Newcastle Knights v North Queensland Cowboys
If you collate these two teams' results so far this season and compare them side by side it is as if the Newcastle Knights and North Queensland Cowboys have swapped game plans.
After four rounds the Knights were flying high. They beat the Panthers, Warriors, Titans and the Cowboys themselves on their run to the outright lead by Round 5.
But then things changed. Newcastle lost their past three matches against Cronulla, St George Illawarra and Parramatta and it has left coach Rick Stone suddenly searching for answers.
Meanwhile the Cowboys have done a 'reverse Newcastle'. Kicking their year off with three straight losses, North Queensland have since beaten Melbourne, Penrith, reigning premiers South Sydney and the Warriors.
This topsy-turvy trend between the two teams will continue this week because quite obviously only one of them can win!
North Queensland has named an unchanged team from last week though they have added Ray Thompson to an extended bench. Newcastle too has named an unchanged team though they have added Sione Mata'utia to their extended bench. Uncanny, eh?
Watch out Knights: It was only six weeks ago when Beau Scott and the Knights bashed Johnathan Thurston out of their Round 2 clash. Thurston's usual impact on a game was nowhere to be seen as he left 1300SMILES Stadium sporting bumps, bruises and black eyes. The Cowboys are seeking revenge, this much was confirmed when hooker Jake Granville – off the back of his hat-trick scoring performance – said "we owe [Newcastle] one". Expect fireworks in the Hunter on Saturday afternoon despite Scott missing this clash with an ankle injury.
Watch out Cowboys: Newcastle's back five is one lethal quintet, and centre Dane Gagai is leading the charge in 2015. Against the Eels last weekend, Gagai made nine tackle busts and 126 metres and scored a memorable try. All roads are leading to Gagai putting in the extra yards heading into the Origin period where he hopes to play for Queensland. After re-signing with the club a fortnight ago, Gagai is only going to get more settled which spells bad news for opposite centre Kane Linnett.
Key Match-Up: Tariq Sims v Ethan Lowe. Tariq Sims is out to prove to the Newcastle faithful he is worth every penny they spent on him, while his former teammate and back-row replacement at the Cowboys Ethan Lowe is trying to maintain his solid start to the year. Together they make for an intriguing clash as they look to get the wood over one another to prove they are worthy causes for their team. Coincidentally, only 3.9 metres and 0.4 tackles separate their season averages per match (Sims 112.2 metres, 35 tackles; Lowe 116.1 metres and 35.4 tackles).
The History: Played 33; Knights 19, Cowboys 14. The Cowboys not only have form on their side they also have recent seasons history over Newcastle too. While Newcastle have won their past two games against North Queensland, including their 16-14 win in Round 2, since Round 18, 2011 the Knights have lost five of their past eight against Paul Green's men.
What are the Odds: The Cowboys continue to firm as favourites as the money runs 4:1 in favour of them. Sportsbet punters have launched into North Queensland conceding 4.0 start at the line as well as 13-plus in margin betting.
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials – Clayton Sharpe and Kasey Badger; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy and Daniel Irvine.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 (Live) – 2pm
The Way We See It: The Knights could shock some people here, considering they took down the Cowboys back in Round 2. However the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders at the moment and with revenge on their mind they may prove too good for the flailing Knights. Cowboys by four points.