For all the praise the Cowboys retention and signing of players has received one must applaud the Titans. They continually nab quality players from the Broncos along with other teams in the competition and their careers go up a few levels after arriving. On form, the Titans forward pack is easily as good if not better than the Cowboys and the space this creates for Taylor to weave his magic has reaped dividends so far.
The North Queensland Cowboys season has failed to take off with their solitary victory over the Sharks in Round 1 leaving them with five straight losses. Rewind back to 2014 and the Cowboys were 2 from 7 and finished the season just one spot outside the top 4. Season 2018 won't be as forgiving and the Cowboys can now afford 5 losses at most to sneak into the top 4. On Saturday their inept attack continued it is evident the desire is there but some players look as if they have never met or heard of let alone played with each other.
The Gold Coast Titans are now 3-3 for the season and whilst looking less than convincing in some of their losses have shown a real fighting spirit this season. Their mix of youth and experience along with players willing to do the hard yards means they won't beat themselves and new coach Garth Brennan brings a real calming yet disciplined approach to the new look side.
2017 - Round 13 - North Queensland Cowboys 20 def. Gold Coast Titans 8 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2017 - Round 4 - North Queensland Cowboys 32 def. Gold Coast Titans 26 at Cbus Super Stadium
2016 - Round 26 - North Queensland Cowboys 32 def. Gold Coast Titans 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2015 - Round 26 - North Queensland Cowboys 42 def. Gold Coast Titans 12 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2014 - Round 21 - North Queensland Cowboys 28 def. Gold Coast Titans 8 at 1300SMILES Stadium
Cowboys have won the last five matches in a row, however, Saturday presents a whole new challenge for the Cowboys. Long have they been notorious for slow starts the Titans will come out firing and could blow the Cowboys off the park as they did to the Broncos in Round 4.
This will be the fifth time out of the last six clashes that they have played in Townsville and on a Saturday the fans will come out in droves to kick-start the Cowboys dwindling season.
|North Queensland Cowboys||Gold Coast Titans|
|1||Lachlan Coote||Michael Gordon|
|2||Kyle Feldt||Anthony Don|
|3||Justin O'Neill||Phillip Sami|
|4||Ben Hampton||Konrad Hurrell|
|5||Antonio Winterstein||Tyronne Roberts-Davis|
|6||Michael Morgan||Kane Elgey|
|7||Johnathan Thurston (c)||Ashley Taylor|
|8||Matthew Scott (c)||Jarrod Wallace|
|9||Jake Granville||Mitch Rein|
|10||Scott Bolton||Ryan James (c)|
|11||Gavin Cooper||Kevin Proctor|
|12||Coen Hess||Will Matthews|
|13||Jason Taumalolo||Jai Arrow|
|14||Te Maire Martin||Max King|
|15||John Asiata||Bryce Cartwright|
|16||Corey Jensen||Jack Stockwell|
|17||Ethan Lowe||Keegan Hipgrave|
|18||Francis Molo||Morgan Boyle|
|19||Javid Bowen||Ryan Simpkins|
|20||Enari Tuala||Brenko Lee|
|21||Sam Hoare||Brendan Elliot|
The facts that matter
North Queensland Cowboys
Michael Morgan stated last week that a large part of the Cowboys woes could be linked to their indecisiveness in attack and a decision to fix this immediately needs to made. At times even when Thurston and Morgan are taking control of the side and combining well together they have come up with a delayed decision that stifles the attack and allows the defense to surround them. On Saturday against the Dogs, Morgan was given time to place cross field kicks on a platter for his players however instead found Dogs players or the dead ball zone. They need to go back to the basics and enjoy their footy like last season.
For mine and I'm sure most would concur Morgan needs to own the team and have more touches than Thurston who should pop up with his moments of genius when he sees a play that no one else could even dream to imagine.
They are still playing too laterally for me and need to go through the ruck especially with the Titans having one of the smallest halves pairings in the competition. When you have a forward pack and side capable of running for over 1600m a game it needs to be utilised to exploit the opposition. There is no better game to rediscover their attacking mojo, Paul Green has re-signed and the Cows need to a new attack against the competition's worst defensive side, leaking 171 points thus far.
Gold Coast Titans
Have the forward pack to trouble the Cowboys and a side without players considered to be a liability. Their major concern is playing in spurts but not putting together an 80-minute performance as yet. They need Arrow, James and Co to rattle the Cowboys early to assert their dominance and from there they can play free-flowing football.
For the Titans, I would target Morgan and Hampton on the right-hand side in defence with both culpable of a poor read or tackle in defense especially close to the line. They have plenty of try scoring forwards who can drive their way to the line and dampen the Cowboys spirits early.
Taylor's kicking game will need to be at its best with Coote now into game 2 for 2018, his positional awareness will frustrate and potentially eliminate the kicking threat of Taylor. If Ash and Elgey can camp the Cowboys in their own half it will go a long way to victory with the Cowboys one of the worst sides for scoring tries inside their own half.
Promises to be an entertaining clash with these sides pitted as the closest they have been to each other for years.
The Titans have not won in Townsville since 2012, a golden chance on Saturday night presents itself with the Cowboys having lost five of their last six at home.
Lose on Saturday night and not only are the Cowboys top 4 hopes dashed, finals football could be gone for the first time since 2010. Thurston is the most competitive player I have ever witnessed and the Cowboys have come back from the most difficult and ominous of situations before with largely the same squad, for this I cannot go past the Cowboys to finally collect two points.
I expect a tough and bruising clash, Cowboys by 4.