Dragons v Cowboys: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys
WIN Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm

Both the St George Illawarra Dragons and the North Queensland Cowboys are over-achieving in 2017 in different ways. Few tipped the Dragons to be a force in the competition this year and they're sitting at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder, while the Cowboys have been hit hard with injuries but have scraped out four wins from six games. 

Both teams have suffered key injuries in the last two weeks, with the Dragons losing Josh Dugan in Round 5 while the Cowboys lost Johnathan Thurston last week. As for who is the bigger loss, it would have to be Thurston given the Cowboys' already strung-out spine.

The Cowboys have named debutant Corey Jensen on the bench this week, while Blake Leary, who was recently playing for the Townsville Blackhawks and serving drinks before being called up last week, will be starting at hooker.  

Ben Hampton will deputise for Thurston at halfback, while regular fullback Lachlan Coote is also still out with a calf injury. Justin O'Neill also returns at centre for the Cowboys. 

‌Why the Dragons can win: They're leading the competition, and for good reason. Their forwards have dominated up the middle in all of their victories, leaving them third in all run metres after six rounds. This domination has let the likes of Gareth Widdop and Josh McCrone run rampant, and they've scored 163 points, 46 more than the Cowboys. If they can replicate their current form once again on Saturday, there's no reason to expect them to stop scoring points like they have been. The only reason they might score less than their average of 27 per game is the absence of Dugan, but that won't matter if their forwards can roll up the middle like they have been all year.     

Why the Cowboys can win: They may be missing three quarters of their regular spine, including Thurston, but with several players out to prove a point the Cowboys can still be dangerous. Michael Morgan has had a quiet start to the season and will be desperate to have a standout performance, while Ben Hampton will bring speed to the halfback position alongside him. Of course they'll only be able to utilise their smaller men, which will include Justin O'Neill at centre, if their forwards can lay a strong platform. While they only trail the Dragons by 9 metres from all of their runs this season, if they let the Dragons out-muscle them like the Wests Tigers did they'll struggle to get any kind of field position to score points. If they do dominate the field position the return of O'Neill may allow him and partner-in-crime Kyle Feldt to begin scoring points for 2017.    

 


The history: Dragons v Cowboys: Played 28; Dragons 13; Cowboys 15. The Cowboys have a slight edge on the Dragons in this match-up, but haven't beaten them at home since 2015. 

What are the odds: The money for North Queensland dried up from the moment Johnathan Thurston limped off the field last weekend and Sportsbet has now received eight times the dollars for the Dragons in this one. St George Illawarra have even been strongly backed to cover the line, where they're conceding the start. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au

Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Touch judges: Russell Turner and Rohan Best. Review Officials: Steve Chiddy and Like Patten  

Televised: Channel 9 and Fox League – Live from 7:30pm. 

How we see it: The Dragons are in red hot form and will be hard to beat at home, and without Thurston the Cowboys are missing three of their four regular spine players. While the Dragons could be caught out by a Cowboys side without any expectations on it, the visitors are likely to struggle in the points-scoring department, while the Dragons' attack hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. Dragons by 12.