Fri, Aug 23, 8:56am by Rob Sheeley
Teams: North Queensland Cowboys vs Newcastle Knights
Time/Venue: 7:30pm, Saturday 24th August at 1300 SMILES Stadium
The battle of two men on horseback, a cowboy brandishing two six shooters up against a tin clad knight armed with a jousting stick. This is rugby leagues version of Roy Rogers versus Sir Lancelot. Luckily for Roy this one will take place at the O.K Corral.
It will be a warm winters evening and a large, parochial Cowboys crowd baying for Newcastle blood that pack into 1300 Smiles Stadium this Saturday night. They will be there to support their teams do or die match as they continue their late bid for a top eight place.
Punters are loving the Cowboys momentum at the moment and are pretty keen to bet that it will continue in this match. North Queensland are currently $1.57 to topple the Knights who are $2.45.
The Cowboys have won three in a row defeating the Rabbitohs, Panthers and Titans, and have looked mighty impressive in the process. Their methodical 22-10 win over the Gold Coast side last week was a clear indication of the sort of form they are in.
Newcastle’s topsy turvy season continued when they were unable to match it with the Storm last week. It was a brutal affair that would have certainly taken it’s toll on players. Had they of had a couple of major refereeing decisions go their way, the 23-10 score line may have been much closer or even favoured the Knights. The Newcastle team has managed two wins and a draw from their last five outings and will be very keen to secure themselves a playoff spot this week.
The Cowboys have only made one change to the team that defeated the Titans last week due to the suspension of Ashton Sims. Neil Henry has bought in both Scott Bolton and Ethan Lowe to an extended bench, one will replace Sims and the other will drop out of the squad closer to game day.
The Knights have also made one change and coincidentally it’s Ashton Sims’ brother Korbin who drops out of their squad at the expense of Neville Costigan who returns from injury.
History shows that the Knights have the edge over the Cowboys. In twenty-nine meetings, the Newcastle side have won seventeen to the Cowboys twelve. The Knights’ record in Townsville is far from hopeless either. They have won six from thirteen matches up there which is as good as most teams could hope for, although they have only won one game there since 2009, losing three of their last four.
A loss here and the North Queensland Cowboys can start booking their end of season trip, that’s the simple equation for the boys from Townsville. The Cowboys sit on twenty two competition points with three games remaining. The cut off point is likely to be twenty seven points so a loss will see their aspirations ended.
The Knights sit on twenty five competition points so they are far from home and hosed as far as playoffs go, so they’d be determined to register a victory here in Round 24.
Cowboys coach Neil Henry has stumbled across a pot of gold that he was not searching for in the past month. Henry, crippled by a massive injury list, was in desperate need of someone to fill the role of hooker. He took the risk of giving an inexperienced half back who had played little football in the position a go, and it has paid dividends.
Ray Thompson may well of inadvertently discovered his true calling as a result of Henry’s gamble. He has been nothing short of outstanding over the past month and it is no coincidence that the Cowboys have started winning as a result. Thompson’s scheming style of play gives the North Queensland outfit some real forward momentum and he could well be the unexpected star of this game.
The Cowboys also have another secret to their form; certainty. All season it seemed the players were talking about playing for their coach, Neil Henry’s future, it was almost a preoccupation. Well the coaches future is now clear, he has none (at the Cowboys anyway) and call it coincidence if you want, but they have won every game since that decision was made.
Johnathan Thurston and Jarrod Mullin have close to the two best kicking games in the NRL competition. This game could hinge on which player executes it better this week.
The last three weeks have seen Johnathan Thurston exhibit more wizardry than a Harry Potter convention. It’s not only Thurston’s deft kicking, which often turns an average set of six tackles into a good one, that is a feature of his amazing performances. Thurstons selective passing has been on song and a sight to behold. But it doesn’t end there. The real highlight of Thurston’s game has been his running game. Thurston has the uncanny ability of sensing when a defender is not one hundred percent committed to the tackle, a quick dummy, some footballing sleight of hand and he’s gone in two strides; more often than not it leads to a try.
I’m expecting another Thurston master class in this match.
In the past three weeks the Cowboys have scored freely and defended staunchly. They have amassed eighty eight points and only had twenty six scored against them. No team has scored more than twelve points against the North Queensland side in that time. They are in top form.
Reality probably tells us that the last three weeks is what we actually expected from the Cowboys months ago. A side boasting the two Australian front rowers as well as Johnathan Thurston, Brent Tate and Matt Bowen should be well and truly ensconced in the top eight. It seems they are finally realising that potential after a season of under achieving.
The Cowboys have an imposing forward pack that is bigger than Ben Hur, but it is the combination of the vital three players that has really clicked in recent times; Thurston, Thompson and Bowen. The veteran Bowen has been hampered by injury for a couple of seasons now and not looked the once revered player he was. But his recent return has seen some vintage play from the diminutive fullback and he is forming a deadly combination with his fellow playmakers.
I think that given the platform that the Cowboys big forwards can lay, these players will get more than their share of opportunities to score plenty of points.
I’m tipping the Cowboys by 10.
I like the Cowboys at $1.57 on the H2H market and think that it is one bet well worth having.
But my best bet in this game is one that I have based on the Cowboys tough defensive efforts of the past few weeks. The Knights are $1.82 to score less than 16.5 points. No one at all (including the second placed Rabbitohs) have been able to do that in the last three weeks.
The Cowboys 1-12 in the margin market also looks quite inviting at $3.00. I’ll definitely be having something on that and recommend you do too.
If having a flutter on the first try scorer market, I’d be going with Kane Linnett for the Cowboys. Linnett looks value at $14.
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