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Cowboys v Knights
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Saturday 8.30pm (Qld time)

After missing the finals last season both these teams couldn’t be happier with first-up wins last week – but barring an unlikely draw only one of them will remain undefeated after Saturday night. 

The Cowboys and the Knights are tribal entities representing proud areas; consequently it is always nice to see them do well. But will their Round 1 performances prove catalysts to seasons of joy, or were they just anomalies early in the year?
North Queensland lost just about every major statistical count to the Broncos yet somehow managed to conjure a great 16-14 victory on opening night last weekend. 

With Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen seemingly back in sync, this team becomes a whole new animal. They have made some changes to their pack despite winning last week. James Tamou has been named to start at prop, with Ashton Sims moving back to the bench; Gavin Cooper comes into the starting second row after the loss of the injured Scott Bolton. Tariq Sims and Ricky Thorby have been added to a five-man bench.

The Knights blasted away Penrith in Penrith to start their year. The 42-8 victory was superb, although it must be said Penrith were the true definition of terrible. 
One would assume the Cowboys wouldn’t fold as easily on their home patch. 

Injuries have claimed a few key Knights – although Kurt Gidley has been named despite back spasms. 

Isaac De Gois is out with an injured thumb, meaning Matt Hilder starts at hooker. Cameron Ciraldo comes into the second row for the busted up Neville Costigan and Ben Rogers and Joel Edwards come onto a five-man bench. 
In a nice milestone Cowboys winger Ashley Graham plays his 100th game for the club.

Watch Out Cowboys: Are we finally seeing the full potential of Jarrod Mullen? The Knights halfback has long been touted as a star of the game and while he has shown glimpses, he has yet to prove he can be a consistent performer. However, last week he tore apart the Panthers and maybe, just maybe, we are seeing his star begin to shine much brighter and more consistently than it has in the past. He gets the perfect opportunity to prove himself against Queensland halfback Johnathan Thurston this week and while everyone is assuming Mitchell Pearce will be the Blues’ No.7, Mullen has been there before and can’t be discounted as a contender. 

He tallied two line-break assists, two try assists and a try of his own against Penrith but he also kicked impressively for 471 metres. 

Danger Sign: If Mullen takes on the line early in the match rather than just shovelling the ball elsewhere, it’s a sure sign he is switched on and ready to play. 

Watch Out Knights: It’s official – the Thurston-Bowen show is back on the scene – and this means big trouble for opponents of the Cowboys this year. 

Just like they did in 2007 when Thurston won the Dally M Medal and Bowen was the league’s top tryscorer, the pair kept the Cowboys in front against Brisbane despite the team losing out in all major statistical categories. The skill factor of the duo is just brilliant and if the Knights don’t find a way to quell their involvement they could get punished heavily. 

Bowen ran for 187 metres against the Broncos with three impressive line-breaks. Thurston recorded 72 touches in the match, the most by any half, and added a line-break, four line-break assists and two try assists. When Thurston found Bowen with an inside ball up the middle late against the Broncos and the fullback chipped over the top, you thought for sure he would score a miraculous try… only the smallest of knock-ons in a congested put-down stopped the points. 

Danger Sign: Every time Thurston or Bowen get the ball is a danger sign… but if you see Bowen lurking near the ruck, be ready for him to chime in. 

Plays To Watch: The Cowboys running the ball on the last; Thurston popping the ball off his hip to a hard runner; Bowen kicking for himself; Mullen shaping to pass before popping in a grubber; Akuila Uate running over the top of anyone he can; and Gavin Cooper terrorising opponents with searching runs on the left edge.

Where It Will Be Won: We have two attack-minded teams here, which means this match will be won with the better defence. This may come as a surprise considering they dominated in Penrith but the Knights were actually technically worse in defence than the Panthers in Round 1. In fact, they were the worst defending side in the entire NRL if you look at effective tackle percentage – and the Cowboys weren’t much better coming in third worst! The Knights attempted just 251 tackles in Round 1, the fewest of the round, and a long way behind the Cowboys’ top mark of 430. But of those 251 they missed 33 and were ineffective 24 other times, leaving them with a percentage of just 77.3 per cent effectiveness in defence. 

The Cowboys missed a whopping 51 tackles and had 30 ineffective tackles to run in at 81.2 per cent. 

Beau Henry and Evarn Tuimavave both missed four tackles each for the Knights but the likes of Cory Paterson (54.5 per cent) and Richard Fa’aoso (66.7 per cent) need to lift their game. 

For the Cowboys, Dallas Johnson, Aaron Payne, Matt Scott and Thurston all missed six tackles each. It’s time for both sides to muscle up… or face the music. The History: Played 24; Cowboys 9, Knights 15. The Knights have won four of the past six against the Cowboys, although the boys from North Queensland won the last match. It was the last home match the Cowboys won, occurring in Round 20 last year; they’ve lost three more at Dairy Farmers since. 

Against the Knights in Townsville the Cowboys have won six and lost five. The winning team has scored at least 28 points in the past seven matches between the two clubs.  

Conclusion: The Knights did win convincingly against the Panthers but be careful putting too much weight on the win at this early stage, as the Panthers were less than ordinary. The stats paint a worrying story for both teams, so it’s best to look to the game breakers. In this case, the home side has a duo tough to match. 

The Knights just may surprise again – but the Cowboys look tough to beat when Bowen and Thurston are on song. 

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Jason Walsh & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Phil Cooley. 

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 8.30pm (Qld), 9.30pm (NSW) – viewer’s choice.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.