North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors
The transformation is complete. It has taken the Cowboys just three games to go from the league's doldrums to a dominant 30-12 victory over the reigning premiers. While North Queensland isn't yet in the top eight they are playing the league's best football and will look to keep it rolling this Saturday in Johnathan Thurston's 250th NRL game.
The Warriors, also at a 3-3 win/loss record, are yet to find their best footy amidst a few injury concerns, and are managing a change-up in the roles between halves Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend – who is now dominating the kicking game.
Both coaches Paul Green and Andrew McFadden have picked unchanged sides after last start wins, with Raymond Faitala-Mariner named as 18th man for New Zealand.
Watch Out Cowboys: Ben Hannant said it best last week in the NRL.com Player Poll. The "short stocky types" like Konrad Hurrell are an absolute nightmare to bring down. Well bad news, Cowboys, the Warriors production line has cranked out another in centre Solomone Kata. Kata fears no-one. He showed at the weekend just why he can be one of the league's most dominant outside backs with a 155-metre performance against Wests Tigers. At 97 kilograms his brute strength and pace off the mark cannot be matched by any Cowboy, so look out if he gets clean ball on the outside.
Watch Out Warriors: The Cowboys have kicked their attacking game into gear on the back of two straight 30-point performances against two of the better defensive sides in the competition in Penrith and South Sydney. Thurston is making all of the headlines but as good as the multiple Dally M winner is, he admits that his affect is minimal without the strength of his forwards, namely Matt Scott and Jason Taumalolo. The two have been wreaking havoc up the middle over the past three weeks; Scott has averaged 178 metres while Taumalolo has now claimed a place in the league's 'elite' bracket with an average of 211 metres over that time.
Key Match-Up: Johnathan Thurston v Shaun Johnson. Thurston looks in career-best touch over the past three weeks and is primed to snatch back the Golden Boot award that Johnson took from him in December last year. Thurston is second in the league behind Matt Moylan for try and line-break assists. The Kiwi halfback, on the other hand, is not having the same success as in 2014, with almost 10 less run metres per game despite taking the line on more than last season. He is also missing 3.2 tackles per game compared with 2.6 last season, and has only registered one try assist in 2015.
The History: Played 33; Cowboys 15, Warriors 18. Over the past decade the home team has won every game, with the exceptions being a NZ win at Townsville in Round 3 last year and a Cowboys win at Auckland in 2009. The Warriors have won four of the last five games between the two.
What Are The Odds: Cowboys ($1.36) v Warriors ($3.15). Before the Cowboys knocked off the Bunnies, 75 per cent of the money was with the Warriors in this one, but since Monday night, Sportsbet has reported a steady stream of support for the Cowboys. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins. Touch Judges: Michael Wise and David Ryan. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 5.30pm.
The Way We See it: The Cowboys come back home to Townsville in red-hot form and have the added motivation of avenging the loss of Round 3 last season. New Zealand's best chance is through early scoreboard pressure, as the Cowboys have been taking the best part of the first half to really kick into gear. But when they do, it has been near impossible to stop of late. Cowboys by 12.