With the potential to be the match of the round, the New Zealand Warriors take on the North Queensland Cowboys, two of the games best halfbacks clash with little difference in gulf in class however their playing styles differentiate massively.
After a hectic month of travel, the New Zealand Warriors return home to play in front of their faithful crowd in New Zealand off the back of four successive wins, to start the season a new club record.
On almost the opposite side of the spectrum, the Cowboys are 1 win for 3 losses to start the season and have not picked up from last year despite welcoming back to of the finest players in the game.
The Warriors have continued their hot potato style of football, however, have finally heeded the wise advice to learn when to hit the ball up straight and run hard. A newfound toughness and willingness to fight for each other has them primed for 5 wins in a row at home. Whereas for the Cowboys their stifled attack has looked devoid of creativity in a side possessing one of the most lethal halves combinations. Their lack of speed out wide and imagination from anywhere on the field has yielded little in the way of line breaks and an attacking edge to their game.
The Warriors can not only send another big message to the competition with a win, it would only strengthen their ever growing bond and confidence within themselves. For the Cowboys another loss and Thurston can kiss goodbye to that elusive minor premiership, already looking well out of reach.
2017 - Round 20 - North Queensland Cowboys 24 def. New Zealand Warriors 12 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2016 - Round 24 - North Queensland Cowboys 34 def. New Zealand Warriors 6 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2015 - Round 24 - North Queensland Cowboys 50 def. New Zealand Warriors 15 at Mt Smart Stadium
2015 - Round 7 - North Queensland Cowboys 28 def. New Zealand Warriors 24 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2014 - Round 3 - New Zealand Warriors 20 def. North Queensland Cowboys 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium
The Cowboys have won the last 4 of these encounters in a row however the majority of these games have been played in Townsville. The Cowboys have enjoyed runaway victories in seasons gone by where a star-studded Warriors line-up has failed to deliver.
The tables have completely turned this week it is the Warriors looking to heap more misery on a hugely under-performing Cowboys side.
|New Zealand Warriors||North Queensland Cowboys|
|1||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck||Ben Hampton|
|2||David Fusitu'a||Kyle Feldt|
|3||Peta Hiku||Justin O'Neill|
|4||Solomone Kata||Javid Bowen|
|5||Ken Maumalo||Antonio Winterstein|
|6||Blake Green||Michael Morgan|
|7||Shaun Johnson||Johnathan Thurston|
|8||Bunty Afoa||Matthew Scott|
|9||Issac Luke||Jake Granville|
|10||Agnatius Paasi||Scott Bolton|
|11||Leivaha Pulu||Gavin Cooper|
|12||Tohu Harris||Coen Hess|
|13||Adam Blair||Jason Taumalolo|
|14||Jazz Tevaga||Te Maire Martin|
|15||Sam Lisone||John Asiata|
|16||Simon Mannering||Corey Jensen|
|17||Anthony Gelling||Ethan Lowe|
|18||Ligi Sao||Francis Molo|
|19||Mason Lino||Lachlan Coote|
|20||Tevita Satae||Enari Tuala|
|21||Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad||Kyle Laybutt|
The facts that matter
New Zealand Warriors
The Kiwi outfits offloads will be essential to gaining a further two competition points, the Cowboys have been exposed through the ruck with their big forward pack being slow to react the speedy smaller opposition players. If the Warriors can get on a roll early and get the Cowboys tired and on the back foot it will spell big trouble for an already slow start to a promising season.
The Warriors away fans were among the most raucous crowds I've heard in any sport for periods last week. No doubt the teams' performance inspired this to a degree however it will be a vital 14th man spurring them on as they look to finally be a side willing to give 100% each and every week. The fans may make the difference and evoke some more Johnson magic.
The Warriors side have their mojo fully in gear and the momentum. Shaun Johnson returns playing in a consistent side with his forwards doing the hard yards, it will leave Johnson with more than a few opportunities to create some new highlight reels on YouTube and delight the home crowd. Blake Green is in career best form and touted as a potential Origin bolter at 31, Blair will frustrate the Cowboys and their backs are beginning to realise their unlimited potential.
North Queensland Cowboys
Panthers against the Cowboys, Titans against the Broncos and Broncos v Cowboys all had similar trends in that the victor began with a veracity that shackled and shocked the opposition. Stunned with the intensity of their focused, hard running and big hitting approach it galvanised each of these three sides and instilled a new found energy and verve within them. If the Cowboys are to win on Saturday night they must start fast as well. Known as a patient side that doesn't mind going for the kill in the last minute won't be good enough, the Warriors have points in them at any stage of the game, hit them hard and early and it will lay a platform to a first win in 4 weeks.
Michael Morgan and Johnathan Thurston are yet to click in their two games together this year, and Morgan offered little on soaked night at Suncorp for JT's testimonial. The positive signs are that a week being a long time in League and Thurston and now Morgan being two of the most professional players in the game, it may only take a week of training for them to play the Warriors right off the park. Key to their success will the way they can highlight the strengths of a backline lacking speed.
Hampton should be made a key focal point of attacking set plays throughout the week and sniffing around any potential offloads, with his speed and the Cowboys big men's ability to stand in a tackle, avail of this and the other mob can march up field when executed properly.
The Warriors have home ground advantage, the momentum and one of the most naturally gifted players to hold a football returning. On the other side, the Cowboys should despite this being a new year, new competition be buoyed by their inspirational finals run last year. They still possess one the best rosters in the game and must lift to match the intensity and performance of their opposition.
Michael Morgan may play a pivotal role and himself and Thurston gel together on Saturday it will go a long way to a Cowboys win.
With the competition reaching a new standard this year the games will not get any easier for the Cowboys. In what will be a fierce contest and surely the Cowboys best game to date I'll go for another upset win to the Cowboys by 4 as they treat this game as a must win.