Knights v Cowboys
The current mood of Knights fans has reached levels not seen since their wooden-spoon capturing run in 2005. It's been nine years since Novocastrians stooped to such points of sadness when they kicked off the season with 13-straight losses.
While they went on to be the most successful last placed team on record (whether it's something to brag about or not is arguable) the Knights are looking likely at the moment to go one worse.
It's been seven long games of football since the Knights last won a game and their chances of securing a finals berth has already become a mathematical mess of probability. With eleven losses to their name in 2014, including a 28-2 loss to the Cowboys in Round 5, the Knights will be looking to prevent such things happening again.
Newcastle can take great solace in the fact that the Cowboys haven't won away from home since Round 25 last year – a whole 295 days ago by the time this game kicks off on Monday. This fixture is shaping to be one where a losing streak is broken. Knowing the luck of both sides, it will probably be a draw.
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The Cowboys will have to snap their losing record away from home quick smart if they're going to make inroads in the competition this season. Sitting at ninth, this game will prove to be a big one in the context of North Queensland's season.
In team changes, Darius Boyd has been named to return from Queensland duty in a move which will see Kurt Gidley shift back to hooker and Adam Clydsdale back to the bench. NSW hit man Beau Scott has also been named. Chris Houston drops back to the bench with Clint Newtown 18th man, while Joey Leilua will returns from the throat injury that saw him miss last weekend's loss to the Roosters. James McManus moves back to the wing at the expense of Jake Mamo.
For the Cowboys, Tariq Sims returns from suspension pushing Jason Taumalolo back to the bench and John Asiata out of the team in the only change to the North Queensland side that took on the Eels in Round 13. North Queensland's Origin quartet have been named though Brent Tate and Matt Scott will not take their place having suffered injuries in Origin II.
Watch Out Knights: The platform built by any pack of forwards is always essential in rugby league nowadays and the lack of metres from the Knights’ big men is testament to this. Last weekend against the Roosters, the Knights starting scrum-packers produced only 313 metres. Compare this to the Cowboys’ last start against the Eels where their pack pushed for 520 metres in a losing effort and it shows why the Knights are struggling. Fun fact: Against the Eels, Matt Scott made more metres than Willie Mason, Adam Clydsdale and David Fa'alogo combined against the Roosters.
Michael Morgan almost did enough to secure a spot in the humongous Queensland squad last week off the back of his sensational form against the Eels in Round 13. Morgan ran for 183 metres, broke six tackles and had a hand in two of his team's tries before scoring one himself in the dying stages of the game. Paul Green’s decision to move the usual halfback to the No. 1 jersey following the season-ending knee injury to Lachlan Coote can be considered a masterstroke.
Watch Out Cowboys: The Cowboys’ well-documented ill-fated run of form away from home is something to be wary of. North Queensland have lost all of their (six) games on the road this season yet only one at fortress 1300SMILES Stadium. Adding further pressure on the Cowboys is the fact that Scott, Thurston, Tamou and Tate will be backing up from a Wednesday night showdown with the Blues. While they did well against a Storm side missing Cronk and Slater after Origin I, this will be a whole new challenge in Newcastle on Monday.
The desperation stakes have risen in the Hunter. Their season is on the line. Now dead last, the Knights have no other choice but to lift. With Scott, Boyd and Leilua seemingly returning for the Knights they will be better off, but will it be enough? Adding to the mystery of where the Knights are exactly going wrong in their miserable season is the fact that they have recorded the third fewest errors in the competition.
Plays To Watch: It happened within the first five minutes against the Roosters in a blink-and-miss moment when Kurt Gidley saw his opportunity and went for it. Mere metres out from the try-line and with Shaun Kenny-Dowall struggling to get back behind the referee, Gidley scooted down the short-side to get himself one-on-one with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. While it didn't work that time around, it's a handy play to have in your arsenal with the game on the line.
As stated, Michael Morgan is proving to be an extra set of reliable hands for Thurston and co. at the Cowboys. A testament to this was a brilliant play he put on against the Eels. Looking like he was about to have a crack at the try-line, Morgan stepped out towards the left edge before firing a 30 metre two man cut-out pass to the waiting arms of Antonio Winterstein who claimed four points. Knights wingers beware.
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Where It Will Be Won: If ever there was a list produced of buzzwords used by rugby league types, 'execution' would be leading the charge. The Knights have certainly struggled to execute this season with only two wins to their name and the third fewest amount of tries in the competition. Likewise, the Cowboys have been guilty of not executing at times, especially away from home. While they have scored the sixth most tries with 49 they have made 24 more errors than the Knights.
The History: Played 31; Knights 17, Cowboys 14. It doesn't get better for the Knights when you look back at their recent history against the Cowboys. The Townsville-based club have won five of their past six encounters against the Knights including a 28-2 destruction in Round 5 earlier this season. The Knights’ lone win amongst these losses came at Hunter Stadium in Round 3 last year where they dominated their opponents, winning 34-6. Adding to the positiveness of this win is that it too was played on a Monday night.
What Are The Odds: More than twice the number of bets taken on the Cowboys with Sportsbet.com.au, but only slightly more on them dollar-wise compared to the home side. Newcastle were $2.20 into $2.16, Cowboys $1.88 into $1.70.
Match Officials: Referee – Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee – Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dave Munro; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live: 7:00pm.
The Way We See It: This game will see a team on a seven-game losing streak taking on a team that hasn't won in their last six fixtures away from Townsville. One streak lives and we believe it will be a desperate Knights outfit, who surely have to lift at some point, that will sneak away from the game with the two points in the closest circumstances imaginable. Knights by two.