Cowboys v Knights
Saturday 8pm (local)
According to the old adage, a champion team always beats a team of champions.
Boasting one of the most talented squads in the country, the Cowboys' expectations were peaking before their Round 1 capitulation to the Roosters, while Newcastle played with sheer determination in their comeback win over the Warriors.
This is a one-sided affair on paper, but the Knights are guaranteed to come out swinging with free-flowing, expansive football indicative of a team with a lot less to lose. The same cannot be said for North Queensland.
We are only in Round 2 but there is a question that will linger for weeks to come up north: when will the Cowboys to find their groove? The league is well aware of what they can do, but it never seems to come until after Origin.
Paul Green has named a largely unchanged side, with former Eel Kelepi Tanginoa to make his club debut in place of veteran Glenn Hall who drops out of the squad.
Not many changes at Newcastle either this week with their only inclusion being veteran fullback Kurt Gidley, who moves to fullback with Sione Mata'utia falling back to 18th man.
Watch Out Cowboys: Knights centre Dane Gagai is primed for a breakout year if his two-try, 222-metre, eight tackle-break performance last week is any indication. The 23-year-old forms an explosive combination with an invigorated Akuila Uate on the right wing in a Newcastle team that likes to make its metres in the non-conventional way. While the Knights received 143-metre contributions from both Kade Snowden and Robbie Rochow last week, most of their damage was done by power runners Gagai, Uate (161 metres) and Joey Leilua (180 metres) out wide. North Queensland were at the Roosters' mercy last week after being overpowered from the inside out; and while Newcastle lacks the talent of Sydney's middle third, they could have the home side at sixes and sevens with the dazzling speed, footwork and finishing ability of those three outside backs.
Watch Out Knights: We will find out rather early just how much Round 1's loss burns the Cowboys. If things start out the same as last week, expect co-captain Johnathan Thurston to say something about it. While coach Green is a man of encouragement, Thurston is no stranger to telling his side exactly how it is. Coincidentally, this was the Cowboys' bounce-back game last season after a slow start when they torched the Knights 28-2 in Round 5.
Key Match-Up: Two match-ups are equally worth noting this week: Michael Morgan v Kurt Gidley and Johnathan Thurston v Beau Scott. Expect Morgan to come out all guns blazing after he was given a jolt in the form of Lachlan Coote's inclusion to 18th man. Morgan has admitted frustration with his own form, so expect the fullback to insert himself in attack any way he can. Meanwhile, Gidley's presence will guarantee the Knights an extra level head as they will look to throw the ball around in search for brilliance from his outside backs.
As for Beau Scott and Johnathan Thurston, this rivalry stems from State of Origin and has been developing over the past couple of years. Scott is the Blues' certified hitman, generally with just one man in the crosshairs: Thurston. As brilliant as the halfback is, Scott has come up trumps more often than not when these two have met recently. Expect no love to be lost on Saturday as JT looks to probe the Knights' line in a fashion that was noticeably absent last weekend.
The History: Played 32; Knights 18, Cowboys 14. Last time out (Round 15) Newcastle got up in a high-scoring Monday night affair 36-28. That win broke Newcastle's seven-game losing streak and provided the springboard for their 8-3 finish to the season after being out of the race by Round 14. Only two of the past 10 encounters between these two have been decided by fewer than 10 points, with deficits ranging from a 28-point blowout of North Queensland to 26 points the other way.
What Are The Odds: Cowboys $1.33, Knights $3.35. Punters like the look of the Knights here, with double the amount of money placed on the visitors.
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Matt Noyen; Sideline Officials – Rick MacFarlane and Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 8pm (AEST)
The Way We See it: Defensive deficiencies are posing a major problem on the Cowboys' right edge and will have coach Green scratching his head during the week. Four of the Roosters' five tries came against the Cowboys' right side last Saturday. Newcastle will come in offering everything they have, so it is up to the Cowboys to lift the defensive intensity a notch or two. Cowboys by six points.