Cowboys v Roosters Preview

Matt Bowen injury update

Brad Fittler's take on his team

Cowboys v Roosters
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

The Roosters may have lost their past five games in a row and sit alone at the foot of the NRL ladder but they have a huge chance of knocking off the sixth-placed Cowboys come Saturday night in Townsville.

You see, the Roosters just love playing the Cowboys, winning more than 86 per cent of all clashes against the boys from the north – and the Origin-sapped home side will be fronting up without linchpins Johnathan Thurston, Matt Bowen (injury), Luke O’Donnell and Willie Tonga.

The Roosters on the other hand miss just Nate Myles to the interstate clash and as such are in a great position to claw their way back from the brink.

North Queensland lost some of their momentum last weekend when St George Illawarra pushed away from them late in the contest in Wollongong. But they will still be hopeful of a strong performance here.

Bowen will be replaced at the back by winger Ty Williams, with new recruit, the ex-Sea Eagle Michael Bani, coming onto the vacant wing spot. Shannon Hegarty, a former Queensland Origin player himself, takes Tonga’s centre spot while Grant Rovelli slots in at halfback for Thurston.

With O’Donnell missing another former Queensland star in Carl Webb will start in the second row, pushing Steve Southern to lock.

James Tamou, Ben Harris and Manase Manuokafoa have been added to a bench of six.

For the visiting tri-colours Mark O’Meley is out with Lopini Paea starting at prop, while Willie Mason returns for the Origin-bound Myles. Ray Moujalli has been added as the new name on the bench.

Watch out Cowboys: The Roosters will be directing the majority of their attack to the left side of the field as it is pretty much their only fruitful area. They have scored 24 of their 36 tries – two thirds of all their four-pointers – on the left, with just nine tries coming on the right and three up the middle.

The Cowboys are also weakest in defence on the left, conceding 20 tries compared to just 12 on the right. With some of their better players missing the Cowboys’ defence could be even less effective – which should have Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce very keen to get out on the paddock.

Watch out Roosters: Johnathan Thurston may be missing but Grant Rovelli will ensure an attacking kick bombardment still comes the Roosters way. With 17 tries conceded from kicks this year the Roosters are the worst team in the NRL in the statistic, showing both an unwillingness to scramble on a loose ball and poor skill at clean catching.

The side is the worst in the league at defusing grubber kicks and is unsuccessful over half the time when trying to take care of cross-field kicks. The team needs to be willing to cover for each other for the entire 80 minutes, or it could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Where it will be won: Goal-line defence. The Roosters would have beaten the Titans last weekend if they had just muscled up on their own goal line just before halftime. They let in two very soft tries, one to Nathan Friend from dummy-half and another to Aaron Cannings from a regulation hit-up.

Quite frankly, it was beyond poor and can’t be repeated in this game if they want to succeed.

Over 72 per cent of the Cowboys’ tries have come from within 10 metres of the tryline, so poor defence in this area will be fatal.

The Roosters are scoring 65 per cent of their tries from the same distance, meaning the Cowboys must also muscle up when their heels are on the try line. This means moving up as a unit and trusting your team-mates to ensure the tackles count.

Both teams have been guilty of waiting for the attack to come to them; it is near-impossible to stop forward momentum from a standing start.  

The History: Played 22; Roosters 19, Cowboys 3. This head-to-head history is one of the most one-sided in the NRL, as the Roosters have seemingly always had a way of dominating the Cowboys. They have won six of the past eight and have a 9-2 record up in Townsville at Dairy Farmers Stadium. The past two clashes have seen high scoring, with a combined score of 96-50 to the chooks.

Conclusion: The Cowboys have replaced their Origin players with some quality personnel but the Roosters have a real shot here.

If the match was in Sydney they’d almost be a great bet but the fact it is Townsville helps the home team’s cause plenty.

The tri-colours have a psychological edge on the Cowboys and they have been building up their form despite still losing. It could just be their turn for a win, so if you want to go out on a small limb, go for the Roosters. If you want to opt for safe, stick with the Cowboys.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Alan Shortall; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.