Beware the wounded Cowboys in Townsville
Just when we were entertaining the idea that the Cowboys had turned the corner with the previous week's road win over Manly, they go and get towelled up by the last-placed Eels.
It was a huge missed opportunity, given that a victory could've lifted them from 14th to 12th and left them just two wins shy of the top eight. After the loss coach Paul Green said it wasn't down to his team's ability but questioned where players were at mentally.
There aren't many playing rosters in the NRL that look capable on paper of going on a long winning spree. The Cows are one such team, but the magic just isn't there on the field this year.
The Warriors might boast a very tidy record (9-4) but with all due respects to Stephen Kearney and his players, of all the teams in the top eight New Zealand and Brisbane still seem the most likely to slip out.
Hampered by injuries over the past month or so, the Warriors showed their fighting spirit with a dominant come-from-behind victory over Manly last week in Christchurch. They don't have the greatest record in Townsville but records are there to be broken if the Warriors want it badly enough.
Key match-up: It wasn't long ago that Jake Granville was being mentioned as a possible replacement for retired Queensland Origin legend Cameron Smith. That isn't going to happen with the Cowboys travelling so poorly, but he better bring his A-game on Friday or he will be taught a lesson by Issac Luke, who is in career-best form at the age of 31.
For the Cowboys to win: For a team that is performing far below expectations, the Cowboys seem to be avoiding in-fighting and finger-pointing (at least publicly), but they are lacking on-field chemistry. They need to get back to basics and try to dominate through their forward pack to allow Johnathan Thurston to do his thing.
For the Warriors to win: If the Warriors forwards can do some damage against a hot-and-cold Cowboys pack, it should open up space for Shaun Johnson to create for the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Ken Maumalo and prolific try-scoring winger David Fusitu'a. Johnson had an excellent comeback game last week after a month on the sidelines, while Fusitu'a scored a hat-trick of tries.
Cowboys Stat Attack: The Cowboys have a big milestone to play for on Friday night as they strive for their 250th win as a club when they take on the Warriors. They will be looking to winger Kyle Feldt to make an impact, having scored seven tries from five games against the Warriors.
Warriors Stat Attack: The Warriors have a pretty shocking record at Townsville, losing 11 of their past 12 games at 1300SMILES Stadium. But momentum is on their side to defy history on Friday night.
And another thing: Heading into the season the Warriors were among the favourites to finish near the bottom of the ladder, while the Cowboys were tipped to finish near the top. Yet here we are more than halfway through the season and the Warriors are fourth with nine wins from 13 games, while the Cows are 14th with a 4-10 record. Go figure.
Match: Cowboys vs Warriors
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
North Queensland Cowboys v New Zealand Warriors, Friday 6pm (8pm NZT) at 1300Smiles Stadium
Cowboys: 1 Michael Morgan, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Enari Tuala, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Javid Bowen, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 17 Sam Hoare, 9 Jake Granville, 10 Scott Bolton, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo
Interchange: 14 Ben Hampton, 15 Shaun Fensom, 16 Corey Jensen, 21 Francis Molo
Matt Scott's chances of returning to the Queensland Origin team have nosedived after he was a game-day withdrawal. Sam Hoare has been promoted to start in Scott's place. Michael Morgan returns from a groin injury at fullback, while Kane Linnett is back in the starting side. Origin forwards Gavin Cooper and Coen Hess will start after coming off the bench last week and Scott Bolton returns from a rib injury. Ethan Lowe was given the chop an hour before kick-off, while Justin O'Neill and Mitchell Dunn were cut on Thursday.
Warriors: 1 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 18 Gerard Beale, 3 Peta Hiku, 4 Solomone Kata, 5 Ken Maumalo, 6 Blake Green, 7 Shaun Johnson, 8 James Gavet, 9 Issac Luke, 10 Agnatius Paasi, 11 Isaiah Papali'i, 12 Tohu Harris, 13 Adam Blair
Interchange: 14 Karl Lawton, 15 Chris Satae, 16 Bunty Afoa, 17 Simon Mannering
David Fusitu'a is out of the Warriors side, with Gerard Beale (No.18) coming into the side on the wing. Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck has been named to return from an ankle injury at fullback with Peta Hiku returning to the centres after filling in at No.1 last weekend. Fusitu'a and Mason Lino were omitted 24 hours out from game time, while Liligiifo Sao and Anthony Gelling were cut an hour before kick-off.
Head-to-head: Played 38; Cowboys 19 wins, Warriors 19 wins
Matches at venue: Played 18; Cowboys 13 wins, Warriors 5 wins
2017 result: Cowboys won 24-12 at 1300 Smiles Stadium in round 20
Points per game: Cowboys 16.2; Warriors 20.5
Points conceded per game: Cowboys 20.1; Warriors 19.1
Televised: Live on Fox League