Schick Hydro Preview: North Queensland Cowboys v Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
Will he or won't he rest some of his State of Origin superstars?
Cowboys coach Paul Green will undoubtedly flirt with the idea of giving rest to some of his stars including aging Queensland warriors Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, while in the wake of Origin II it has been revealed that five-eighth Michael Morgan has suffered a knee injury that will sideline him for a month.
With a Cowboys bye the week of Origin III, Green has the option to take a raincheck on resting his rep stars this week.
It could be argued that they would be fine regardless of whether Thurston and/or Scott suit up, such is Manly's current form line, but the Silvertails are definitely dangerous on their day.
Coach Trent Barrett moved his charges around last week, placing No.10 Martin Taupau in the second row, winger Matthew Wright on the bench, back-rower Lewis Brown into the centres, No.19 Pita Godinet at five-eighth and interchange prop Josh Starling into the starting 13. It seemed to cause defensive headaches all over the park as the Titans danced in, around and through Manly's line for an easy 30 points that could have been more.
Barrett may want to keep a steadier roster this week as they face the very best attacking team in the Telstra Premiership (the Cowboys average 26 points per game). He gets halfback Daly Cherry-Evans back from a syndesmosis injury, while Dylan Walker returns from Origin camp. Other ins include Addin Fonua-Blake and Nathan Green, while Matt Parcell (hamstring), Godinet and Liam Knight are the outs.
The Cowboys go in unchanged for now, with every chance some of the Queensland representatives might sit this one out.
Watch out Cowboys: They ran a faultless backline movement to the right last week, but lately the Sea Eagles' best attack seems to come from kicks. They are the fourth-lowest scoring team in the competition and find their points off fortuitous bounces and ad-lib play, rather than structure. While the Cowboys embrace structure on both sides of the ball – case in point keeping the high-scoring Brisbane to an average of 19.5 and Cronulla 13.5 – they can be found out at times in broken play and off-the-cuff scenarios. But this is simply nit-picking; they still let through the third-fewest points and probably shouldn't leak any more than two tries here against Manly's disjointed attack.
Watch out Sea Eagles: There is no more structured team in the competition than the Cowboys. Each set is meticulously pieced together with continuous and effective communication, high skill level and high application to the task at hand. If Gold Coast's set plays troubled them last Monday, Manly might be in for a tough night at the office. Fresh off his most dominant Origin game in years Thurston is in sparkling form, and after coasting through the first couple of months is snapping at the heels of Dally M leaders Josh Hodgson, Cooper Cronk and Corey Norman – just three points behind.
Key match-up: Jake Granville v Apisai Koroisau. Both dummy-halves are electric and can roll their team up the field quicker than you can blink. All Koroisau needs is a sliver of room and he's into the backfield, ready for Cherry-Evans to work his magic on the ensuing play. Both Cowboys props were herculean in their Origin follow-up game against Newcastle, but the extra two days of rest before the club game this time around will undoubtedly have an impact on Scott and Tamou. Attacking these two is probably Koroisau's best bet, so it is the Cowboys' job to get to the zippy No. 9 before he gets to them. Expect the home side's middle men to hone in. Meanwhile, Granville ran the ball five times in his 53 minutes against Manly last time out, and looked dangerous whenever he did.
The history: Played 26; Cowboys 11, Sea Eagles 15. From 'The Hand of Foran' to missed obstruction calls, these two clubs certainly have history. Considering how dominant the Silvertails have been over the two decades of North Queensland's existence, it is somewhat surprising to see the head-to-head record relatively even. From 2011 to 2014 the Sea Eagles won six straight, followed by a Cowboys four-game streak that is still unbeaten.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are backing the Cowboys every way they possibly can. From throwing them into their multis, to winning 13-plus and even covering the line, North Queensland are easily the best-backed side of the entire round. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee: Chris Butler; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Clayton Sharpe; Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Ben Galea; Senior RO: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7pm.
The way we see it: This will simply be too much for the visitors. North Queensland would have inflicted a club record winning margin over Manly when they played in Round 9 if not for a large-scale mental switch-off, but that simply won't happen in front of their home faithful. They will put the foot down and keep it down on Monday. Cowboys by 24.