St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys
Winless through the month of June, the Dragons desperately need to breathe some fire back into their campaign before their chances of a top four start slipping away.
They Dragons have gone through both byes and now have a tough run to the season's end which features the likes of Souths (home), Melbourne (away), New Zealand (away) and Brisbane (away).
Since their most dominant performance of the season against Cronulla on May 31 the Dragons have sputtered, with the turning point of their season being the 13-point loss to the Bulldogs after holding a six-point lead with under 20 minutes to go.
North Queensland will be looking to get another streak going after robbing themselves of a perfect dozen wins after a dramatic capitulation to the Sharks, meekly surrendering an 18-point lead.
The Cowboys will be hoping last week's dissapointing defensive showing on their goal line was just an aberration, and regular transmission will resume this week.
Dragons mentor Paul McGregor was a busy man at the selection table this week. Yaw Kiti Glymin makes his NRL debut on the wing, replacing Dylan Farrell. NSW Blues' Josh Dugan and Trent Merrin have been replaced directly by Nathan Green and Jason Nightingale respectively. Hooker Mitch Rein comes back from suspension, dropping Heath L'Estrange to the bench in place of Craig Garvey (18th man). With Joel Thompson and Tyson Frizell out, Will Matthews and Jake Marketo form a new back row. George Rose and Rory O'Brien come onto the bench; and finally Ben Creagh and Mike Cooper swap between lock and prop.
Despite losing double the number of Origin players from his side, Paul Green had it easier this week. Ray Thompson and Robert Lui both come into the side and will line up in the halves. Cameron King drops out for Lui and Rory Kostjasyn goes back to the bench. Ben Hannant and Sam Hoare will start at props in place of Matt Scott and James Tamou, while Scott Bolton makes an early return from injury to fill a spot on the pine.
Watch Out Dragons: The only Cowboy to run over 150 metres last week, Jason Taumalolo terrorised the Sharks in his second stint. He was by far the most active forward with 16 runs (next best was Ben Hannant with 12), and as North Queensland's strike forward without Scott and Tamou, look for him to stamp more authority on this one. The 22-year-old never seems to get tired, playing 64 minutes last week and still looking like busting the line on every carry.
Watch Out Cowboys: It may have been a decade since Benji Marshall carved up the Cowboys in the 2005 Grand Final, but the 30-year-old is still wowing the NRL with vintage form not expected of him in his return to the game. Marshall is still one of the better running halves in the competition and it spells danger for a Cowboys side whose goal-line defence was simply unacceptable last week. Losing Dugan to Origin, expect Marshall to ask more questions of the Cowboys' line this week.
Key Match-Up: Mitch Rein v Jake Granville. With no Johnathan Thurston or Michael Morgan steering the ship, expect Granville to build on last week's great showing. Darting out of dummy-half and burning defenders left and right, Granville ran 60 metres straight up the middle of the field almost untouched in the 13th minute last week. Considering how potent a weapon Granville is out of dummy-half, the seven runs last week needs to look more like 10 this time around. It's not a stretch to say that with Rein last week, the Dragons probably get up against Parramatta. At just 175 centimetres and 85 kilograms, Rein muscles up in defence to rank 14th in the competition for dominant tackles. Averaging over 35 tackles per game at over 96 per cent, he has missed just 18 tackles from 13 games this year.
The History: Played 25; Dragons 12, Cowboys 13. If history has anything to do with Saturday's result, the Dragons look the likelier prospect as wins have come in clumps for both sides over the last decade, and it is simply the Dragons turn to string a few together. In the 14 games since 2005, the Dragons have won three, lost four, won three, lost three, and most recently won 27-24 at Kogarah.
What Are The Odds: Dragons ($1.42) v Cowboys ($2.85). Sportsbet punters are shying away from the Dragons at the short price and placing four times the money on the Cowboys despite the absence of their Origin stars. Cowboys at +7.5 the line has been very well backed. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee. Gavin Reynolds. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and David Ryan. Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm
The Way We See it: So many questions hang over this one. The Dragons need to shake things up, so their myriad of changes may not be a bad thing, while North Queensland's loss may finally have snapped them out of the lull they had been in for over a month. With Robert Lui given his last chance to impress in a Cowboys jersey, expect a blinder from the talented half. We will go with the crowd and say Cowboys by 4.