North Queensland Toyota Cowboys v Manly Sea Eagles
8pm Qld, Saturday 18 March
TEST OF DEPTH ON BOTH SIDES
They may be winless to start 2017, but the Manly Sea Eagles travel to Townsville for their Round 3 National Rugby League clash against a Cowboys team hit by injury and suspension.
The Cowboys will be without first-13 regulars Lachlan Coote (calf), Antonio Winterstein (arm), Matt Scott (knee) and Jason Taumalolo (suspended), with last Friday’s rugged extra-time win over the Broncos coming at a cost.
The Cowboys will cover the loss with Kalyn Ponga at fullback, Javid Bowen on the wing and a combination of Shaun Fensom, Sam Hoare and Corey Jensen in the forwards, with young tyro Patrick Kaufusi promoted to the starting 13 in Scott’s place.
The Sea Eagles have also been hit by the twin scourge, with regulars Darcy Lussick (wrist), Lloyd Perrett (facial fracture), Addin Fonua-Blake (suspended) and Martin Taupau (suspended) all out of commission.
ROLLED THE DICE
The Cowboys opted to fight Taumalolo’s shoulder charge at the NRL Judiciary on Tuesday night, with a win making him available for Round 3 and a loss rubbing him out for two matches – he'll be available for selection again in Round 5 against the Rabbitohs.
Scott successfully fought the same charge to keep his flawless record intact. In his 14th season of NRL, Scott hasn’t once been found guilty of an offence.
For Manly, Fonua-Blake and Taupau are serving the second match of two-match bans, the suspensions arising out of the Sea Eagles’ Round 1 loss to the Eels. Both were for shoulder charges.
YOUNG GUNS SQUARE OFF
In what is shaping as a treat for fans, the opposing fullbacks on Saturday night could provide some sizzling free-running rugby league.
Teenage Cowboy Kalyn Ponga, 18, will line up for his third NRL game after debuting in Week 2 of the 2016 finals series.
His opposite is 20-year-old Tom Trbojevic, the younger of the Sea Eagles brothers quickly becoming the heart-and-soul of the club.
Although Trbojevic is the older of the two, the pair have had similar career trajectories, coming up through their club’s respective pathways system.
They famously starred for their sides in the 2015 NYC preliminary final – won in dramatic circumstance by Manly – where they ran for close to 500m between them.
Ponga will play NRL at his preferred fullback position for the first time, with his prior two outings on the wing.
With Taumalolo now unavailable, head coach Paul Green faces some selection decisions with his forwards, in particular the interchange bench.
Patrick Kaufusi has been named to partner Scott Bolton in the starting front row.
Regular second rowers Ethan Lowe and Gavin Cooper will be there, with the big question being who will fill in for Taumalolo in the No.13 spot.
New recruit Shaun Fensom is experienced in the position, but Green may move John Asiata into that position, or even Lowe, which would allow Fensom to ease into his NQ debut off the bench.
Sam Hoare, Corey Jensen and Ben Spina also shape as options, with Cowboys coach Paul Green not having to decide on his final 17 until game day.
The now-suspended Taumalolo and backup winger Gideon Gela-Mosby drop out of the 21-man squad, which gets trimmed from 19 to 17 an hour before kick-off.
HEAD TO HEAD