Cowboys v Dragons: Jake Clifford to debut; Frizell, Nene out
A massive danger game for the Dragons after their ordinary performance in last week's shock home loss to the Wests Tigers.
It's hard to put a finger on exactly why the Dragons aren't humming along as smoothly as they were in the first half of the season but last week showed they might be having a few late-season wobbles.
Maybe they peaked too early, maybe it's the rigours of the Origin period or maybe the competition has simply caught up. Whatever it is, the Dragons need to re-focus and re-energise or will soon find themselves out of the top four.
The Cowboys were right in the game last week against Canberra but it became obvious one team had more to play for over the final 20 minutes and the Raiders ran away with it.
If they can put it together for 80 minutes this is a very winnable game for the Cows.
Key match-up: If the Dragons boast the best back-row in the NRL, the Cowboys don't rank far behind - at least on paper. The Cows haven't got the wins this season but back-rowers Gavin Cooper, Jason Taumalolo and Coen Hess should be relishing their clash with NSW Origin stars Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin.
For the Cowboys to win: Johnathan Thurston is a student of the game and will let his teammates know the Dragons aren't playing like a top-four team and might be starting to second-guess themselves. The Cows must have one killer 80-minute performance in them this season. This could be the week.
For the Dragons to win: They're not playing badly but they're not playing well, and that's not going to cut it at this end of the season. They know they have all the tools and a formula for success, but the Dragons need to rediscover the ruthlessness that had many pundits thinking they were a lock for the minor premiership.
Cowboys Stat Attack: North Queensland have had the wood over St George Illawarra in recent times, with the Dragons winless in Townsville since 2005 and Kane Linnett scoring six tries in his past seven games against the Red V.
Dragons Stat Attack: One of the keys to St George Illawarra's success in 2018 has been a simple one – they've simply had the ball more than any other team. The Dragons lead the league in possession percentage but an ordinary 66% completion rate against the Tigers cost them dearly last week. Hold onto the ball and they should be good enough to get the win.
And another thing: Offensive execution will be a major focus for both teams after poor handling and carelessness contributed largely to their respective losses last week. The Cowboys completed 25/35 against the Raiders, while the Dragons were worse with just 23/35 (66 per cent). That was a big drop on the previous week's 28/31 (90 per cent) against Melbourne.
Fullback for Cowboys is number 18 Jake CliffordFullback for Dragons is number 1 Matthew Dufty
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle FeldtWinger for Dragons is number 21 Jordan Pereira
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Enari TualaCentre for Dragons is number 3 Euan Aitken
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Kane LinnettCentre for Dragons is number 4 Timoteo Lafai
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Justin O'NeillWinger for Dragons is number 5 Jason Nightingale
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Te Maire MartinFive-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Gareth Widdop
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Johnathan ThurstonHalfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 John AsiataProp for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Jake GranvilleHooker for Dragons is number 9 Cameron McInnes
Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Scott BoltonProp for Dragons is number 10 Paul Vaughan
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Gavin Cooper2nd Row for Dragons is number 17 Luciano Leilua
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason TaumaloloLock for Dragons is number 13 Jack de Belin
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Ben HamptonInterchange for Dragons is number 14 Jeremy Latimore
Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Shaun FensomInterchange for Dragons is number 15 Kurt Mann
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Corey JensenInterchange for Dragons is number 16 Leeson Ah Mau
Interchange for Cowboys is number 20 Mitchell DunnInterchange for Dragons is number 19 Blake Lawrie
Cowboys: Coach Paul Green has handed 20-year-old Jake Clifford a debut at fullback at the expense of Lachlan Coote. In another late change Mitchell Dunn comes onto the interchange and Francis Molo drops off the bench. Justin O'Neill replaces Antonio Winterstein on the wing, while Coen Hess starts for Shane Wright.
Dragons: Nene Macdonald (foot injury) has been replaced on the wing by Kiwi-born Jordan Pereira, who makes his NRL debut. Tyson Frizell (back) is also out, with Luciano Leilua called into the starting side and Blake Lawrie promoted from the reserves to the bench.
Head-to-head: Played 29; Cowboys 15 wins, Dragons 14 wins
Previous result: Dragons won 28-22 at WIN Stadium in round 7, 2017
Points per game: Cowboys 16.2; Dragons 24.5
Points conceded per game: Cowboys 21.4; Dragons 18
Televised: Live on Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: The Cowboys had a shocker in Canberra last week. It was a very un-Cowboy-like performance and with nothing left to play for it's hard to see them taking down the Dragons. The Red V have too much at stake as they look to cement a spot in the top four and they will have too many attacking weapons.
Tip: Dragons by 10
Match: Cowboys vs Dragons
Round 19 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
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