Round 2: Bulldogs v Cowboys preview
Opening round losers eye first premiership points
The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and North Queensland Cowboys kick-off rugby league's new normal on Thursday evening, as supporters are locked out of matches in accordance with the national coronavirus guidelines.
Showing tremendous resilience in defeat against Parramatta last Thursday, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be looking to improve their attack having been held try-less in the 8-2 opening night loss to the Eels.
Staring down the prospect of beginning a season with back-to-back losses for the fourth consecutive year, coach Dean Pay will need his players to rectify a number of areas from last week's performance - including 28 missed tackles, 13 errors and a 70% completion rate - that if left unaddressed could cruel their chances going forward
Having their new housewarming spoiled by the Broncos last Friday, the North Queensland Cowboys will be out to make amends by continuing a dominant run of form over their opponents.
Winning six of eight clashes against the Bulldogs during Paul Green's tenure, the Cowboys will need to address a number of major issues - notably 51 missed tackles and 11 errors - that proved costly in the opening round 28-21 loss of Brisbane.
Boosted by the inclusion of veteran forward Josh McGuire in the front row, the ensuing reshuffle sees John Asiata shift to the bench in place of Corey Jensen. Tom Opacic is on stand-by for Justin O'Neill, who needs to pass HIA protocols following a head knock sustained early in the loss last Friday.
The Bulldogs hold a strong overall record against the Cowboys winning 23 of 39 matches dating back to 1995.
Who to watch: Granted a first grade recall following the Bulldogs' decision to stand down two players for off-field behaviour, Samoan international Christian Crichton will be determined to make the most of his opportunity back in the top grade. Managing just five appearances in his first year with the club having been signed from Penrith's production line of junior talent, the 23-year-old speedster provided strong service in last week's loss to run for over 100 metres and hold his own opposite Maika Sivo. Retaining his place despite copping a careless high tackle charge by the match review committee, look for Crichton to cause Cowboys utility Ben Hampton plenty of havoc with the ball in hand.
Reclaiming his place in the starting side after an underwhelming 2019 campaign emblematic of the Cowboys as a whole, Coen Hess looms as game-breaker for the visitors on Thursday night. Emerging as one of the most destructive ball runners in the league with his impact off the bench, the 23-year-old Queensland representative showed the continued evolution of his game to produce 30 tackles and close to 100 running metres in 80 minutes against Brisbane last Friday. Set to forge a potent combination alongside new signing Esan Marsters on the right edge, look for Hess to expose Reimis Smith's inexperience in the centres to his advantage on Thursday evening.
My tip: While the Bulldogs lack the attacking finesse to go try-for-try with the Cowboys in a high-scoring match, if the home side can establish an early lead their defensive resolve should get them over the line in the end. Bulldogs by 6.