Friday evening’s matches for round 20 kick off with the Cowboys taking on the Knights in Townsville. Although both teams are at the wrong end of the ladder, there is still a multitude at stake in this match, as one team is in a dogfight to avoid the wooden spoon' while the other team is looking to keep their flickering finals hopes alive.
The Cowboys will be playing this match at home once again, having lost their match last week to the Dragons 24-10 at home. Whilst the Cows were far from disgraced, and were certainly in a position to win the match, their lack of composure in attack, coupled by needless errors proved costly in the end. That loss saw the men from the tropics remain in a three way dogfight with the Eels and Bulldogs to avoid the NRL’s unwanted prize of the spoon.
The Knights enter this match on the back of a gutsy 30-24 victory over the Titans at home. After trailing 24-10 with 25 minutes remaining, the Knights would score 20 unanswered points to hit the lead in the 73rd minute, before holding firm to snare a vital win, as they maintained their slim finals chances. The win was on the back of the character which the Knights have continued to display throughout the season.
As well as the aforementioned, another appealing factor in this match is the return of boom youngster and former Cowboy Kalyn Ponga, as he faces his former teammates while wearing Knights colours. There is minimal doubt that he will do all that he can to rub salt into the wounds of his former club. However, the Cowboys will be looking to ensure that Ponga leaves this match empty handed, while arresting a five match losing streak at home, and at least send champion halfback Johnathan Thurston out on a positive note with only six games remaining this season. In addition, long serving Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein announced his immediate retirement mid-week.
2017 - Round 8 - North Queensland Cowboys 24 def. Newcastle Knights 12 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2016 - Round 13 - North Queensland Cowboys 46 def. Newcastle Knights 16 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2015 - Round 8 - North Queensland Cowboys 26 def. Newcastle Knights 24 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
2015 - Round 2 - Newcastle Knights 16 def. North Queensland Cowboys 14 at 1300SMILES Stadium.
2014 - Round 15 - Newcastle Knights 16 def. North Queensland Cowboys 14 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
As can be seen, the Cowboys have won three of the last five matches against the Knights. The overall record between the two sides reads 19 victories to the Knights and 17 wins to the Cowboys. However, the Knights overall record in Townsville is not so great, winning 7 of their 18 matches in the tropics, with the other 11 wins going the way of the locals. In fact, the Knights have only won twice in the tropical north this decade, with those wins coming in 2011 and 2015.
|North Queensland Cowboys||Newcastle Knights|
|1||Te Maire Martin||Kalyn Ponga|
|2||Kyle Feldt||Ken Sio|
|3||Enari Tuala||Sione Mata'utia|
|4||Kane Linnett||Nathan Ross|
|5||Justin O'Neill||Shaun Kenny-Dowall|
|6||Jake Clifford||Connor Watson|
|7||Johnathan Thurston||Mitchell Pearce|
|8||John Asiata||Jacob Lillyman|
|9||Jake Granville||Danny Levi|
|10||Scott Bolton||Daniel Saifiti|
|11||Gavin Cooper||Lachlan Fitzgibbon|
|12||Coen Hess||Mitchell Barnett|
|13||Jason Taumalolo||Aidan Guerra|
|14||Ben Hampton||Jamie Buhrer|
|15||Shaun Fensom||Chris Heighington|
|16||Mitchell Dunn||Josh King|
|17||Corey Jensen||Herman Ese'ese|
|18||Matthew Scott||Nick Meaney|
|19||Ethan Lowe||Cory Denniss|
|20||Francis Molo||Jack Cogger|
|21||Jordan McLean||JJ Felise|
The facts that matter
The Cowboys suffered yet another defeat in what has been an incredibly disappointing 2018 season for the men from the tropics. However, they were far from disgraced in their 24-10 loss to the Dragons, as they had their fair share of possession and had kept the Dragons’ defence guessing with a few line breaks and offloads. Unfortunately, their errors and very high missed tackle count proved their undoing. Moreover, their inability to make use of good field position was once again evident in this match, and they were duly punished by the high flying Dragons.
The men from the tropics have had little go their way, as they find themselves with the second highest number of errors, and third highest number of handling errors. This is quite the contrast to their 2017 season, when their completion rate was the best in the competition. As such, the Cowboys’ attack is no longer as fearsome as it once was, having only scored 285 for the season. Moreover, their defence is ranked sixth worst in the competition, leaking 387 points. However, it’s not all bad for the Cows, with powerful lock, Jason Taumalolo leading the competition in post contact metres, as well as being ranked second in total runs and metres gained.
As for the Cowboys’ home record, 1300SMILES Stadium is no longer the fortress it has been for the last several seasons, as they have won only 2 of their 9 matches at home. This means that opposition teams no longer find the task of defeating the Cowboys in the tropical north daunting. Along with this game, the Cows will only have two further home games to salvage some pride from a disastrous season. They will be confident knowing that they have the Knights’ measure whenever they visit Townsville.
The Knights had secured a second consecutive home victory, with a come-from-behind win over a heartbroken Titans outfit. They trailed 24-10 with under half an hour remaining, before scoring 20 unanswered points to hit the lead, before repelling the Titans. The win came on the back of a performance where they made more offloads, smashed their opponents in metres gained, missed fewer tackles and committed fewer errors. There is no doubt that the men from the Hunter region would have lost such a much in previous seasons.
The Knights have the highest completion rate in the NRL, completing 80% of their sets. They are also ranked fourth in line break assists, with 49 for the season. In addition, former Cowboy Kalyn Ponga leads the NRL in kick return metres. Thus, he will pose a danger to his former team, especially if he is allowed space to roam after a kick from them. However, their attack leaves much to be desired, as they have scored the fifth fewest points in the competition, with 330. Moreover, their defence is the worst in the competition, having leaked 468 for the season. This has seen them have the worst points differential, with -168. In addition, if any factor may prove costly for the Knights, should they fail to qualify for the finals, it’s this most recent patch, where they won only 2 of their 5 consecutive matches at home.
As for their form away from home, the Knights are break even, with 4 wins and equal number of losses. Their record in Townsville may not be very good, however given their opponents lowly position on the ladder, coupled with the fact that they are a mathematical chance of reaching the finals (other results pending), they will feel confident of returning to the Hunter with the competition points, especially with Ponga returning from injury. Ponga knows the ground well, given he went through the juniors at the Cowboys, while spending some time in the senior squad, prior to joining the Knights.
With plenty still up for grabs in this match, neither team will want to take a backward step in their endeavours to claim victory. The Cowboys will want to avoid the dreaded spoon at all costs, while sending out JT on a positive note at the very least, given this is not the sort of season anyone expected for him. The Knights are still mathematically in with a chance of making the finals, but they must win every match and hope other results fall in their favour. Moreover, their points differential is not favourable for them, and they will attempt to rectify that.
There will also be an abundance of emotion in this match, with Kalyn Ponga returning to 1300SMILES Stadium for the first time in opposition colours. Many Cowboys fans feel that the club made the incorrect decision to let him go, and Ponga will look to prove this to be the case, as he sets about tormenting his former team. On the other hand, the Cows will be hellbent on giving Ponga a bruising return to Townsville, by roughing him up in any way.
Although the Knights will feel confident of stemming their poor record in Townsville, especially with Ponga in their squad, I feel the Cowboys know his game rather well, and may be able to nullify his attacking threat. In addition, with the immediate retirement of premiership winger Antonio Winterstein mid-week, the Cowboys will be keen to give one of their most consistent players of the last seven years a fitting farewell. Therefore, this should be enough to get the Cowboys over the line. Cowboys by 4.
Who will come out on top when the Cowboys host the Knights? Let us know in the comments below.