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Cowboys v Sea Eagles
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

It’s getting close to crunch time for the Cowboys in season 2010, with this home match against the Sea Eagles almost shaping as a must-win.

While we haven’t even reached the halfway point, and Parramatta proved a late charge is possible last season, the Cowboys simply cannot afford to put themselves under the pressure of needing to win six to 10 games in a row to play finals.

With just three wins for the year so far the side is languishing in 14th spot on the ladder. While they are just four competition points from fifth place, each loss puts more teams in a better position than they are in, giving them more teams to have to overtake.

They are rested from the bye coming into this contest; however, they have been without Origin stars Johnathan Thurston, Willie Tonga and Matthew Scott for most of the lead up and if any of this trio can’t back up, the side’s job gets significantly harder.

Despite losing to the Warriors before the bye the Cowboys have named the same side, with James Tamou slated to start and Antonio Kaufusi to come from the bench. The only cover coach Neil Henry has named at this stage is Issak Ah Mau as an 18th man.

For the Sea Eagles, this match is a chance to bounce back from their last-start loss to Parramatta. The result dropped the side to fourth and with five clubs just a win behind them on the ladder they are aware a loss could pitch them into the logjam. Also fresh from the bye, but without Jamie Lyon, Matt Ballin, Josh Perry and Anthony Watmough for the majority of the week, the Sea Eagles could be vulnerable.

Steve Matai is out suspended, with Kieran Foran hopeful of returning from injury to play centre.

With Ballin playing rep football for the first time, Des Hasler has named Terence Seu Seu on an extended bench as cover.

Watch out Cowboys: 
The Sea Eagles’ kicking game is far superior to the Cowboys’ and could be crucial in regards to field position if it can’t be contained.

With 641 metres gained a match from the boot, the Manly side is ranked third in the NRL in kick metres – a long way in front of the Cowboys’ 489 metres, which ranks equal last!

The Sea Eagles are also slightly more accurate in finding space with kicks, doing so on 54.4 per cent of occasions compared to the Cowboys’ 53.2 percent. The Cowboys need to pressure the Manly kicks to bring this average down and also need to provide greater protection for their own kickers.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
The Cowboys picked up a nice, juicy stat in their research of the Sea Eagles this week and you can bet they intend to exploit it: Manly are only successfully defusing 25 per cent of cross-field kicks so far this season – by far the worst rate in the NRL. Expect the attacking raid to come!

Thurston is a wonderfully gifted kicker, who can land the ball on a dime. You can be sure he’ll send plenty of kicks across the field to some nervous wingers.

Where it will be won: It might sound clichéd but this match is about attitude – specifically mental attitude to the job at hand, and the ability to get things done under fatigue or despite distraction.

With a handful of potential late pullouts or fatigued players involved, it becomes a matter of how switched on the usually lesser-involved players are, and how committed the rep guys are. Fatigue plays tricks on the mind, causes humans to look for shortcuts – and in the NRL there is no room for this. If Anthony Watmough opts to let his team-mate make a tackle instead of pushing through the pain, the result could be six points… and a loss. If Johnathan Thurston decides to take his time getting up after yet another hit and forces young David Morgan to run the show at a crucial time, and it doesn’t come off… it could mean a loss.

Now, obviously playing Origin takes plenty out of an individual, so we need to give these guys some slack. The other team members need to lift, and not expect their stars to get them home. If they have the will to put in that little bit more to help cover their mates, it will help towards a win.

The history: Played 14; Cowboys 6, Sea Eagles 8. The Cowboys have won five of the past eight between the clubs, including last season’s only encounter by 26-12 at Dairy Farmers Stadium, which was a record win for the Cowboys over Manly.

But the Sea Eagles have done okay at the venue, with the home side only just nudging them 4-3 overall in Townsville. However, the last win for the Sea Eagles up north was way back in 2004.

Conclusion: It’s hard to make a call without knowing just who will back up. If Thurston doesn’t suit up, the Sea Eagles look odds-on. But if he does, he could push his team to a win.

The safe bet is Manly but wait till the last minute to make the call, as the smell of an upset is building.

Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
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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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