New Zealand Warriors v North Queensland Cowboys
Mount Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZT)
As the Cowboys set their sights on a maiden minor premiership the Warriors aim to rescue something from a season which promised so much but ultimately looks set to deliver so little.
Following back-to-back losses to the Sharks and Rabbitohs nothing but victory will do for North Queensland this Saturday night at Mount Smart Stadium, particularly if they are to keep alive their hopes of edging out the Broncos and Roosters for the top spot.
They have just one change for the trip to Auckland, with Coen Hess set to make his NRL debut from the bench and John Asiata starting in the place of the injured Gavin Cooper.
The hosts on the other hand have a number of changes for the second week in a row, having lost even more experience with Sam Rapira copping a one-game suspension for a dangerous throw in last week's 24-10 loss to the Panthers.
Rookie Albert Vete starts in his place, while Bodene Thompson comes back into the squad via the bench.
In the back row Raymond Faitala-Mariner drops back to the NSW Cup, with Sione Lousi starting in the No.11 jersey.
Watch out Warriors: Last week the Warriors faced a poor quality Panthers team and still hardly managed to fire a shot. The Kiwi team were allowed to run for over 1600 metres, get away 17 offloads and were up against an opponent who missed 39 tackles on the night, yet apart from a three-minute patch where they scored all 10 of their points Andrew McFadden's men had little to show for it.
Mount Smart Stadium has in the past been a venue teams hated to visit, with the Warriors always being that little bit harder to beat there. That is simply not the case in 2015, with the Kiwi side winning just five games at their home ground so far. If they lose to the Cowboys on Saturday night it will be their worst home record since season 2012.
Watch out Cowboys: The loss of Gavin Cooper to injury is a big one for the Cowboys, not only because of his big individual numbers but also the way he impacts Johnathan Thurston's game. Out on the left edge Cooper has run for over 100 metres in all but three matches this year, while never making fewer than 20 tackles. But it's his role as Thurston's bodyguard that North Queensland will likely miss most, and it remains to be seen if it will affect the superstar playmaker on Saturday.
This week the Cowboys face a Warriors team who have little left to play for in 2015, so expect the unexpected. Despite their horrible record over the last month the Warriors still have plenty of x-factor in their 17, and with the stress of trying to qualify for the finals now pretty much gone they may find some form again with a return to a more free-flowing style.
Key Match-Up: Jacob Lillyman v Matthew Scott. Former teammates at club level and current teammates in the State of Origin arena, Lillyman and Scott will go head-to-head this weekend in a battle of Queensland grunt. Averaging 137 run metres and 29 tackles per game in 2015 Scott has been a standout for the Cowboys, while Lillyman is now the only fit veteran prop remaining on the Warriors' roster. How he performs against both Scott and James Tamou will be vital to the outcome of the game.
The History: Played 34; Warriors 18, Cowboys 16. The recent head-to-head record is as close as the overall history, with the Warriors edging the Cowboys out with three wins in their last five meetings. In Auckland the North Queensland side haven’t tasted victory since 2009.
What Are The Odds: The Cowboys have been the best backed team in the entire round with Sportsbet, with 10 times the dollars placed on the North Queenslanders to defeat the Warriors in this one. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Did You Know: In matches played at home against the Cowboys, the Warriors have their best record against any of the other 15 clubs, boasting 13 wins and five losses in 18 matches. Of the last eight meetings in Auckland since 2006 the Kiwi side have lost only once.
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Adam Devcich. Touch Judges: Rick MacFarlane and Kena Waikai. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Sky Sports - Live from 7.30pm NZT. Fox Sports - Live from 5.30pm AEST.
The Way We See It: While their last two showings haven't been overly impressive, the Cowboys are a quality team who ooze class and attacking ability. A team like the Warriors, who are defensively weak and critically low on experience, shouldn't be too tough to get around, provided North Queensland can play somewhere near their best. Cowboys by 14.