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Cowboys v Storm: Slater out for Storm; Scott named

No doubt still smarting over the controversy-charged loss to Manly, the Storm will gladly welcome back skipper Cameron Smith after he served a week's suspension. That's great news for footy fans who can't get enough of the Cam Smith-Johnathan Thurston mutual admiration society.

Unfortunately the Cowboys aren't travelling as well as they normally might and it's no top-of-the-table showdown. But Smith and JT aren't getting any younger and you never know when you might be seeing them on the same field for the last time.

The Storm are one of four teams with a 6-5 record, but they have lost two of their past three and blew an opportunity to prove they can function without Smith.

North Queensland were on the cusp of a confidence-boosting victory last week against Souths, only to lose on an after-the-siren penalty goal and slump to 3-8 for the season. They haven't always looked enthusiastic in every game this season but they seemed to make progress in that area last week.

The Cows better be ready this week with the reigning premiers coming to town.

This is the last week for players to impress for Origin selection andthere's more than a few candidates lining up in this clash.

Cowboys v Storm - Round 12

Key match-up: Coming off one of his best performances of the season last week against the Rabbitohs, Cowboys back-rower Coen Hess has to be similarly effective against the impressive Storm pack. If Hess can keep Felise Kaufusi and some of Melbourne's other forwards quiet the Cowboys can spring an upset.

For the Cowboys to win: Michael Morgan's move to fullback seemed to benefit him and his teammates, providing the Cowboys with a different dimension at the back. It might become a semi-permanent strategy for coach Paul Green as he looks for ways to get his team firing on all cylinders. The Cowboys also hope Jake Granville doesn't dwell on last week's disappointment of conceding a costly last-second penalty.

For the Storm to win: They failed last week's test of trying to win without suspended captain Cameron Smith and now the Storm are under pressure to get their season moving again after losses in two of their past three games. Smith's return this week is an immeasurable boost and coach Craig Bellamy will be hoping for a big improvement in his team's attack, which has been noticeably off since a big round eight road win over the Broncos.

Cowboys stat attack: Centre Justin O'Neill will be aiming for a big game in his 150th NRL appearance. The 27-year-old started his career with the Melbourne Storm and has won premierships with both clubs.

Storm stat attack: Melbourne will be keen to make sure forwards Dale Finucane and Sam Kasiano remember their 150th games for the right reasons. The pair were former teammates at the Bulldogs.

And another thing: The Storm have owned the Cowboys in recent years, winning their past seven meetings. No-one would've predicted the Cowboys would be second-last on the ladder with just three wins after 11 rounds. If they lose this game it's hard to see how them playing in the finals, which would rank them among the biggest underachievers of the past 20 years.

North Queensland Cowboys v Melbourne Storm, Friday 7.55pm at 1300Smiles Stadium

Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Ben Hampton, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange: 14 Enari Tuala, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 17 Francis Molo

North Queensland are 1-17, with Te Maire Martin again the five-eighth and Michael Morgan at fullback. Matt Scott has been named despite suffering a knee injury last week. Lachlan Coote and Sam Hoare were dropped from the squad an hour prior to kick-off, while Ethan Lowe and Javid Bowen were cut on Thursday night.

Storm: 18 Jahrome Hughes, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Young Tonumaipea, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Ryley Jacks, 15 Tim Glasby, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Joe Stimson, 13 Dale Finucane

Interchange: 8 Jesse Bromwich, 14 Brandon Smith, 16 Kenny Bromwich, 17 Sam Kasiano

Billy Slater won't face the Cowboys after being ruled out 24 hours prior to kick-off due to hamstring tightness. Jahrome Hughes will start at fullback. Jesse Bromwich (knee) finally returns and will come off the bench, with Tim Glasby the preferred option to start. Young Tonumaipea replaces the suspended Curtis Scott in the centres while skipper Cameron Smith is back from a one-week suspension. Joe Stimson starts in the back row, with Sam Kasiano back from suspension on the bench. Patrick Kaufusi and Justin Olam were omitted an hour before kick-off, while Christan Welch was cut on Thursday night.

Head-to-head: Played 37; Storm 27 wins, Cowboys 10 wins
Matches at venue: Played 19; Storm 13 wins, Cowboys 6 wins
2017 results: Storm won 23-22 at AAMI Park in round 15; Storm won 26-8 at 1300Smiles Stadium in round 22; Storm won 34-6 in the NRL Grand Final at ANZ Stadium
Points per game: Cowboys 16.5; Storm 23.5
Points conceded per game: Cowboys 22; Storm 16.6
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League

Steve Turner's prediction: The Cowboys were very unlucky not to win last weekend and it wasn't because of a lack of effort. I liked Michael Morgan at fullback, but it is a desperate time of year with Origin just around the corner and with only three wins on the board, Paul Green and his men need to start winning. They do have the side and the players to climb the ladder and make an impact. The Storm were terrible last weekend. Their discipline with and without the ball let them down and it was probably one of the worse second halves of football I have seen from the club. Cameron Smith will return and I do know they are a club who have very high standards. The Storm will bounce back quickly.

Tip: Storm by 6

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