NYC preview: Cowboys v Titans
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys Under-20s team return to face the very team that was part of their current four-game slide when they host the young Titans on Saturday.
The seventh-placed, six-win, five-loss Cowboys have not tasted victory in a month, with poor form and a mounting injury toll conspiring to see them fall to the lower half of the top eight after spending the first part of the season entrenched in the top two.
The rot started against the Eels in Round 9 and continued the next week against the Titans – now placed fifth with seven wins from 11 matches – when the-then underdogs scored at the death to beat the competition heavyweights 30-26.
The game was actually a make-up for the postponed Round 4 clash between the sides, and was played on the Representative Round weekend when the rest of the National Youth Competition had the weekend off.
Since that day, losses to the Bulldogs and Sharks have followed, contributing to their weakened standing on the points ladder, while the young Titans have continued on their winning ways, downing the Sea Eagles and the Storm in successive rounds.
So, the southern Queensland visitors have completely upended the form guide based on recent results and will travel north to Townsville justifiably confident they can successfully complete an NQ hit-and-run mission.
“We know the areas we need to improve on and we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to lift our performance in specific areas,” coach Aaron Payne said.
“We had the (Round 12) bye last weekend, so we’re refreshed, re-energised and ready to put in a good performance.”
Injuries continue to stymie Payne’s young team with back-rower Hiale Roycroft in serious doubt for the match after sustaining a leg injury playing for the Queensland Under-20s in Wednesday night's Origin curtain-raiser.
But the team does retain exciting talent Kalyn Ponga, the NRL squad member having come back to the NYC in recent weeks following the return to National Rugby League action of first-choice fullback Lachlan Coote.
Ponga has been named to play halfback as regular No.7 Jake Clifford continues to be troubled by a hamstring complaint.
The game kicks off at 5.15pm.