North Queensland face a daunting assignment getting their season back on track when they host a Sydney Roosters side bent on atoning for a heart-breaking golden-point loss to the Storm.
The Cowboys snapped a three-game losing streak with their 32-20 win over the in-form Knights in round seven but crashed back to earth in a 42-4 flogging at the hands of Parramatta.
The Roosters come off a disappointing loss of a different kind, letting a 22-12 lead slip in the final nine minutes then seeing Ryan Papenhuyzen level scores with a booming field goal as the clock ran out before a penalty goal snatched away the two points in extra time.
The defending back-to-back premiers are also grappling with an injury crisis, a spate of HIAs and a serious syndesmosis injury to Daniel Tupou adding to an already crowded casualty ward.
Match: Cowboys v Roosters
Round 9 -
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Cowboys: Coach Paul Green has made changes to his backline, recalling Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback, moving Val Holmes to wing, recalling Connelly Lemuelu at centre with Justin O'Neill injured and Tom Opacic dropping out.
Corey Jensen and Jake Granville dropped out of the squad on game day after Murray Taulagi and Reuben Cotter were the two players to drop out 24 hours before the match. The Cowboys have averaged 26 points per game at QCB Stadium.
Roosters: Brett Morris was a late withdrawal after suffering a groin injury in the warm-up, with Matt Ikuvalu to replace him. Winger Daniel Tupou (ankle) and skipper Boyd Cordner (rested - head knock) are out. Ryan Hall starts on the wing and Mitch Aubusson in the back row with Lachlan Lam joining the bench. Daniel Fifita was trimmed from the reserves list an hour before kick-off and Drew Hutchison and Freddy Lussick were omitted on Wednesday night. Brett and Josh Morris have scored a combined 10 tries in their past five games.
Fullback for Cowboys is number 1 Hamiso Tabuai-FidowFullback for Roosters is number 1 James Tedesco
Winger for Cowboys is number 2 Kyle FeldtWinger for Roosters is number 2 Ryan Hall
Centre for Cowboys is number 3 Connelly LemueluCentre for Roosters is number 3 Josh Morris
Centre for Cowboys is number 4 Esan MarstersCentre for Roosters is number 4 Joseph Manu
Winger for Cowboys is number 5 Valentine HolmesWinger for Roosters is number 21 Matt Ikuvalu
Five-Eighth for Cowboys is number 6 Scott DrinkwaterFive-Eighth for Roosters is number 6 Luke Keary
Halfback for Cowboys is number 7 Jake CliffordHalfback for Roosters is number 7 Kyle Flanagan
Prop for Cowboys is number 8 Josh McGuireProp for Roosters is number 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Hooker for Cowboys is number 9 Reece RobsonHooker for Roosters is number 9 Jake Friend
Prop for Cowboys is number 10 Francis MoloProp for Roosters is number 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 11 Shane Wright2nd Row for Roosters is number 11 Angus Crichton
2nd Row for Cowboys is number 12 Coen Hess2nd Row for Roosters is number 12 Mitchell Aubusson
Lock for Cowboys is number 13 Jason TaumaloloLock for Roosters is number 13 Nat Butcher
Interchange for Cowboys is number 14 Ben HamptonInterchange for Roosters is number 14 Lachlan Lam
Interchange for Cowboys is number 15 Tom GilbertInterchange for Roosters is number 15 Sitili Tupouniua
Interchange for Cowboys is number 16 Peter HolaInterchange for Roosters is number 16 Poasa Faamausili
Interchange for Cowboys is number 17 Gavin CooperInterchange for Roosters is number 17 Lindsay Collins
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow v James Tedesco. As far as measuring sticks go, Tabuai-Fidow can't ask for a bigger challenge in just the fourth match of his NRL career. He isn't expected to outplay the game's No.1 fullback but has already shown enough to suggest the Roosters will need to keep an eye on him throughout the match.
North Queensland have produced respectable attacking numbers, scoring less than 20 only once before Parramatta put them to the sword, but they have failed to keep the opposition below 20 since round three which spells trouble with the premiers on the horizon. The Sydney Roosters top the point-scoring charts with more tries and goals, plus more line breaks, than any other team through eight rounds.