The Sea Eagles and Cowboys kick-off a distinctly Origin-affected round when they clash at Lottoland on Thursday evening.
Manly went close to sealing a much-needed morale-boosting win over the Canberra Raiders last week, but a missed Daly Cherry-Evans conversion and a late Aidan Sezer field goal swung momentum back to the green machine and saw the Sea Eagles drop another valuable two competition points.
Bouncing back from a heart-breaker will be paramount for Trent Barrett's men, but they face a Cowboys side which, while losing some key players to the State of Origin camp, do still boast the likes of Johnathan Thurston, Jake Granville and the almost unstoppable Jason Taumalolo.
The Cowboys, however, are also coming off a similarly narrow loss having fallen 7-6 to the Melbourne Storm in Round 12.
2017 - Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 30 def. North Queensland Cowboys 8 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2016 - North Queensland Cowboys 30 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 26 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2016 - North Queensland Cowboys 34 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 18 at Brookvale Oval
2015 - North Queensland Cowboys 30 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 12 at Brookvale Oval
2015 - North Queensland Cowboys 18 def. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 14 at 1300SMILES Stadium
While Manly pulled off a surprise 30-8 win over the Cowboys in Townsville last season, the recent history of this clash trends much more in favour of North Queensland. The Cowboys have won four of the last five clashes between the two, including a couple of tight contests home and away in recent years.
The last time the pair met at Lottoland, then more iconically known as Brookvale, the Cowboys notched a 34-18 win which featured a spectacular Kyle Feldt brace. The star winger will want more four-pointers this time around and does continue to pose a huge threat on the flank.
In the not-so-recent history, these two sides first met in April of 1995, the year the Cowboys entered the competition. Manly belted the Cowboys 36-14 in Townsville on the day as Danny Moore scored a hat-trick. Club legends Steve Menzies and Cliff Lyons both bagged a try each while the infamous John Hopoate was also on the scoresheet. Justin Loomans (two) and David Bouveng both scored for a Cowboys side coached by Grant Bell.
|Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles||North Queensland Cowboys|
|1||Matthew Wright||Lachlan Coote|
|2||Jorge Taufua||Kyle Feldt|
|3||Moses Suli||Justin O'Neill|
|4||Brian Kelly||Enari Tuala|
|5||Akuila Uate||Antonio Winterstein|
|6||Trent Hodkinson||Te Maire Martin|
|7||Daly Cherry-Evans||Johnathan Thurston|
|8/14||Addin Fonua-Blake||Ben Hampton|
|9||Api Koroisau||Jake Granville|
|10||Martin Taupau||Scott Bolton |
|11||Joel Thompson||Shaun Fensom|
|12||Frank Winterstein||Ethan Lowe|
|13||Shaun Lane||Jason Taumalolo|
|14/18||Brad Parker||Kane Linnett|
|15||Jack Gosiewski||Sam Hoare|
|16||Lloyd Perrett||Corey Jensen|
|17||Toafofoa Sipley||Francis Molo|
|18/20||Tom Wright||Mitchell Dunn|
|19/21||Lewis Brown||Javid Bowen|
The facts that matter
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles
While star halfback Daly Cherry-Evans will line up for the Sea Eagles this week after once again being overlooked by Queensland selectors and Kevin Walters, they lose both Tom and Jake Trbojevic to New South Wales duty, meaning a significant shuffle.
Trent Barrett will be hard-pressed to replace to skill, experience and impact of the Trbojevic brothers, especially with Dylan Walker and Curtis Sironen still sidelined due to injury.
A return from suspension for Api Koroisau comes at the perfect time for both club and player. The Sea Eagles get back one of their most solid defensive players and a key component in their attacking structure while Koroisau gets the chance to prove selectors at New South Wales wrong for selecting South Sydney hooker, Damien Cook.
Manly struggled valiantly with both Lewis Brown and Matthew Wright slotting into dummy-half at points during their narrow loss to Canberra last week, so a return for Koroisau should also free up Wright to play a more natural game. Lewis Brown has dropped back to the extended reserves, so may not get the same opportunity.
Having hit the competition's halfway mark, Manly find themselves in 12th spot on the NRL ladder and will be deeply disappointed with a season that has lurched from drama and distraction off-field to inconsistent performances on it.
With the Trbojevic brothers unavailable, much of the creative spark for Manly will need to come from their multi-million dollar man, Daly Cherry-Evans. DCE has all the ability in the world, but has often times found himself floundering in a side that has lacked the necessary weapons around him.
On Trent Barrett's team sheet, Matthew Wright slots into the fullback role to cover Tom Trbojevic while Shaun Lane shifts to lock to cover for Jake. Frank Winterstein drops into a starting back-row spot while Brad Parker and Jack Gosiewski come onto a new-look bench.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys suffered yet another narrow loss last week, dropping 7-6 to a weirdly ineffective Melbourne Storm side and now find themselves second from last place on the competition ladder in what has fast become a nightmare season.
The Townsville-based club has struggled with the steady decline of champion halfback Johnathan Thurston and long-time superstar prop forward Matt Scott. While Thurston and Scott have been below par, the weapons on either side of them have been largely underwhelming, culminating in a wasted season just one year removed from a stunning Grand Final appearance.
Finals footy is practically off the table now and with nothing left to play for but pride and the chance to send Johnathan Thurston off a winner, the second half of the season could go one of two ways.
Paul Green and his team will be hoping for the sort of late-season revival that brings back some respectability and there are few better places to start putting those building blocks into place than the old Brookvale Oval, which remains a tough place for visiting sides despite Manly's own struggles.
The loss of Matt Scott to suspension will hurt the Cowboys, as does Michael Morgan and Gavin Cooper leaving to link up with the Queensland Maroons squad, so some changes give the side a fresh look.
Outside back Ben Hampton has been named in a starting front-row berth in Scott's absence, raising some question marks while Lachlan Coote has earned a recall to play fullback courtesy of Morgan's departure. Enari Tuala starts in the centres after impressing off the bench in recent weeks while Shaun Fensom comes into the back-row for Gavin Cooper. Sam Hoare has been added to the bench.
The Sea Eagles were largely decent in last week's loss to the Raiders, but a farcical finish and yet another disappointing loss pretty much sums up the season to date for Manly. This week, without either of the Trbojevic brothers, they look a far less impressive or potent outfit.
Johnathan Thurston is fast running out of opportunities to finish on a high note. Against a Manly side struggling to find a genuine identity and without key players, I think they might snare a handy two points this week. My tip: Cowboys by 8.
Can the Eagles overcome the loss of the Trbojevic brothers or will the Cowboys snatch an upset at Brookvale? Let us know in the comments below.