Jason Taumalolo | Photo: Scott Davis © NRL Photos

Cowboys v Bulldogs PREVIEW

NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS v CANTERBURY BANKSTOWN BULLDOGS
7.50pm, Thursday 21 July, 1300SMILES Stadium

Referees: Jared Maxwell, Gavin Reynolds
Review officials: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten, Steve Chiddy
Touch judges: Rickey MacFarlane, Tim Roby

Cowboys: 3rd (11 wins, six losses, two byes): 26 points (+173)
Bulldogs: 4th (11 wins, six losses, two byes): 26 points (+109)


TEAMS

Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Javid Bowen, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Kane Linnett, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn, 15 John Asiata, 16 Scott Bolton, 17 Ben Hannant. Coach: Paul Green.

Bulldogs: 1 Will Hopoate, 2 Brett Morris, 3 Josh Morris, 4 Curtis Rona, 5 Sam Perrett, 6 Josh Reynolds, 7 Moses Mbye, 8 Aidan Tolman, 9 Michael Lichaa, 10 James Graham (c), 11 Josh Jackson, 12 Greg Eastwood, 13 David Klemmer. Interchange: 14 Sam Kasiano, 15 Tony Williams, 16 Tom Browne, 17 Raymond Faitala-Mariner, 19 Danny Fualalo, 20 Craig Garvey. Coach: Des Hasler.


CASUALTY WARD

Cowboys: Kyle Laybutt (hand) – Round 21; Sam Hoare (knee/shoulder) – season
Bulldogs: Adam Elliott (hamstring) – Round 23; Chase Stanley (knee) – season


MATCH FACTS

  • This Round 20 blockbuster pits third place on the NRL ladder against fourth. Both teams are on 26 competition points, with the Cowboys occupying the superior position due to a better points differential: +173 versus +109.

  • The Cowboys are unbeaten at 1300SMILES Stadium this year, winning all eight of their home games to date, while the Bulldogs have one of the competition’s best away records, winning seven matches and losing just the two.

  • The Bulldogs have won their past four matches, with their last loss being a 20-18 result against competition leaders Cronulla in Round 13.

  • Both teams come into the match refreshed after both enjoyed their second bye last round.

  • Bulldogs skipper James Graham has the most running metres of any player in the NRL, with 3048 from 17 games, or 179m per match. Cowboys lock Jason Taumalolo is just behind Graham with 2753, or 162m per match. Both have played in every game this year.

  • Graham’s teammate Aidan Tolman is fifth overall on run metres, with 2420 (142m per match). Tolman is second in the comp for actual runs with 298, behind stat leader Graham at 369. Taumalolo is seventh with 255.

  • The Cowboys have completed a competition-highest 519 sets this year; the Bulldogs are third at 508. The Bulldogs are one of the better-completing teams in the comp at 80%.

  • The history: Played 33 – Cowboys 12, Bulldogs 21. Three of the past four games have gone the Cowboys' way, including last year's dramatic 23-16 win in Townsville.

KEY MATCH-UP – TAUMALOLO v KLEMMER

While these are probably the two most consistently destructive runners in each pack, this is just a token match-up.

It's really about every single man in the middle third going hell-for-leather in a gargantuan struggle for field position.

On paper these forwards are just too hard to split: they both have incredible running power and ball-playing finesse, while the Cowboys are themselves starting to join the offload party – a staple of the Dogs' play.


FINAL WORD

Cowboys coach Paul Green: “It’s a big game for both clubs. The next two weeks are pretty big for us.”

Bulldogs coach Des Hasler: “When you’re playing against the current premiers and a side like the Cowboys, you need to be on your game.”