Cowboys v Titans preview

North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans
Dairy Farmers Stadium
Friday 7.30pm

A good old-fashioned Queensland derby to get Heritage Round started – it doesn’t get much better.

The Titans are buoyed by their first win while the Cowboys are itching to get back on track after a close loss to the Eels.

We also have the mouth-watering prospect of a Johnathan Thurston-Scott Prince showdown – that is if Prince can take his place as named after being a late withdrawal last weekend.

Roles are currently reversed from the past two seasons – at the moment the Cowboys are in the top eight while the Titans are languishing near the foot of the ladder.

With a 2-2 record in the first month the Cowboys sit sixth but a loss here is likely to drop them out of the top half of teams. They have stuck solid to the unit that fell 22-20 to the Eels although Scott Bolton and Antonio Winterstein have been added to the reserves list and will come into contention for a place in the side.

For the Titans, Prince is due back – and so is hooker Nathan Friend – but the side has lost Greg Bird to suspension (a late strike on Raider Matt Orford last week) and Preston Campbell to injury.

They managed to get their first win of the year in golden point over Canberra after a lucky scrum knock-on by Matt Orford gave them vital field position in the dying seconds and then Blake Ferguson dropped the ball in extra time. But in this competition you take the points anyway you can get them – and perhaps it is the catalyst for the Gold Coast boys to make a charge.

In other team news Luke Capewell earns a recall to the five-eighth’s jersey while Riley Brown moves back to the bench for Friend’s return. Brad Meyers has been left out of the side with Luke O’Dwyer added as an 18th man.

Prince is set to become the first player of any Gold Coast club to score 500 points; he has 497 to date.

Watch Out Cowboys: The Titans continue to attack down the left-hand corridor of the field any chance they get, hoping to either make a break or compress the defence in so they can then shift the ball quickly to the right side. The Gold Coast lead the NRL with 39 raids down the left short side, a distinct ploy of theirs. It is imperative the Cowboys’ markers are awake to these raids and tackle effectively so extra players aren’t dragged over, consequently leaving space back the other way.

Danger Sign: With Nathan Friend back at hooker, chances are the short-side raids will be even more effective. Marker defence all night must be top notch.

Watch Out Titans: The Cowboys will bring their attacking punch to this contest and the Titans need to find a way to go with them. So far the Cowboys lead the NRL with 26 line-breaks – while the Titans are the second worst in the league with just 13. This has helped the Cowboys to average 23 points scored a game while the Titans are languishing at just 14.75 points each match, again only better than Penrith.

On the flip side of the coin, it is worth noting that Dallas Johnson is currently averaging almost 20 tackles more than the nearest Cowboy in club history (49.8). So there is some defensive clout in the Cowboys also.

Danger Sign: Cowboys with big-number line-breaks who the Titans must watch are Ashley Graham (NRL-high six), Matt Bowen (four), Kalifa Faifai Loa (three) and Tariq Sims and Will Tupou who have two each.

Plays To Watch: Prince’s grubber kicks at the post; Thurston’s show-and-go; Bowen’s chip-and-chase; Faifai Loa running full speed and using his excellent swerve; Friend engaging markers with clever darts.

Where It Will Be Won: Execution. The Cowboys seem to have found some of their attacking mojo but they are still struggling to make the most of all of their chances. Meanwhile the Titans haven’t asked enough questions of defences and need to be better – there is a stack of pressure on Scott Prince here.

Remember, Prince is still no certainty and perhaps we will see the late inclusion of someone like Jordan Rankin. Either way, the Titans’ halves need to create more and force the Cowboys’ defence to make decisions – something they are not famous for.

If the Cowboys duo of Thurston and Bowen get cranking, no team can stop them – especially not this Titans team who are quite frankly very lucky not to be 0-4.

The History: Played 7; Cowboys 3, Titans 4. Since their inaugural encounter in 2007 results have gone this way: Cowboys, Titans, Titans, Titans, Cowboys, Cowboys, Titans. Last season the teams split the two meetings, winning their home game, which was the first time the Cowboys had actually beaten the Titans in Townsville. The Titans hold a 2-1 lead at the venue. These games are not traditionally nail-biters, with the average winning margin a hefty 13 points.

Conclusion: They might have been awful against the Knights at home and have been whining a little bit about a tough schedule, but the Cowboys look like the team to beat here.

The Titans have a very welcome return in Friend but with Bird gone and a question mark hanging over Prince it is hard to see them overcoming the Thurston factor.

Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.