the same side but added Steve Rapira and Ty Williams to an extended bench.

The battle between veteran halfback Stacey Jones and current Australian Test no.7 Johnathan Thurston is worth admission alone – especially given this is a daytime game which promotes attacking football.

Watch out Warriors: The Cowboys lead the NRL in scoring tries from dummy-half with six for the year, so the home side need to be aware of a sneak attack.

They don’t have a lot of dummy-half line breaks for the year but with the likes of Thurston and Bowen screaming for the ball near the line it can be easy for defences to forget about the dummy-half area.

As much as they need to focus on the Cowboys’ ball players, they mustn’t get ahead of themselves or they’ll find themselves standing behind the posts rueing a soft try.

Watch out Cowboys: Warriors fullback Wade McKinnon is due a big performance and his inclusion in the victorious City Origin side could be just the catalyst he needs to take some form back to his club.

Known as one of the best support players in the game, McKinnon has been solid without being spectacular this season. But he is still averaging 127 metres a match, has two line breaks and two tries.

McKinnon’s main strength other than support play is breaking tackles – and so far this year he has 25 tackle breaks to his name.

The time has come for the custodian to be more involved in the side’s attack. It’s important the Cowboys have an impressive kick-chase and also keep an eye on McKinnon’s positioning behind the line when the Warriors attack.

Where it will be won: The containment – or non-containment – of Johnathan Thurston. For the Cowboys to win this match across the Tasman, their captain needs to have another mammoth game like the two he put back-to-back last Friday and Saturday nights.

While playing for Australia, against plenty of these Warriors players, Thurston scored two tries in a dominant performance. Then against the Dragons the following night he backed up with a three-try performance, to almost single-handedly get the result.

In his nine NRL matches so far this season Thurston has notched up three line breaks, nine line-break assists, nine try assists and four tries… not bad considering his slow start to the year.

If the Warriors can limit Thurston’s involvement in the match they’ll go on and win. But if they let him run riot and fall for his dummy plays, they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

The History: Played 25; Warriors 13, Cowboys 12. The Cowboys have won five of the past eight between the clubs; however their record at Mt Smart Stadium isn’t great. The Warriors hold a 9-4 advantage at the venue and the last time the Cowboys were victorious in New Zealand was in 2005.

Conclusion: Handle Johnathan Thurston and handle the Cowboys. That’s the bottom line here. If the Warriors stay rigid in defence, as they have in recent weeks, they’ll take the Cowboys out of the contest – but they will still need to score some tries.

The recent change to Stacey Jones and Nathan Fien in the halves and Joel Moon in the centres has had enough time to adjust and should start to bear fruit. But if they allow Thurston to run the show, an upset is a possibility.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Gavin Morris & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12pm (AEST).

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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