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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Do-or-die for Bulldogs in season defining encounter
Condemned to the bottom of the NRL ladder with one win from their first six matches, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be approaching Friday night's clash with the North Queensland Cowboys as a must-win in their bid to play beyond Round 25.
Unable to spark a comeback against South Sydney in a spirited 14-6 tussle on Good Friday, Bulldogs coach Dean Pay will be aware of the challenge ahead of his side as the blue and whites strive to emulate the club's feats following a similar start to the 2013 season.
Fighting back from an almost identical record over the opening six rounds to finish the regular season in sixth position - after six rounds the 2013 Bulldogs scored 68 points, the 2019 Bulldogs have scored 70 points over the same time period - the task facing the current crop of Canterbury players appears significantly harder given the lack of experience throughout the squad.
Missing three of their most experienced players due to injury and suspension in a team averaging just 59 first grade games, the Bulldogs have been unable to make meaningful changes to the team to take on the Cowboys with Rhyse Martin starting in place of Adam Elliott in an otherwise unchanged 17.
Pulling off a rare win in New Zealand last Saturday, the North Queensland Cowboys will be looking to record consecutive away wins for the first time since the 2017 finals series.
Winning five of six matches against the Bulldogs under Paul Green, Friday night will mark the first time the Cowboys have played at ANZ Stadium since the grand final two years ago, a venue they have won at in six of their previous seven visits.
Moving up to thirteenth on the ladder after downing the Warriors 17-10 last week, the Cowboys will be chasing their first win in New South Wales since last May, along with improving upon their standing as one of the worst defensive teams in the league - second only to their opponents on Friday night.
Potentially gaining a game-changing inclusion, Jason Taumalolo has been named on the extended bench just five weeks after suffering a grade three medial ligament injury in an otherwise unchanged squad.
Last meeting: Round 6 2018 - Cowboys 10 Bulldogs 27
Who to watch: Tasked with the unenviable responsibility of directing play under very trying circumstances, Lachlan Lewis has consistently had a dig over the opening six rounds. Going toe to toe with Rabbitohs enforcer Sam Burgess last Friday, the 22-year-old halfback has shown himself to be a willing player since debuting midway through last season, despite the lack of established players to help carry the load during his NRL infancy. Eager to forge a reputation of his own having lived with the legacy of his Immortal uncle during his progression through the lower grades, look for Lewis to increase his involvement on Friday night as the Bulldogs fight to record their first home win since the young playmaker nailed a 35-metre field goal to down the Warriors last August.
Bringing up 100 NRL games after moving to Townsville alongside coach Paul Green five years ago, John Asiata will be out to commemorate his milestone match with a win on the road. Coming into the starting side with Jason Taumalolo sidelined through injury, the 26-year-old Samoan international has provided the Cowboys with a much-needed attacking spark during the early rounds, drawing upon the ball-playing skills that saw him fill in as the largest halfback in the league two years ago. Proving to be one of the unsung heroes of North Queensland's golden years throughout the 2010s, look for Asiata to thrive in his new role to help the visitors claim their third win of the season.
The favourite: Despite winning one match all season, the Bulldogs have been installed as favourites to come away with two competition points.
My tip: For as willing as the Bulldogs have been for much of 2019, the disparity in experience appears set to extinguish any chance they have of qualifying for the finals on Friday night. Cowboys by 8.
1. Nick Meaney 2. Jayden Okunbor 3. Kerrod Holland 4. Will Hopoate 5. Reimis Smith 6. Jack Cogger 7. Lachlan Lewis 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Jeremy Marshall-King 10. Ofahiki Ogden 11. Josh Jackson 12. Corey Harawira-Naera 13. Rhyse Martin 14. Michael Lichaa 15. Danny Fualalo 16. Adam Elliot 17. Chris Smith
1. Te Maire Martin 2. Justin O'Neill 3. Jordan Kahu 4. Enari Tuala 5. Ben Hampton 6. Jake Clifford 7. Michael Morgan 8. Matt Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Josh McGuire 13. John Asiata 14. Kurt Baptiste 15. Coen Hess 16. Scott Bolton 17. Francis Molo
Referees: Chris Sutton, Phil Henderson; Sideline Officials: Liam Nicholls, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Henry Perenara, Steve Clark;