Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys
North Queensland is vying for its best ever winning streak in the 20 years of the club, but they will have to do it without their regular halves and prop pairings.
Origin and injuries – and the combination of the two – are sucking dry the Cowboys’ playing stocks, with the latest Maroons inclusion, five-eighth Michael Morgan, making a last-minute trip to Maroons camp to replace Manly’s Daly Cherry-Evans who suffered an elbow injury on Monday night against the Panthers.
Robert Lui was the man in line to replace halfback Johnathan Thurston, but the 25-year-old went down with a 3-4 week hamstring injury in the Townsville Blackhawks’ 28-point win at the weekend.
Among a host of changes, Cowboys coach Paul Green will throw Ray Thompson into the No. 7 jersey after playing just one NRL game all season – as an interchange hooker against Newcastle in Round 8 – while little-known prop Sam Hoare makes his first NRL start next to Ben Hannant in the front row.
Rory Kostjasyn, Glenn Hall and Kelepi Tanginoa also join the interchange.
Jason Taylor’s men were closer to a win than last week’s double-digit loss against the Knights suggests.
Wests will be without captain Robbie Farah and one of the world’s best props Aaron Woods to NSW Origin duty, with Dene Halatau and Matt Lodge taking their places.
Kyle Lovett starts in the second row, with Jack Buchanan, Delouise Hoeter, Brendan Santi and Joel Luani all included on an extended bench.
Watch Out Tigers: Who knows what the Tigers have to watch out for? Paul Green has Morgan listed at five-eighth and has made no comment since his No. 6 was officially brought into the Maroons’ 17. The most likely scenario is bringing fullback Lachlan Coote into the halves and shifting right winger Matthew Wright to the back, where he has prior experience with the Cowboys. Expect the unexpected.
Coote’s kicking game will come to the fore as the Cowboys look to make it a territory battle. If the inexperienced Cowboys pack fails to match the likes of Martin Taupau, Keith Galloway and Curtis Sironen, Green has a ball-playing option in the middle in the form of lock John Asiata, who has a halves background. The bottom line is that the Cowboys will find it very hard to implement systems when both the halves and forward line are so depleted.
Watch Out Cowboys: Paul Green has preached defence for the last few weeks but still the Cowboys are giving away more points than a top-four team should. The other three sides in the top four – Storm, Dragons and Broncos – all sit in the top four in the points against column, while the Cowboys sit 11th, giving away over 21 per game. The Cowboys defence seems to collapse come Origin time, giving away more than 32 points per game sans their Origin stars over the last four years. In that period, they have also won just one of the eight games.
Another issue that will plague North Queensland this week is the inexperience of the forward line. With Hoare, Spina, Hall and Tanginoa all having limited top-grade minutes this year, there is a question over the speed of the game and how long the Cowboys forwards will last.
Key Match-Up: Luke Brooks & Mitch Moses v Ray Thompson and (presumably) Lachlan Coote. The Tigers halves will surely outshine the Cowboys’ combination that will have just a day or two to train together. If Wests' forwards can win the battle up the middle – which is the likely outcome – Brooks and Moses should have the scoreboard ticking in quick time.
The History: Played 30; Cowboys 14, Tigers 16. Wins have alternated for these two clubs over the last five games. Before that, the Tigers strung together five consecutive victories from 2009 through 2012.
Did You Know: It was a special Saturday night for North Queensland the last time these two sides met. The result was the Cowboys’ biggest ever margin of victory – a whopping 58 points at 1300SMILES Stadium. The 64-6 scoreline was a combination of the Cowboys’ end-of-season form spike, Wests Tigers’ injuries and internal unrest with coach Mick Potter on the way out at Concord.
What Are The Odds: Tigers ($1.55) v Cowboys ($2.45). There are four times as many individual bets on the Cowboys in head to head betting, and nearly four times the amount of money. North Queensland receiving the start in line betting has proven just as popular according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee : Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Gavin Morris. Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Chris Butler. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm
The way we see it: The Tigers will lose some direction and grunt in the absences of hooker Robbie Farah and Aaron Woods, but it pales in comparison to the problems the Cowboys will face this week. Their whole spine – bar Jake Granville – will be either missing or out of place, and this is simply too much to overcome in such a short time on the training track. We say the home team by 10 points.