Magic number facing desperate Titans
That's the magic number that the Gold Coast Titans must keep the Cowboys to on Saturday night if they are to be any chance of upsetting North Queensland and booking their place in the Telstra Premiership Finals Series.
In the past three seasons the trip to Townsville has become the most intimidating in the competition with the Cowboys registering 35 wins from their past 41 games at 1300SMILES Stadium stretching back to Round 21, 2013.
In their past 41 games at AAMI Park the Storm have been defeated on 12 occasions making the Cowboys' home ground the most difficult for opposing teams to enjoy success in the premiership.
Not only are the Cowboys hard to beat at home but they more often than not do it in commanding fashion. Their overall record over those past 41 games is an average of 29 points scored and 14 conceded and since Round 26 last year they have scored more than 30 points in 10 of their 13 games and kept the opposition scoreless on four occasions.
But if the number-crunching can give the Titans any hope it is in the number 18.
In each of their past six losses at home the Cowboys have been kept to 18 points or less and they have lost only once since Round 2, 2011 when they have scored 20 or more points in a game.
On the eight occasions that the Titans have defeated the Cowboys in their 16 meetings they have conceded 20 points just once but will have to be much better in the middle defensively this week to contain a powerful Cowboys forward pack.
The Titans have conceded more than 20 points just once in their past seven games this season and centre Josh Hoffman said it will be up to the men in the middle to lay the platform on Saturday night.
"Matching their forwards in the middle will be a crucial one for us because we were a bit loose through the middle and got rolled a bit there from the Panthers," Hoffman said.
"If we can tighten that up and match them big boys in the middle that will give us an opportunity.
"We know this is a crucial game for us. It would have been nice to get one up over the Panthers but it was just unfortunate, that's the way that footy is.
"Tough one up there against a strong side and being up against them and their home crowd is going to be pretty tough.
"It is pretty daunting. This could be our last game but we're not thinking about that too much."
Before joining the Titans as an assistant coach under John Cartwright in 2014 Neil Henry coached the Cowboys in 124 NRL games between 2009 and 2013 and is well aware that the key to success up north is to keep the home side to less than 20 points.
"We've been OK in recent weeks in our targets of conceding points, we've been around that 15-18 a game and we need to keep them under 20 and back ourselves to score points," Henry said.
"We have that ability. I think we went into our shell a little bit in that first half last week and we didn't throw the ball around enough.
"At the back-end of my stint there it became a place where the boys just loved playing there. Very parochial crowd and quite an open atmosphere with the grass banks at either end, it's a good ground to watch footy at.
"The [Cowboys players] pride themselves on representing their region and a lot of fans travel from regional areas to come and watch the games.
"It has become a bit of a fortress as their squad's become stronger and they've played very consistent footy."
Hoffman personally has three wins from seven previous visits to Townsville and said the combination of the North Queensland humidity and a hostile home crowd makes it a challenging place for opposition teams.
Despite the odds that are stacked against them, the experienced 28-year-old sees the all-Queensland showdown as a chance for the Titans to stamp their finals credentials.
"This is a game where we really want to make sure that we can stamp our mark in the top eight," he said.
"We know that a lot's riding on this game and if we lose then we've got to wait for other results. If things pan out our way and we get another chance then so be it.
"If we do everything right this week at training and prepare ourselves physically and mentally hopefully we give ourselves a chance against a strong team.
"They've got a very vocal crowd and the Cowboys ride on that. They've got a big fan base up there and with their players, everyone's going to be playing off the back of Thurston and seeing what he does.
"If we can try and minimise the little opportunity he has in the game then we give ourselves a good chance."