Dairy Farmers Stadium
‘Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town and we guarantee a night of thrills, spills and good ol’ fashioned fun!’
Headlined by the duelling magicians Johnathan Thurston and Benji Marshall, supported by speedsters (Willie Tonga, Lote Tuqiri), tricksters (Aaron Payne, Robbie Farah), strongmen (Luke O’Donnell, Keith Galloway) and even clowns (sorry Beau Ryan but you make the bed, you lie in it), this Saturday night shapes up as pure entertainment gold!
Regardless of whether the Cowboys or Wests Tigers are your side, all fans have to admit both provide excellent viewing – and when the two come together, fireworks are on the cards.
Both Marshall and Thurston have become master magicians, weaving spells on opponents with magnificent sleight of hand, kicks on a string – even the odd disappearing act as they slice through the line.
They are backed up brilliantly by their hookers; they direct play cleverly through the rucks and provide trick plays of their own when needed to spark all-out attack.
Then, with the likes of Tonga (three tries last week) and Tuqiri (old dog with seemingly endless bag of tricks) waiting to be fed out wide, both sides stack up very nicely indeed.
Marshall and Thurston, both captains at representative level, led their respective club teams to victory last weekend and now the Cowboys sit in 10th with a 2-2 record, while the Wests Tigers have rocketed up to third with a 3-1 ledger.
Both sides have maintained the 17 men from their Round 4 winning line-ups; however, the home side Cowboys have added Steve Southern and Manase Manuokafoa to an extended bench.
Watch out Cowboys: The missed tackle rate of the Cowboys is a concern going into a match against players who are harder to pin down than gaining an unchallenged look into a Manly dressing room.
Getting a hold of the likes of Marshall and Farah is no easy task and the big unit forwards in Galloway, Bryce Gibbs and Todd Payten can also be tough to rope in.
The Cowboys have missed 149 tackles so far this season, which averages out to 37.25 a match – way too many for an NRL team to maintain constant success.
The Wests Tigers have missed 99 tackles thus far, or 24.75 a game, with only the two teams above them on the ladder missing less – this correlation is no fluke.
The main Cowboys offenders are Luke O’Donnell (15 misses), Thurston and Payne (14 misses each), Scott Bolton (12 misses) and Sam Rapira (11 misses). Robbie Farah will target the latter two constantly around the rucks.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Shannon Gallant, the fullback replacing the replacement fullback, had a blinder last week and is out to prove he belongs in the NRL.
A former Wests Tiger, Gallant would love nothing more than to sink his old club with a mammoth display. Against the Titans last week Gallant ran for 194 metres with two kick-return line-breaks, offered two line-break assists and two try assists plus nine tackle-breaks.
Where it will be won: The hookers and halves – or more specifically Aaron Payne v Robbie Farah and Johnathan Thurston v Benji Marshall.
This match will come down to some brilliance from these men. Sure, the forwards are going to need to get the yards and the backs are going to need to finish off some plays, but the involvement of these four individuals is where this match will be decided.
Starting with the dummy-halves, both can blow the game wide open by forcing big, lumbering forwards to make tackle after tackle, before streaking by them when they are slow to react off the ground or through lateral movement.
Farah is a master at this and Payne isn’t far behind him when he is on his game.
As for Marshall and Thurston, sometimes it appears they have spiders on them as no-one wants to tackle them. Both have made running sideways before blasting through a hole a rugby league art form: Thurston with a show-and-go, Marshall with a scything step.
Currently Payne and Farah have just one line-break this year but Farah also has a try, three line-break assists and three try assists.
Thurston has four line-breaks, six line-break assists, two tries and six try assists, while Marshall has three line-breaks, four line-break assists, five tries and five try assists. These battles shape up as crackers.
The history: Played 21: Cowboys 11, Wests Tigers 10. The Wests Tigers have won eight of the past 10 matches between these two clubs, but the Cowboys have a decisive 8-2 advantage in games played in Townsville.
The matches were split last season, with the home team prevailing on both occasions – by large margins.
Conclusion: Don’t miss this game. If you are in Townsville get to the ground. If not, grab dinner at home and prop up the lounge, or head to the pub and get a good possie in front of the big screen.
This could easily go either way, with the home side likely to start slight favourites despite being lower on the ladder. Toss a coin and then sit back and enjoy the show.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.