Cowboys v Titans
7.30pm, Saturday 3 June
It has been three years since the Gold Coast Titans have had the better of the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys in an NRL match but expect the glitter strip team to be full of pep and willingness when they head to 1300SMILES for Saturday’s Round 13 showdown.
The Cowboys put on one of their best attacking displays of 2017 in Round 4 when they bested the Titans 32-26 on the Gold Coast, the visitors holding a comfortable two-try lead with five minutes remaining, until a late rally from the hosts tightened the scoreline.
That victory was the latest chapter in a recent domination of the Cowboys over the Titans in the National Rugby League’s ‘third’ Queensland derby, adding to Cowboys-Broncos and Broncos-Titans clashes.
In 2016, the Cowboys prevailed 32-16, 42-12 in 2015 and 28-8 in 2014, with the Titans triumphing 13-12 on the coast earlier in that year.
North Queensland leads the Gold Coast 10-8 in all matches between the teams, holds a 6-3 edge at 1300SMILES Stadium and have won five of the past eight matches between the sides.
But the knock-on effects of Wednesday night’s State of Origin opener – won convincingly by New South Wales – may help the Titans, who get back two of the Blues’ stars in Jarryd Hayne and Nathan Peats for Saturday’s key clash.
Hayne, in particular, showed touches of his devastating best at Suncorp Stadium and will be looking to bring that back to club level when he lines up in the centres alongside Kiwi behemoth Konrad Hurrell.
But on the flip side, Cowboys’ halfback and Queensland Origin utility Michael Morgan will be keen to get back on to the field for his club as the Cowboys chase a seventh win for the year.
Morgan’s Cowboys and Queensland teammate Justin O’Neill will not play for his club on Saturday after suffering concussion late in the game on Wednesday, the NRL’s strict head knock policy dictating that the Hughenden junior enter into a six-day assessment protocol, automatically ruling him out of the Titans match.
O’Neill’s place in the centres will likely be taken by Hope Vale product Javid Bowen, who himself is returning from shoulder and wrist injuries.
The 24-year-old will line up for his sixth game at NRL level this year, having not played there since Round 6 against Wests Tigers.
HESS HE CAN
One of North Queensland’s best in Round 4 was boom young back-rower Coen Hess, who crashed over for two second-half tries to blow the game open.
In an NRL career just 20 games in, Hess is making all the right moves.
He has scored 13 tries – eight this year – including timely doubles in three separate matches.
Look for the 20-year-old giant to prove a menace to the Titans’ left-edge defender when he comes into the game off the interchange bench.
HALF THE BATTLE
There will be plenty of interest in the middle of the field for Saturday’s game, with the respective halves pairing in each team a study of contrasts – in both playing style and experience.
For the Cowboys, Michael Morgan, 25, and Ray Thompson, 27, have 222 first-grade games between them.
Morgan is a ball-runner first but has been leading the side around the park with more confidence each week as Johnathan Thurston’s injury-induced absence stretches to a sixth match at club level.
Thompson will provide stability and defensive starch in the centre and will look to use his efficient kicking game to good effect.
For the Titans, young dynamos Kane Elgey, 23, and Ash Taylor, 22, are seen as the future of the club.
Taylor is immensely skilful and can read a game to a level belying his 34 games’ NRL experience, while Elgey has played just 26 games over two seasons, mainly due to injury.
He missed the entire 2016 campaign with a serious knee injury, but is enjoying consistent good form and will provide the Titans with toughness and consistency in the centre third of the ground.
WHAT’S THE SCORE?
Despite being five positions higher on the NRL ladder than the Titans, the seventh-placed Cowboys score on average three tries a game to the Gold Coast’s four.
The Cowboys, on the flip side, have posted 258 points across 11 games to the Cowboys’ 213, but have conceded 292 as compared with NQ’s 222.
The Titans outscore the Cowboys 23 points to 19 on average, so the key for the Cowboys on Saturday night will be keeping things tight … Neil Henry’s men have points in them and plenty of strike players to score those points.
In defence, though, the Cowboys are a seven-point-a-game better performing outfit, conceding 20 to the Titans’ 27.
HAYNE MAIN ATTRACTION
Attention-magnet Hayne will be full of confidence after his star turn in Wednesday’s big Origin win for the Blues, so the Cowboys will have to be on guard for his devastating attacking raids and all-around field presence.
Named in the centres, Hayne in reality can bob up anywhere and essentially acts as a third half alongside Elgey and Taylor.
Whoever marks him – possibly Kane Linnett – will have his hands full all night.