Cowboys fans, I don't know how you're coping with this, but 2018 just isn't your year. After such a sustained period of being a perennial contender and a quality football side, the current side looks more like a return to the bad old days than anything we've really seen in the 'JT' era.
There is a certain degree of sadness that the great champion halfback appears to be ending his career on a sour note, but there will be little sympathy from the Warriors who roll into Townsville sitting in fourth place on the ladder and desperate to keep pace with the competition front-runners after a shaky period.
The Cowboys enter Round 15 off the back of a disappointing loss to the Parramatta Eels in Darwin. Despite creating plenty of chances, a lack of confidence and execution ultimately cost them and ensured they would remain amongst the bottom three sides in the league for another week at least.
The Warriors have been more hot than cold in 2018 and were at their very best in a scintillating 34-14 drubbing of the Sea Eagles in Christchurch last weekend.
2018 - New Zealand Warriors 22 def. North Queensland Cowboys 12 at Mt Smart Stadium
2017 - North Queensland Cowboys 24 def. New Zealand Warriors 12 at 1300Smiles Stadium
2016 - North Queensland Cowboys 34 def. New Zealand Warriors 6 at 1300Smiles Stadium
2015 - North Queensland Cowboys 50 def. New Zealand Warriors 16 at Mt Smart Stadium
2015 - North Queensland Cowboys 28 def. New Zealand Warriors 24 at 1300Smiles Stadium
The Warriors ended a four-game losing streak against the Cowboys with their 22-12 win earlier this year and they'll be hoping to further drive home the significant shift in fortunes between these two sides with a second win this weekend.
Stephen Kearney's men have defied expectations and abruptly ended hoodoos all season, so another win, this time on the road in Townsville would be the perfect tonic.
The Kiwi side last won in North Queensland way back in 2014 when they beat the Cowboys 20-16 courtesy of a Glen Fisiiahi double and tries to Konrad Hurrell and Sione Lousi.
|North Queensland Cowboys||New Zealand Warriors|
|1||Michael Morgan||Roger Tuivasa-Sheck|
|2||Kyle Feldt||David Fusitu'a|
|3||Enari Tuala||Peta Hiku|
|4||Kane Linnett||Solomone Kata|
|5||Javid Bowen||Ken Maumalo|
|6||Te Maire Martin||Blake Green|
|7||Johnathan Thurston||Shaun Johnson|
|8||Matthew Scott||James Gavet|
|9||Jake Granville||Isaac Luke|
|10||Scott Bolton||Agnatius Paasi|
|11||Gavin Cooper||Isaiah Papali'i|
|12||Coen Hess||Tohu Harris|
|13||Jason Taumalolo||Adam Blair|
|14||Ben Hampton||Karl Lawton|
|15||Shaun Fensom||Tevita Satae|
|16||Corey Jensen||Bunty Afoa|
|17||Sam Hoare||Simon Mannering|
|18||Justin O'Neill||Gerard Beale|
|19/20||Ethan Lowe||Mason Lino|
|20/21||Mitchell Dunn||Ligi Sao|
|21/22||Francis Molo||Anthony Gelling|
The facts that matter
North Queensland Cowboys
Losing to the Eels last week has probably summed up the Cowboy's 2018 season. Simply put, things have not been up to standard in Queensland's north and losing to the Eels highlighted just how far the club has fallen from the lofty heights of the last few years.
Had they beaten Parramatta, the Cowboys would have strung together vital back-to-back wins and put themselves into the frame for an unlikely tilt at playing finals football yet again.
As things stand, finals footy is but a distant dream. Paul Green has openly questioned the mentality of his players and it's safe to say the swift axe of change in a more broad, long-term sense is on the horizon.
On paper, the Cowboys still have a strong side, but the wondrous tide that dragged them into finals footy and an unlikely Grand Final berth last season appears completely washed out. The on-field chemistry between key playmakers like Thurston, Michael Morgan and Te Maire Martin appears almost non-existent, which is hugely surprising.
This week, Michael Morgan returns from a groin issue to start at fullback with Lachlan Coote dropped to reserve grade to accommodate the Queensland representative.
Kane Linnett comes back into the starting side with Justin O'Neill dropping to the extended reserves list while Javid Bowen has been named on the wing in place of Antonio Winterstein.
Scott Bolton returns from a rib injury and goes straight into the starting side while Coen Hess and Gavin Cooper move from the bench to the starting side.
New Zealand Warriors
The Kiwi side have performed well above expectations in 2018 and while there have been some patchy results sprinkled throughout their campaign, things have been impressive overall.
Stephen Kearney, tipped by many as the first coach sacked before a ball was kicked in anger, has been able to coax a level of consistency and good, attacking football out of a side which has long boasted plenty of talent but struggled to make things click on the field.
With a number of injuries over the last month or so, the Warriors have done well to dig in their heals and drag out some handy results, showing also a spirit many thought might be lacking.
31-year-old Isaac Luke has been in career-best form and the dummy-half will line up against another strong rake in Jake Granville this Friday night. Whoever wins the battle of the number nines will go a long way to winning this clash.
The big Warriors forward pack could relish the chance to gain big yardage against a Cowboys pack that has struggled to build a consistent platform in 2018. Any space behind the big men will be aptly exploited by Shaun Johnson and company.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck returns from an ankle injury to start at fullback, shifting Peta Hiku back to the centres and Gerard Beale out of the 17 altogether.
This is not an easy game to predict.
On one hand, the Warriors have been the far superior side over the course of the 2018 season and have the form on the board while the Cowboys have been nothing short of an utter disappointment for fans and neutrals alike.
Watching the decline of Johnathan Thurston, coupled with poor performances from a number of the Cowboys playmakers has been rough viewing, and despite being at home and holding a distinct advantage over the Kiwi side in Townsville, they're almost impossible to tip at the moment.
A loss to the Eels last week means I'm steering clear of the Cowboys and backing the Warriors to defy another trend and grab a handy win on the road. Warriors by 6 points.
Will the Warriors win in Townsville, or could the Cowboys prove too strong on home soil? Let us know in the comments and poll below.