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Cowboys v Storm
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

Well, if you were wondering how the Melbourne Storm players would take to the salary cap revelations and penalties, you certainly got an answer last week. And you can bet your bottom dollar it wasn’t the reaction the Cowboys were hoping for!

North Queensland players and coaches would have been sitting back, relaxing, ready to take in the Sunday night clash between the Storm and Warriors – but come game’s end, and a heavy 40-6 Melbourne victory, the nerves would’ve been jangling plenty.

It appears the Storm aren’t going to lie down in 2010, despite having nothing external to play for – unless of course last Sunday was a one-off ‘angry’ performance. But we doubt it.

This is bad news for the Cowboys, who may have benefitted slightly from the Storm’s fall to be just a win out of the top eight, but who now must find a way to topple the emotion-charged side.

After failing to take down the Eels in Round 7 the Cowboys fell to 11th spot on the ladder with just two wins from their opening seven games.

They still have time on their side, but also have to get through the representative season, so the time has come to make a move.

Young Ray Thompson has been rested, with Grant Rovelli coming in to partner Johnathan Thurston in the halves, while John Williams is off the wing pushing Ashley Graham to the flank with Will Tupou joining the centres.

Prop Carl Webb will also miss this clash, meaning James Tamou will start, while Isaak Ah Mau is out of the side, replaced by his brother Leeson Ah Mau. Antonio Kaufusi and Dane Hogan have also been added to the bench.

Melbourne are of course last on the competition ladder, a place they will remain despite winning games, but if all things were equal they would’ve been third.

They welcome back Greg Inglis at centre at the expense of Gareth Widdop, while Aiden Tolman has sadly succumbed to injury, replaced by Jeff Lima at prop.

Just one week back Brett White has copped a one-match suspension, so he is out, with Kevin Proctor, Jess Bromwich and Hep Cahill added to a five-man bench.

Watch out Cowboys:
Plenty of players at the Storm have already garnered reputations as guns and if forced onto the open market would command big dollars without a problem. But there are plenty in the side still looking to make names for themselves and to keep their market value high.

Youngsters like Matt Duffie, Willie Isa, Kevin Proctor, Jesse Bromwich and Hep Cahill have yet to make names for themselves in their careers and want to show they belong on the big stage. The two backs in Duffie and Isa were impressive last round. Duffie scored twice, made three line-breaks and ran for 124 metres on debut last week, while Isa ran for 107 metres and added a try.

The three forwards are tough and uncompromising and have a bit of skill to boot.

Watch out Storm:
The Cowboys’ big, thundering forward pack, coupled with some hard-working outside backs, have ensured the side is making good yards this season, something they’ve lacked for the past few years. The Cowboys are rolling forward an average 1362 metres a game this season – fifth best in the NRL – which is significantly more than Melbourne’s 1214 metre average. (In fact the Storm’s go-forward is the worst in the NRL – perhaps a sign they have too many superstar players in the squad able to make up for the slack!)

Fullback Shannon Gallant leads the way for the home side with 135 metres a match, while Scott Bolton (108 metres), Willie Mason (113 metres), Luke O’Donnell (123 metres), Matt Scott (119 metres), James Tamou (101 metres), Willie Tonga (112 metres) and Ty Williams (104 metres) all average over three figures.

Williams and O’Donnell won’t play in this match, but the sheer fact this many Cowboys are in big numbers shows a trend for the side. If they can keep this up, they will give Johnathan Thurston the field position he craves to weave his magic.

Where it will be won:
Upstairs, between the ears. This game is going to be one of mental application. Of course physical skill will be a major component, but the mental approach here cannot be underestimated.

For the Cowboys it comes down to focus. If they worry about the Melbourne mindset they won’t be focussed on getting the job done and the Storm’s big-gun players will have a field day trying new things and putting their individual skills to the test.

The Cowboys must find a way to bustle the Storm out of the match, perhaps with heavy tackling and thunderous go-forward. Crucially, they must start on fire. Nothing will test the Melbourne will more than going behind early in a game.

For the Storm it becomes a case of just how long can they survive on the passions evoked from the whole ordeal? Last weekend was a statement but reality must be surely starting to sink in. Are they going to continually get up for these games that count for nothing?

Last week they were in Melbourne, this week it’s a long road trip, which brings distractions. Of course the Storm are usually completely professional, but motivation was a big part of this. If they fall behind on the scoreboard, are they going to want to continue the fight? There are still more questions than answers when it comes to the ramifications of the biggest story in rugby league.

The history: Played 20; Cowboys 5, Storm 15. Melbourne is on a six-game winning streak against the Cowboys and despite playing away from home, have an 8-3 advantage in Townsville. Last season’s games finished as 20-8 and 26-12 victories for the Storm. The average score-line in favour of Melbourne in the last six games is 30-11.

Conclusion: This is a really tough match to pick. IF the Storm are still motivated, they are the better side, but if they have any sort of comedown, the Cowboys could touch them up, especially if Thurston gets cooking.

Most experts think Melbourne will stay up for at least a few more weeks, probably through the rep season, so if that’s the case, maybe stick with them. But others think the huge build-up into last week’s game, and the game itself, has taken plenty out of them, which leans you to the Cowboys.

Heads it’s Cowboys, tails the Storm…

Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Luke Phillips; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Delayed 9pm.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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