Cowboys v Wests Tigers
Wests Tigers must put their off-field dramas to bed as they travel north on a short turnaround in the hope of saving their 2014 campaign against a rampaging Cowboys outfit on a season-best win streak.
All things considered, a tip of the cap needs to go to Mick Potter. Regardless of his rumoured communication problems with players behind the scenes, there is no doubting his delivery with headline-hungry journalists present in the all-out feeding frenzies that are post-match press conferences. For the past few weeks, he has copped a barrage of hard questions, given dignified answers and has politely asked to move on once he felt enough was enough.
If only his team could keep that kind of composure on the footy field.
Their Jekyll-and-Hyde season is experiencing a lot of Hyde right now, with their last loss, a 28-6 mauling at Campbelltown on Monday night against Melbourne, making it four losses from their past five and their next three weeks featuring the likes of North Queensland (away), Sydney Roosters (home) and the Bulldogs (away).
If there is any coach who has been ‘fantastic’ one week and ‘on the chopping block’ the next, it is poor Mick Potter. They’ve won away games by up to 30 points, knocked Manly, Souths and the Bulldogs off their perches; yet when they lose, it gets ugly. And what do the Cowboys like to do at home? They like to win, and win handsomely. Coming off their 20-point drubbing of the Gold Coast last week, North Queensland will look to add to that record after already registering 20+ point beat-downs of Sydney, Melbourne, Parramatta and Newcastle at 1300SMILES Stadium this year. There are indeed ominous signs for the Tigers, but if the up-and-down pattern of NRL competition in 2014 is anything to go by, things are about to change for the better at Concord.
First to the punch in team selections this week was the Cowboys, naming an unchanged line-up from Saturday’s win with the addition of prop John Asiata on an extended bench.
For the Tigers, Luke Brooks has been named to return despite Potter indicating his doubts post-game on Monday. As a result, Curtis Sironen returns to his favoured second-row position, with newly re-signed Sitaleki Akauola suspended for a week. Bodene Thompson is also out suspended after a dangerous contact charge for a shot on Jesse Bromwich.
Watch Out Cowboys: The nature of a Jekyll-and-Hyde club is that they can do anything at any time, so the Cowboys need to be ready to go from the first whistle, as was not the case against the Gold Coast last time out. It took them half an hour to register points, and we all know how potent the Tigers' attack can be when they get on a roll. After failing to show up for Monday’s post-match press conference, look for a refocused response from captain Robbie Farah as he looks to further prove his own leadership credentials at club level.
We will go so far as to say that the Tigers’ hopes of causing an upset rest almost completely on the shoulders of Farah; even more so if halfback Luke Brooks is deemed unfit to play. The Tigers are most dangerous when Farah is exploring out of dummy-half, leading the league considerably in dummy-half runs. Another statistic they top the competition in is kick return metres conceded – allowing their opponents just 125 metres per game. Potter has his men playing the territorial game by frequently finding touch and the combination of Farah’s kicking ability and knack for finding separation out of dummy-half is a large reason for this.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: People should start getting used to the name Jason Taumalolo, or JT3 to the NQ crowd. He has frankly been playing out of his skin recently, breaking nine tackles in just 20 possessions last time out against an admirable Titans pack and running for 331 metres over the past two weeks. He also dabbles over on the left edge in tandem with Gavin Cooper, so the frail right edge that handed Marika Koroibete a brace in just five minutes on Monday needs to stay intact.
Without Brooks, the Tigers’ attack looked all at sea against the Storm on Monday night. Their only try, to second-rower turned winger Sitaleki Akauola, came when they burst out of the blocks in an energetic showing that lasted all of 10 minutes. But for the final 70 minutes, they were largely uncompetitive against the newly rendered ‘Purple Wall’ that has conceded just 8.5 points per game in their last four outings. If they wanted a less arduous task this week, they sure won’t get it.
Plays To Watch: If the Tigers play with the same lack of fluidity shown over the past two weeks, their kicking game becomes extra important. Two of the game’s most tactical kickers will be on display Saturday in Farah and Thurston, and if you like that kind of thing you are bound to enjoy this one. Three of the Cowboys’ five tries came from kicks last weekend and expect more of the same with Green trying to groom Tautau Moga into the wing position. Regardless of whether Moga remains at centre in attack and winger in defence (as was the case last week), the Cowboys have an untapped resource over on the right side.
Where It Will Be Won: Completions. Put simply, the Tigers absolutely must hold on to the ball if they want to build any kind of pressure this week. They have completed 49 from 71 attacking sets in their past two games (69 per cent), including a bevy of poor fifth-tackle options – something captain Robbie Farah needs to take charge of if halfback Brooks does not recover in time.
What Are The Odds: The Cowboys have shortened from $1.33 to $1.15 with Sportsbet.com.au on the back of the Tigers' loss to Melbourne, as well as their crippling injury toll. There’s no money for Wests, even with 14.5 start at the line. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
The History: Played 29; Cowboys 16, Wests Tigers 13. Quite an even history, but it is one the Tigers have had the better of in the last ten outings, registering seven wins to the Cowboys three, but the one that really mattered was October 2, 2005. That day will never be forgotten by North Queenslanders and will burn nonstop until such time as they lift the Provan-Summons trophy. They were flat-out bullied up the middle that day and the class of Benji Marshall shone on the game’s biggest stage. A lot has changed since then, and if anyone is going to do the bullying this time, it will be the home side.
Match Officials: Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Nick Beashel & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: The script reads the same for North Queensland this week: get revenge on an under-fire side that have already beaten them earlier this season. There is not much better motivation for a club than to inflict the final blow on a team jostling them for position in the finals race, so the Cowboys should gap their opponent in the same kind of fashion they did seven days prior.