Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys
There may be no Josh Dugan or Johnathan Thurston around to steal the show for their respective teams, but there is still no shortage of talent for either side with two important competition points up for grabs.
North Queensland will be aiming to keep the minor premiership in close sight, while a win for the Dragons will keep them locked in a four-way battle for eighth position on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
For the Red V, Jason Nightingale will shift to fullback and Kurt Mann will come on to the wing in the absence of Dugan.
Joel Thompson also returns from suspension and replaces Origin-bound Tyson Frizell in the back row while Benji Marshall (hamstring) has been named at halfback.
Jahrome Hughes and Ray Thompson have been named to replace Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan in the halves for North Queensland.
Javid Bowen, Coen Hess and Rory Kostjasyn will also feature with James Tamou, Matt Scott and Justin O'Neill all headed to Origin I next Wednesday.
Watch out Dragons: Hughes will end a three-year NRL hiatus when he runs out with the No. 6 on his back for the Cowboys on Saturday night. The 21-year-old will be out to prove he's no one-game wonder and is likely to shift to fullback with Lachlan Coote partnering Ray Thompson in the halves. The former Titan will look to be as influential as he has been for Intrust Super Cup's table-topping outfit Townsville Blackhawks.
Watch out Cowboys: Benji Marshall's troublesome hamstring sees him return against the Cowboys for the second time this year. The off-contract Marshall will be hoping to kick it up a notch for the Dragons upon his return by making an example of his Origin-depleted opposition.
Key Match-Up: Gareth Widdop v Lachlan Coote – Widdop and Coote will be the main attacking weapons for their respective sides. Widdop has shouldered most of the Dragons' playmaking duties with Marshall in and out of the side this year. Opposite him will be Coote. Even though the Cowboys' halves Morgan and Thurston are in the top three for try assists competition-wide, Coote's still produced seven of his own (equal-13th in NRL) and will be the man responsible for North Queensland's fortunes.
The History: Played 27; Dragons 12, Cowboys 15. These two played two months ago with the Cowboys taking home the points in a 36-0 win. Coincidentally the last time they opposed one another in Wollongong (Round 17, 2015) each side were missing Origin players too. The Cowboys again emerged victors in that instance.
What are the Odds: The money is running two to one in favour of the understrength Cowboys. Lachlan Coote is the best backed to score the first try ahead of Antonio Winterstein. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials: Jason Walsh and Rohan Best.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live Coverage from 7pm.
The way we see it: The Cowboys may have come away from WIN Stadium last year with two competition points. But in reality the Dragons were injury-struck and missing more than just their Blues representatives Dugan and Trent Merrin. With almost everyone in their regular 17 fighting fit – bar Jack de Belin and Ben Creagh – and if they're serious about their season then the Dragons win by eight points.