Cowboys v Warriors
The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys are searching for a season’s best fourth-straight win this weekend when they host the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday night.
The sixth-placed Cowboys have been ultra-consistent in recent weeks, having won five of their past six matches, with the sole loss a one-point heart-breaker to the Melbourne Storm in Round 15.
The 11th-placed Warriors have been up and down, and were hit with the recent bad news that they’ll be without their exciting halfback Shaun Johnson for an extended period of time.
IN HIS STEAD
Filling Johnson’s shoes on Saturday will be 23-year-old Mason Lino, who will played just his third NRL game in three years.
Coincidentally, Lino made his NRL debut against the Cowboys in Round 24, 2015 in Auckland, a match in which the Cowboys came home with a wet sail to win 50-16 after trailing early.
Lino played the next two games for the Warriors and hasn’t been seen in the top grade since.
CONTINUITY IS KING
Despite their heavy injury toll – plus State of Origin disruptions – the Cowboys have benefitted from some all-important personnel consistency in recent weeks.
If veteran winger Antonio Winterstein (calf strain) is cleared to take on the Warriors, it will mark three straight games that head coach Paul Green has used the same 17 players, with the team having won all three of those games.
Mid-season recruit Te Maire Martin has played two games for his new club and looks to be Green’s first-choice five-eighth, playing alongside Michael Morgan in the halves.
Morgan – alongside Cowboys captain Gavin Cooper and young forward Coen Hess – were given an extra day off training this week following their increased playing workload as they helped the Queensland Maroons to a third-straight Origin series triumph.
All three are expected to line up against the Warriors on Saturday night, with their training workload to be reduced over the coming weeks, rather than them missing any actual matches.
Back-rower Cooper played the full 80 minutes in games two and three of the series, and has continued to punch out full matches at club level, while Morgan played in all three Origins, the first two off the bench and game three as starting centre.
Young tyro Hess, 20, played limited minutes off the bench in game two and a longer stint in game three.
The Cowboys forward pack is also looking well settled as veteran prop Scott Bolton continues to lead from the front, ably assisted by John Asiata and Jason Taumalolo in the middle, while Shaun Fensom, Corey Jensen and Hess provide good core support off the bench.
On the edges, Cooper and Lowe are regular 80-minute men while the in-form Jake Granville and utility Ben Hampton continue to share the dummy-half duties across the 80 minutes.
WAITING IN THE WINGS
Should Winterstein be ruled out, Javid Bowen, 24, is shaping as the man most likely to take his place outside centre Kane Linnett on the left edge.
Bowen has played 17 NRL games over two seasons, including seven games this season.
If he comes into the side this weekend, it will mark his fifth return to the first 17 in 2017 as he continues to provide handy injury cover for Green’s regular outside backs.
Bowen got his NRL career off to a flyer last season, scoring four tries in his first five games after debuting against the St George Illawarra Dragons in Round 5 last year.
Since then, he has scored just one more try as he manages the challenges of moving between the Cowboys and their Queensland Cup feeder side the Northern Pride.
HEAD TO HEAD
While recent results between the sides has been shared – the Cowboys and the Warriors have won four apiece in their past eight clashes – the scales are tipped heavily in the Cowboys’ favour when hosting the Warriors, the men from North Queensland having won 10 of 11 clashes at 1300SMILES Stadium since 2003.
In all-time head-to-head, there’s nothing that can split the sides, with 18 wins apiece heading into Saturday’s Round 20 showdown.
Last year, the sides met only once, with the Cowboys prevailing at home 34-6.
In the Cowboys’ premiership year, they bested the Warriors in Townsville 28-24 in Round 7 before that famous big win in Round 24 in Auckland, where winger Kyle Feldt scored a memorable hat-trick.
That game – late in what would be the Cowboys’ premiership year – was a real sliding doors moment for Feldt, who until that point was not a member of the regular 17.
Brought into that right wing spot to replace Matthew Wright, Feldt made every post a winner from that point – he went on to score that try in the 2015 grand final and he hasn’t been out of the team since.
He has scored eight tries in his past eight games after going tryless for the first nine matches this year.