North Queensland Toyota Cowboys v Wests Tigers
The Cowboys and Tigers are sitting at opposite ends of the table heading into Round 6, with the Cowboys at four wins from five starts while the Tigers are languishing in last place having only won a single game.
Despite the obvious difference between the teams, this could very well be a close contest, given the Cowboys' injuries and the Tigers' new coach in Ivan Cleary.
Jake Granville will be gone for three to six weeks, and Ben Hampton will replace him. Both men are small and fast, but experience with the team could make all the difference. Lachlan Coote is caught under an uncertain injury cloud, with Kalyn Ponga waiting to replace him. The young star is a good addition but lacks the experience to direct the Cowboys around the park as well as Coote does. This was clear in the Cowboys' Round 5 game against the Rabbitohs where the fullback defused several grubbers and scrambled well in defence.
Meanwhile the Tigers' talking points are away from the field following the appointment of Ivan Cleary. The players will be glad to have the drama around coaching staff finished with, and will be looking to make a good first impression to avoid being caught up in a potential shake-up in the following weeks.
Both teams have it where it counts, the Cowboys have great players in several positions like Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Gavin Cooper and Jason Taumalolo. The Tigers have established and up-coming players of their own, who can push the team up the field and score tries when they're there. James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods are not to be underestimated.
Why the Cowboys can win: They will be missing one key player from their attack and defence, and possibly two depending on Coote's condition, but the Cowboys will still be devastating up the middle and have strength and speed on the edge. Taumalolo is the obvious wrecking ball to push them up the field given he hasn't made fewer than 200 metres in a game this season. He's supported by Scott Bolton and Ethan Lowe who are improving in the absence of Matt Scott, with the pair averaging 145.2 metres per game. Pair this power in the middle with Thurston and Morgan passing to the likes of Gideon Gela Mosby and Kyle Feldt and they have a combination for points. After seeing Ben Hampton run down an intercept last week, it will be exciting to see another of the Cowboys' fastest players over 10 metres scooting out of dummy-half.
Why the Tigers can win: Woods, Moses and Tedesco are consistent from week to week, and the players around them will have an extra incentive with Cleary appointed to turn the club's season around. Woods is averaging 160 metres per game, and it will only take one other Tigers forward like Elijah Taylor or Ava Seumanufagai to have a barnstorming performance to really tilt the contest in their favour. The Tigers also have the most offloads in the game compared to the Cowboys' least, and if Tedesco can capitalise on broken play throughout the match they'll have Paul Green's side reeling.
The history: Played 32; Cowboys 15; Wests Tigers 17. The Tigers won the only encounter between the team last year, but the Cowboys have still had it over the Tigers in recent times, winning three of their last five matches.
Match officials: Referee: Grant Atkins. Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton. Touch judges: Belinda Sleeman and Nick Morel. Review Officials: Ben Galea and Ashley Klein.
Televised: Channel 9 and Fox League – live from 7.30pm.
How we see it: Even with a new coach and several injuries in the Cowboys squad, the Tigers will struggle to dominate the middle third of the field against Taumalolo, Bolton and Patrick Kaufusi. There's also the fact that the best player in the world is pulling the strings and players like Ponga and Coen Hess will be coming off the bench to up the energy in the middle of the game. Cowboys by 12.
First published on NRL.com.