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Cowboys try to cover loss of big men as Sea Eagles search for their first win of 2017.
Saturday night's clash between the North Queensland Cowboys and Manly Sea Eagles is going to be a intriguing battle between two sides that couldn't have had more different starts to the season.
The home side the Cowboys have come off the back of back-to-back wins in Golden point, against top contenders in the Raiders and Broncos, and in these performances have shown their resolve, will to win and sheer class.
Manly on the other hand have had a pretty rough start to their campaign. Despite starting the season off with two home games, they have been outclassed by Parramatta in round one and then Souths in round two, the cracks appearing in their former 'Fortress'.
There continues to be in fighting in the club at the board level and on the field Trent Barrett is feeling the heat with his young side struggling defensively. There is the possibility that getting away from Sydney could help the Sea Eagles, although it's going to take a mighty effort to topple the Cowboys who are a different beast at home.
One thing working in the favour of the visitors is the fact that the Cowboys will be without Matt Scott (torn ACL) and Jason Taumalolo (two week suspension), as well as Lachlan Coote and Antonio Winterstein.
Last meeting: Round 16 2016 - Cowboys 30 Sea Eagles 26
The Cowboys have won the past five matches against Manly including the last three at 1300SMILES Stadium. However before this streak Manly had won the previous six. Up in Townsville, Manly has won six times in fourteen trips up north.
Who to watch: Kalyn Ponga has been the name on a lot of lips of late and he now gets to showcase his ability on the national stage in his preferred role of fullback. The injury to Lachlan Coote has opened the door for the Newcastle bound player. Light on his feet, quick and with playmaking abilities to boot, Ponga has all the skills to be a superstar in the game. Particularly look for his string kick returns and support play, as he will be extremely dangerous in broken field situations. Manly will no doubt be keeping close tabs on the youngster this Saturday night.
Manly's Brenton Lawrence will want to have a big game in the engine room on Saturday considering the Cowboys are weakened in the forwards department. Look for some strong carries from Lawrence, in an attempt to bend back the defensive line of the Cowboys and get them retreating back which will benefit the Manly halves that have struggled in the first two games. Manly has also been lacking severely in the offloading department and Lawrence has just one next to his name in 2017, he needs to try and create some more second phase play by keeping the ball alive.
The favourite: No surprises here, Cowboys warm favourites in the betting markets.
My tip: Hard to go for anything apart from a Cowboys win here. Despite the losses of some of their big men, they still have Thurston, Morgan and the excitement machine Ponga. Manly will need to complete a high percentage of their sets and Daly Cherry-Evans needs to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Cowboys by 12.
1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Javid Bowen 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Patrick Kaufusi 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 16. Coen Hess 14. Ben Hampton 15. John Asiata 17. Sam Hoare 18. Shaun Fensom
1. Tom Trbojevic 2. Jorge Taufua 3. Dylan Walker 4. Brian Kelly 5. Akuila Uate 6. Blake Green 7. Daly Cherry-Evans 8. Brenton Lawrence 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. Nate Myles 11. Frank Winterstein 12. Curtis Sironen 13. Jake Trbojevic 15. Lewis Brown 17. Shaun Lane 19. Jackson Hastings 21. Billy Bainbridge
Referees: Henry Perenara, Peter Gough; Sideline Officials: Rohan Best, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;