While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Cowboys attempt to jump back into the top 8 against improving Knights
A gallant defeat to the St George Illawarra Dragons last week has left the North Queensland Cowboys in unfamiliar territory heading into this clash with the cellar-dwelling Newcastle Knights, it is in the bottom half of the top 8. If it slips out of the top 8 it will be the first time in two years that this has happened for the Townsville based club. They won't get it any easier this week as a much improved Newcastle Knights side come to town desperate to add more pain to a Cowboys side that is staring down the barrel of three consecutive defeats if it doesn't get the job done on Saturday night.
Thankfully, the Cowboys do get a little bit of a reprieve with Antonio Winterstein named to return to the starting side on the wing in place of Gideon Gela-Mosby. Winterstein has been a vital cog in the Cowboys side of the last few seasons and his ability to make metres out of his own end as well as his finishing skill close to the try line is sure to benefit the Cowboys in this clash.
The Knights have had a tough start to the season, showing their ability to match it with other sides for large portions of games. However they lack that little bit of polish and class in the back end of matches which has been its downfall. Last Friday night against the Sydney Roosters, the Knights were in that clash up to its eyeballs but were blown away in the last 15 minutes. It will continue to have these teething pains as the likes of Brock Lamb, Danny Levi and Sam Stone (amongst others) get used to the pace and aggression of the NRL. This is a danger match for the Cowboys and Newcastle won't get too many better opportunities to knock over one of the competitions heavyweights away from home (they are minus Jonathan Thurston and Lachlan Coote). Look out for youngster Sam Stone (son of former Knights coach Rick Stone) as he starts in the second row on Friday. He is a talented young player and is a very capable defender.
The Cowboys have won the past two clashes against the Knights including last year's encounter. The Knights do have a commendable record at 1300Smiles Stadium with seven wins from 17 visits up North.
Who to watch: John Asiata was a revelation playing in the halves last week against the Dragons,m almost single handedly getting the Cowboys back in the contest. For a big man, he has amazing ball skills and his passing is fantastic. Look for him to mix it up on Saturday as he will run the ball a bit from his stand off position and let Michael Morgan do the organisation side of things. Will be a handful for the Knights to defend against that is for sure.
The Knights have Mitch Barnett who is quickly turning out to be one of the best defenders in the club. He has locked down the lock-forward position this season and has been impressive in a side that has won just one game. He has good speed and quickness for a forward and covers a lot of ground. He is also very valuable in the running game averaging 90 metres from 11 hit ups per game. Look for him to hold together the middle of the field for the Knights in the first 15-20 minutes where this match will be won. Barnett has the dubious honour of having won just one match in his 18 game NRL career, something he will be desperate to improve on in his career!
The favourite: Despite the last two defeats, the Cowboys are backed heavily at home against the bottom placed Knights.
My tip: The Cowboys should win this clash but think it will be a close clash. The Knights don't have the weapons to really challenge the home side but do have tenacity and guts. They will rely on this and attempt to grind out a result. One of those games that will be won through the middle. Cowboys by 8.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. John Asiata 7. Michael Morgan 8. Patrick Kaufusi 9. Blake Leary 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 15. Ethan Lowe 16. Ben Spina 17. Corey Jensen 19. Ray Thompson
1. Brendan Elliott 2. Ken Sio 3. Dane Gagai 4. Peter Mata'utia 5. Nathan Ross 6. Brock Lamb 11. Sione Mata'utia 8. Daniel Saifiti 9. Danny Levi 10. Josh Starling 14. Luke Yates 12. Sam Stone 13. Mitchell Barnett 15. Anthony Tupou 16. Jack Stockwell 17. Jacob Saifiti 18. Jaelen Feeney