Cowboys v Titans preview

North Queensland Cowboys v Gold Coast Titans
1300SMILES Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

On paper this is a dead rubber but in reality it is a chance that North Queensland desperately need as they seek a complete 80-minute performance before finals.

Cowboys coach Paul Green described this week as "about putting our game together and making sure all parts are ticked off"; and there is certainly much to work on.

In a performance full of poor fifth-tackle options it took them 79 minutes to register points against the Storm last week, but Green noted an improved defensive effort on the try line.

Two weeks ago it was the polar opposite – their pack dominated and they kicked well, but leaked points close to the line.

Things need to come together fast for a side that some are worrying has peaked too early.

For the Gold Coast, Saturday night signals the end of the line in a season featuring more heartache than an Ed Sheeran album.

From the Daly Cherry-Evans backflip that torpedoed their recruitment strategy to a casualty ward currently housing 10 Titans, the club from Robina will lick their wounds as this year's hard luck story.

In team news, Green welcomes back James Tamou to the Cowboys side after a week-long layoff from a neck concern, which pushes Ben Hannant back to the bench and Ben Spina to 18th man.

Titans coach Neil Henry gets back future leader of the club Ryan James who lines up next to Luke Douglas in the front row, while Matt White and Eddy Pettybourne drop back to the bench. Kalifa Fai Fai Loa is 18th man.

 

Watch Out Cowboys: The Titans' back five all have speed to burn, but have not been able to stretch out as much as they would have liked this year. Headed by right centre James Roberts, they are probably the league's fastest quintet, yet due to turbulence in the halves this year have not received enough quality ball to be more impactful. The Titans are also in fine offloading form, registering 15 last week, and rank second in the category.

Watch Out Titans: The Cowboys' middle has been soft as marshmallow in recent weeks and that doesn't bode well for the Titans on finals' eve. Numbers have dropped significantly for star forward Matt Scott (including a second sub-100 metre performance since being rested in Round 22), sparking fresh concern regarding the prop's fitness. However, Green has named the Test and Origin veteran for this dead rubber. Along with Tamou, lock Jason Taumalolo rounds out North Queensland's forward triumvirate, and along with displaying his acclaimed running power the 22-year-old will be keen to atone for recent defensive lapses that saw him benched against the Storm.

Key Match-Up: Gavin Cooper v Dave Taylor. Here we have two of the most diametrically opposed players of the same position in the NRL. Cooper is a beanpole of a forward with a fantastic motor, and stretches every sinew of his wiry 197-centimetre frame to get through half-holes generated by right-hand man Johnathan Thurston. From a steady and safe 80-minute performer on both sides of the ball to Taylor, who will win man-of-the-match honours with superhuman size and strength one week only to have coach Henry tearing his hair out the next. Cooper is Mr Intangible for the Cowboys, running over seven decoys (fourth in the league) and 14 supports per game (league's best forward), compared with Taylor's two and four respectively. Cooper has also amassed 12 turnover tackles this year compared with Taylor's three, along with 31 tackles per game to Taylor's 19. The pair will be in direct opposition for hopefully the full 80 minutes in the juiciest subplot of the evening, which also serves as Taylor's last NRL game before heading to Catalans Dragons for two years.

The History: Played 15; Cowboys 7, Titans 8. The Titans saw the best and worst of North Queensland last season, with Thurston's memorable on-field spray toward his side in their 13-12 loss at Robina in Round 4 backed up by a 20-point demolition job at 1300SMILES Stadium when the Cowboys were the league's form side in Round 21. Both teams have an equal number of head-to-head wins since 2010.

What Are The Odds: Sportsbet punters were quick to snap up the huge price for Gold Coast. Sportsbet is actually holding more money on the Titans than the Cowboys in head-to-head betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Did You Know: An inscrutable figure on the Gold Coast, Kalifa Fai Fai Loa was equally enigmatic in his three years scoring freak tries under Henry at the Cowboys between 2011 and 2013. Making use of the new cornerpost rules at the time, Fai Fai Loa was one of the pioneers of the 'superman' try. But from Superman to Skater Boy, he is still one of the more entertaining tryscorers in the league, having bagged a brace twice in the last three weeks. Listed at 18th man, it would be fitting for the 25-year-old to make the 17 and touch down for a try on familiar soil. 

Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Jason Walsh & Belinda Sleeman; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell & Luke Phillips.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm

The Way We See It: The Cowboys will be determined to prove a point to both themselves and the rugby league public, while the Gold Coast have finally stumbled to the finish line of a forgettable season. Nevertheless, they will want to strike while the iron is hot after two consecutive wins, but we see this as entirely one-way traffic. Cowboys by 20.