Cowboys v Warriors
Let's get the really nasty stuff out of the way early: When the Warriors last had a win in Townsville Stacey Jones was the captain, Ali Lauiti'iti and Awen Guttenbeil were the second-rowers and Ivan Cleary the fullback. Yep, Ivan Cleary.
April 6, 2002 will seem like a lifetime ago for those guys and for the Warriors, the eight visits to North Queensland since have brought nothing but pain and suffering, the worst of which was a 52-12 hammering in 2012.
Perhaps if they had started the season in the manner in which they lit up the Auckland Nines fans would have cause for optimism but coach Matt Elliott's admission that their application in the opening two rounds could be questioned should send alarm bells off throughout New Zealand rugby league.
The Warriors won just twice in the opening 10 weeks of the 2013 season and if they wait that long in 2014 before making their customary charge then it is unlikely that Elliott will be the one at the helm when the tide finally turns.
Facing the Dragons at Eden Park last Saturday the Warriors led 12-6 at half-time but two tries to St George Illawarra in the opening five minutes of the second stanza and two more in the final 11 minutes – not to mention a gorgeous Gareth Widdop field goal – and the visitors had piled on 25 unanswered points.
The effort of the Cowboys could hardly be questioned after the opening fortnight of the competition but their execution in attack requires some urgent attention. Despite having more possession than the Broncos, missing far fewer tackles and coming up with more than twice as many offloads, the Cowboys could manage just the two tries, one of which came from a spilled cross-field kick.
Much of the Townsville summer was spent installing defensive systems with enhanced security under new coach Paul Green and a Warriors defence that has conceded 67 points in two games might be the perfect victim for a North Queensland scoring spree.
Warriors brace for back row blitz
Warriors brace for back row blitz
Watch Out Cowboys: They have the Australian front-rowers at their disposal but that doesn't mean the Cowboys won't have a tough time limiting the influence of Warriors prop Ben Matulino.
The Kiwi Test prop was named in the starting team on just six occasions in 2013 but has proven to coach Elliott in just two games thus far that he is far more effective when he doesn't have to cool his heels on the bench for the opening 20 minutes.
He topped all Warriors with 168 metres last week and was a constant threat to the Dragons defence, his footwork at the line enabling him to push through and get his right arm free to create second-phase play for his speed men.
A criticism of the Warriors in the opening two weeks has been that they are playing too laterally rather than letting their big men create space in the middle of the ruck with their trademark charges. If they play more direct on Saturday night with Matulino, Suaia Matagi and Sam Rapira leading the way, Warriors speedsters Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins could create havoc.
Watch Out Warriors: He was outstanding throughout the pre-season and Tariq Sims gave Paul Green plenty of compelling reasons to name him in his starting forward pack this weekend with a dynamic display off the bench last Friday night.
With his side struggling to make regular inroads in the Broncos defence, the injection of Sims breathed new life into the Cowboys attack and on a number of occasions in the closing stages it looked as though he would be the one to rescue the two points for his team.
His sharp right-foot step coming back on an angle is difficult for a tiring defence to contain and he was able to notch a line-break and 127 metres in little more than a half of footy. At one stage in the first half he and Jason Taumalolo were both patrolling the Cowboys' left edge, a frightening proposition for any opposition team.
Having exposed him to two 80-minute hit-outs to start the season, Green has retained Taumalolo in the back row alongside Gavin Cooper with Sims coming in to start at lock. Which means he'll have the choice on which side he pops up on, which spells danger for the Warriors edge defence which could face a rampaging Sims on either side at any moment.
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Plays To Watch: After an up-and-down 2013, James Tamou is getting back to the type of football that saw him catapulted into Test and Origin jerseys and his try assist for Johnathan Thurston last week should send a warning to the Warriors. His unusual, almost sideways runs into the defence enable him to work his body through the line more often than not and he dished a lovely little offload close to the line for Thurston to score. If fullback Michael Morgan can trail Tamou on a regular basis, the Cowboys may find plenty of room up the middle to exploit.
Although they have suffered two disappointing losses, it is clear that the combination between Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins is a trump card for the Warriors. The sheer speed of both men stretches the defence and opens up opportunities either for themselves or their support players.
Where It Will Be Won: By the time these two respective coaches send their troops out on Saturday night, the word 'completion' will be ringing in their players' ears like that annoying song on the radio that gets stuck in your head.
Both the Cowboys and Warriors enjoyed the majority of possession last weekend but with completion rates of 56 (15 from 27) and 53 per cent (16 from 30) respectively, it is little wonder they left the stadium minus the two competition points.
It's the truest guide to any potential winner in the NRL; whoever completes the most number of sets in this game wins the contest.
The History: Played 32; Cowboys 15, Warriors 17. Townsville has been an unhappy hunting ground for the Warriors for more than a decade, coming up short in each of their past eight appearances there at a combined score line of 267-100 (average score line of 33-12). The last clash between these two teams in Townsville saw a 52-12 hiding dished out by the home side but the good news for Warriors fans is that Cowboys hat-trick hero that night, Ashley Graham, has since retired. In the past 10 clashes between the Cowboys and Warriors the ledger is evenly balanced at five apiece with the home side triumphant in all but one game.
What Are The Odds: Punters expect the blow torch will be turned right up on Warriors coach Matt Elliot after this one, with money four to one for the Cowboys, who are now into $1.33 with Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Adam Gee; Sideline Officials – Adam Reid & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Reece Williams.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 9pm EDT.
The Way We See It: With a forecast of 26-degrees at time of kick-off on Saturday night, the heat will be well and truly on the Warriors. Paul Green has endeavoured to build an impenetrable defence in the pre-season but if they win the battle of the ruck early this could be the game where his attacking stars cut loose. There have been some funny results in the first two weeks but it's hard to see anything but a big Cowboys win here. Cowboys by 14 points.
Statistics: Champion Data.