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Warriors v Cowboys
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ Time)

Back in 1995, the then ARL welcomed four new teams to the competition. They were Perth and South Queensland, two sides who have since perished, and the North Queensland Cowboys and the Auckland Warriors.

The Cowboys and Warriors have survived, and have a special bond as sides who share a similar history, making their Heritage Round clash a great throwback to the mid-’90s.

Sadly, both clubs had minimal success in the early years, a fate currently repeating in 2010.

But with plenty of time left in this season, fortunes can be turned around – and what better place to start than this blockbuster.

The Cowboys face an arduous task though, with just about every little aspect favouring the home side.

The Warriors are looking decidedly fresh for this clash, having had the bye last weekend, while the Cowboys played in Sydney on Monday night.

They must now travel to Auckland to play a side that usually has a high representation in Test matches but who this year has just four players backing up from Test football last weekend.

North Queensland does have Matt Bowen back, but they are still without Johnathan Thurston, while the Warriors have a score of players returning from injuries.

Currently in 10th spot on the ladder, the Warriors can potentially push up and into the top eight with a victory.

After losing to Canberra in Round 8 the Warriors face a crossroads. It’s now three losses on the trot, and the time for excuses is gone.

Wingers Kevin Locke and Manu Vatuvei return at the expense of Patrick Ah Van and Bill Tupou.

Halfback Brett Seymour rejoins the top side, pushing James Maloney to five-eighth and Joel Moon out.

Captain Simon Mannering returns to the team in the second row, taking the place of Lewis Brown.

In other changes, Aaron Heremaia, Mataupu Poching and Ukuma Ta’ai will start in the forwards with Ian Henderson, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino on the bench.

The Cowboys had a great morale-boosting win over the Roosters last Monday night but still sit in 14th spot, four competition points away from the top eight.

They must keep winning or face the reality this might not be their year.

In the only change to the team, James Tamou is named to start, with Antonio Kaufusi coming off the bench.

Watch out Warriors: Matt Bowen was great against the Roosters and he was barely warming up. The explosive fullback could be just what the Cowboys need to mount a serious charge back up the ladder, and if the Warriors underestimate him they will get well and truly burned.

Bowen ran for 122 metres in his return match, kicked for 164 metres and scored a try. But it’s only a matter of time before he beefs up his bread and butter stats.

Bowen is a try assist king and a line-breaks freak; with more game time and confidence he could set the NRL alight. While his best football will come in tandem with Thurston, Bowen also loves running the show, and he might well do so here.

Watch out Cowboys: The beast is back! Manu Vatuvei returns once more after hamstring issues, looking to make up for lost time. Arguably the best winger in the game, Vatuvei is almost impossible to stop from close range and will give the Warriors a definite attacking edge.

Manu makes a mammoth 150 metres a match and has seven line-breaks this year from just four games. He also has two line-break assists, a try assist, 27 tackle breaks, nine offloads and six tries.
The Warriors will try to get Manu isolated one-on-one… if they succeed, the Cowboys could be on for a long night indeed.

Where it will be won: Both sides need a much better attitude when it comes to defence; the side that lifts in this area will probably take home the competition points.

The Cowboys have missed 305 tackles this season, which is just under 34 a game, while the Warriors, who have played one less fixture, have missed 298 – more than 37 a game.

Those figures are seeing both sides putting themselves under way too much pressure defensively throughout games, and invariably they crack.

It is going to take a shift in attitude to bring these misses down.

Defence is about timing, and if you try to take shortcuts, you get found wanting.

Both teams need to want to get physical… or doom is just around the corner.

The history: Played 26; Warriors 13, Cowboys 13. After joining the competition together in 1995, the Warriors and Cowboys can’t be split on the overall head-to-head table.

The Warriors do, however, have a 9-5 advantage at Mt Smart Stadium. North Queensland prevailed in the only match-up last season, winning 34-12 at this very venue.

All the little things add up to a Warriors win here, despite the fact they are on a three-match losing streak.

It would be a huge effort if a Thurston-less Cowboys could win two away games on the trot, one that could surely spark a real surge up the ladder, but it is unlikely.

Tip the Warriors and then take some deep breaths, as they no doubt will have you nervous throughout the contest.

Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Adam Gee & Daniel Eastwood; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
Acknowledgement of Country

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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