BURLEIGH BEARS v TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS
3pm, Saturday 4 July, Pizzey Park
Referee: Clayton Sharpe

Despite sitting two points clear atop the Intrust Super Cup ladder with an imposing record of 13 wins and just the two losses, the Blackhawks face plenty of challenges this weekend when they travel to the south-east to play the eighth-placed (eight wins, seven losses) Burleigh Bears.

The Blackhawks could be short of a gallop given their last scheduled game, hosting Sunshine Coast, was forfeited as the Falcons dealt with the fallout following the death of prop James Ackerman the week prior.

The Falcons were unable to travel to Townsville last weekend as players and the wider club community mourned Ackerman and supported his young family.

Coupled with a recent lack of match time, the Blackhawks will be without a significant portion of their Cowboys-contracted players as North Queensland head coach Paul Green fills in the gaps created by the State of Origin-imposed absence of Johnathan Thurston, Matt Scott, Michael Morgan and James Tamou.

Playmakers Ray Thompson – returning from a fractured cheekbone – and Robert Lui will play the Dragons in the NRL, while Glenn Hall will travel to Wollongong as the Cowboys’ 18th man.

That leaves only Zac Santo, Kyle Feldt and Kelepi Tanginoa as Cowboys-aligned Blackhawks available to suit up at Pizzey Park this weekend.

NORTHERN PRIDE v EASTS TIGERS
5.30pm, Saturday 4 July, Barlow Park
Referee: Chris Anderson

With eight wins from 15 matches, the Pride sit just outside the Intrust Super Cup top six and will be full of confidence following an impressive 20-14 win over the previously second-placed Ipswich Jets at Barlow Park last weekend.

They play at home again but face another formidable opponent in the fifth-placed Tigers with the match a grand final replay from last year.

The Pride dominated the Tigers that time, but a much tighter contest is expected on Saturday, with the Pride significantly weakened by both Cowboys’ call-ups and injury.

Of Cowboys-aligned players in their ranks, the Pride will only be able to call on hooker Cameron King this weekend.

Patrick Kaufusi has again been named in the Cowboys’ first 17 to take on the Dragons, while Scott Bolton – who last week returned to the field with the Pride following a long injury layoff – was also recalled into the NRL team.

Ben Spina, originally named in an extended Cowboys squad, is still suffering from a rib injury and will miss footy this weekend, while fullback Hezron Murgha won’t play as he recovers from concussion suffered in the Tigers match last weekend.

Centre/winger Javid Bowen continues to recover from a shoulder injury and should return to playing in the coming weeks.

SUNSHINE COAST FALCONS v MACKAY CUTTERS
6pm, Saturday 4 July, Sunshine Coast Stadium
Referee: Nick Morel

The Cutters remain in the competition’s top six with an eight-win, seven-loss record, but inconsistent results over recent weeks have cruelled any last-half season push for a higher spot on the ladder.

This was evidenced by last weekend’s 28-16 loss to Wynnum Manly at Stadium Mackay, with the Seagulls consolidating their place in the top four.

Regardless of the Cutters’ form or attitude, it shapes as being an emotional afternoon at Sunshine Coast Stadium with the Falcons playing their first match since the death late last month of prop James Ackerman.

Cowboys player-wise, the Cutters will only have hooker Josh Chudleigh at their disposal, with Rory Kostjasyn and Sam Hoare playing for the Cowboys against the Dragons in Wollongong.

Hoare will be sorely missed after putting in a players’ player performance against the Seagulls.

The towering prop played 65-plus minutes for the Cutters after Cowboys coach Paul Green wanted him exposed to long minutes ahead of his starting prop’s role in the NRL this weekend.

Round 16 results:

  • Northern Pride 20 (Vaipuna Tia Kilifi 2, Linc Port tries; Justin Castellaro 4 goals) def Ipswich Jets14 (Carlin Anderson, Brandon McGrady tries; Carlin Anderson 3 goals) at Barlow Park.
  • Wynnum Manly Seagulls 26 (David Stagg 2, Daniel Ogden, Patrick Templeman, Jon Grieve tries; Matthew Seamark 3 goals) def Mackay Cutters 16 (Sam Clune, Cameron Cullen, Pulou Vaituutuu tries; Liam Taylor 2 goals) at Stadium Mackay.
  • Townsville Blackhawks def Sunshine Coast Falcons (on forfeit)