Dairy Farmers Stadium
Redemption: This clash has it written all over it.
The Cowboys officially surrendered their brief finals hopes with a 13th loss for the season last Monday night and now must find a way to redeem themselves to their suffering fans.
With players like Johnathan Thurston, Matthew Bowen, Willie Tonga, Matt Scott, Luke O’Donnell and Willie Mason in their line-up it is unacceptable for this side to be done and dusted with seven matches left on the calendar.
Cowboys fans are a loyal bunch; they have ridden out the rough times, despite them being almost constant, and this match should be for them.
If the guys can’t lift for the coach or each other, maybe they can for the fans who help ensure their salaries are paid and who turn up in their jersey, waving their flag, hoping to see some brilliance and a win.
North Queensland will front up for the match with a similar side to the one beaten by the Wests Tigers last week, with the return of Anthony Watts from suspension the only change.
Speaking of redemption, the Knights are likewise desperate to redeem themselves after an embarrassing capitulation to the Raiders last weekend. Any NRL side that trails 40-0 at halftime in a match just isn’t putting in maximum effort. And while there seemed to be plenty of finger pointing and blame out on the paddock, all 17 players should take a hard look at themselves in the mirror and see if they can convince themselves they gave their best. The answer is quite simply no.
The flogging has the Knights 12th on the ladder and facing the prospect of needing five wins minimum from the final seven games to have a chance of finals football.
If they cannot find some form here they could drop to 13th and the rust will most certainly start to eat away at their armour.
Cory Paterson is out of the side with a shoulder complaint – perhaps why he astonishingly missed 10 tackles against the Raiders – with Cameron Ciraldo coming into the second row.
Isaac De Gois will start at hooker, with Matt Hilder going to lock and Mark Taufua shifting back to the bench. Youngster Con Mika also finds himself on an extended reserves list.
Watch out Cowboys: Pride affects all players but two Knights veterans will be primed more than others to put in huge performances.
Captain Kurt Gidley and centre Adam MacDougall are not the types to lie down easily and get bogged in negativity; in fact, they’ll be doing everything possible to fire up their troops, deluxe. MacDougall isn’t the devastating player he once was but he is still cagey and can produce great plays when they matter. In eight games this year he has just three line-breaks and three tries but he has five line-break assists. Expect to see ‘Mad Dog’ taking the ball in his hands more this weekend.
Gidley is likely to give us a vintage display after the embarrassment of last week. He averages 144 metres a match this season and has five line-breaks and five tries but it is his off-the-ball work where he really shines: directing traffic, taking dummy-half scoots… just providing all-round energy. He needs to get that back to lift his troops.
Watch out Knights: The pressure is off, the season is done and you can almost guarantee this means Thurston and Bowen will start trying some risky “trick shots”. Now, this could be a positive for the Knights, as it could see the home side squander a lot of ball and give Newcastle plenty of possession. But it could also come off, and we could witness some of the best attacking football of the year.
The key will be getting to the playmakers early, making them rush their decisions. If the Knights give them time to set up their plays, it could be another massacre at game’s end.
When you play a team with little to play for, the best thing to do is get physical, make them question their reasoning for putting their body on the line – and then you gain the edge.
Where it will be won: Defence. These two teams are abysmal defenders this year and there really isn’t anything to suggest this will change.
The Cowboys have conceded a league-high 460 points this year – more than 27 a game – while the Knights have let in 421, or almost 25 a game. The chances of this being a low-scoring affair are extremely slim, unless a tropical storm whips up and they play in oppressive conditions. So it will be simply who makes the fewest defensive errors and misjudgements.
To defend well you need to trust your mates. And to trust your mates you need to see them succeed. Both sides have a lack of trust with their team-mates, and often come out of the line or off their man to help when it is uncalled for, leaving space. The side that sticks to their structure and actually makes the one-on-one tackles will prevail.
The history: Played 23; Cowboys 8, Knights 15. The Knights have prevailed in five of the past seven against the Cowboys, including a 36-18 win earlier this season. The honours are shared at Dairy Farmers Stadium five wins apiece. The winning team has scored somewhere in the 30s for the past six matches.
Conclusion: What about a draw? These teams are defensively fragile enough to give us a 30-30 draw! But, on the back of the three straight wins the Knights had before their nightmare in Canberra, and the fact they still have a finals berth to strive for, they still have the edge.
Just don’t count on it.
Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Clayton Sharpe & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Delayed 9.30pm.