A team searching for consistency while dealing with a heavy injury toll will come up against a side simply searching for answers when the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys host the Newcastle Knights on Saturday.
The twilight match will be the Cowboys’ first in the 5.30pm time slot for 2017, with the hosts hoping the sun will set on the Knights’ fortunes at a packed 1300SMILES Stadium.
Families are urged to take advantage of the earlier kick-off for the NRL Anzac Round match as the Cowboys search for a much-needed return to the winner’s circle following losses in their past two outings.
The team’s 4-3 win-loss record has them sitting at the foot of the top eight, while the Knights have posted their sole win from seven matches to be last on the National Rugby League ladder.
Here are five things to watch for Cowboys v Knights!
1. LEST WE FORGET
Townsville is a garrison city – with Defence personnel and their families making up an estimated 15,000 of its 171,000 population – and is also the geographical heartland of Cowboys country.
With Anzac Day on Tuesday and the NRL honouring the occasion across Round 8, Saturday’s pre-game activities promise to be a stirring occasion.
From the forlorn yet powerful sounding of The Last Post, to uplifting Australia and New Zealand national anthems to the Cowboys’ striking Anzac-themed jerseys, it will be a night of emotion on many fronts.
2. HALVES’ TIME
After their debut appearance as the new-look Cowboys halves in last weekend’s loss to the Dragons, dynamic duo Michael Morgan and John Asiata will be better for the run in the key playmaking roles.
With regular halfback Johnathan Thurston and busy fullback Lachlan Coote out injured, Morgan has been the chief shot-caller for the Cowboys.
Asiata – usually a middle forward but with a deft passing game – was a late call-up to the five-eighth role last weekend after initially being named on the interchange bench.
This weekend, Asiata has been named in the No.6 jersey after impressing against the Dragons.
The Sydney junior and former Roosters under-20 player had a whale of a second half, effecting two try assists, including a superbly timed pass to put Morgan over for a try.
How these men run the team after one run under their belts will go a long way to determining the team’s fate on Saturday.
3. HESS IS MORE
Currently enjoying a run of stellar form, hulking back-rower Coen Hess, 20, will look to impose himself on the Knights’ young lineup.
The former Cowboys under-20s star has played in every game this year, scoring six tries in seven games to be the only forward in the NRL’s top-six try-scorers.
Hess is always a threat close to the line as he combines speed off the mark, deft footwork and raw power to surge through would-be defensive lines.
4. DIAL TONES
As Cowboys coach Paul Green rang in the changes for this match, the first man he called was veteran winger Antonio Winterstein.
Sidelined since Round 2 with a broken arm, the powerful ball returner is back in action for a Cowboys team searching for calm, experienced heads to do the no-nonsense stuff crucial to building a strong platform.
They don’t come any more no-nonsense than “Tones”, the quietly spoken father-of-three always letting his play do the talking.
5. READY TO RUMBLE
Take advantage of what’s likely to be a glorious day and head to 1300SMILES Stadium early for the first curtain-raiser, a special match-up between the Army Thunder and the Palm Island Skipjacks.
The teams contest the Bill Coolburra Shield annually, in memory of the former soldier and Palm Island resident.
These games are always fiercely contested and will likely be high-scoring.
Anzac Day tribute match – Saturday 22 April, 1300SMILES Stadium
Game day guide
1pm: Gates open
1.10pm: Bill Coolburra Shield – Army Thunder v Palm Island Skipjacks
2.50pm: NYC Cowboys v Knights
4.25pm: Pre-game show, including 1RAR band and Tri-service
5.30pm: NRL Cowboys v Knights