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Well-rested Bulldogs square off against depleted Cowboys
Stressing the importance of the Round 10 encounter to the point players were denied the opportunity to play representative football, Bulldogs coach Des Hasler will be out to validate his controversial call with a win on Thursday night. With the side well-rested following their last clash with the Raiders a fortnight ago, the Blue and Whites will have their sights set firmly on accounting for a North Queensland outfit experiencing troubles in their performances and lineup. With departing five-eighth Josh Reynolds set to miss the next month through injury, promising rookie Matt Frawley will partner Moses Mbye in the halves, with four forwards named on the bench. Opting to include a utility in the squad over the past month, don't be surprised to see an outside back included as part of the final side an hour before kick-off.
Having managed one win from three matches without Johnathan Thurston leading into the representative round, the Cowboys face a difficult task with the gifted playmaker facing a potentially season-ending shoulder injury. Burdened by injuries in recent weeks, the visitors will be buoyed by the return of fullback Lachlan Coote and hooker Jake Granville, as well as experienced backrower Shaun Fensom on the bench. In further selection notes, Ray Thompson has been preferred at halfback with Samoan representative John Asiata making the unusual positional switch from five-eighth to starting prop. Coming up with an underwhelming performance against Parramatta a fortnight ago, coach Paul Green will be looking for a strong start from his charges in order to keep pace with a Canterbury outfit vying for a place in the top eight.
Last meeting: Round 25 2016 - Bulldogs 16 Cowboys 24
Who to watch: With Johnathan Thurston out for an extended period with a shoulder injury, Bulldogs halfback Moses Mbye will be out to press his claims for a representative debut with a starring performance on Thursday night. While the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Michael Morgan, Anthony Milford and Corey Norman will all by vying to partner Cooper Cronk in the halves for the Maroons, the Canterbury number seven will be hoping his versatility sways Kevin Walters having filled in at hooker and centre when called upon so far this season. Struggling for consistency during the early stages of the year, look for Mbye to make use of his running game to help lift the Blue and Whites to their first win over the Cowboys since 2013.
Having missed out on a place in the Kangaroos side, centre Justin O'Neill will be looking to step up in the absence of several senior players in order to retain his place in the Queensland squad. Recently turning 26, the dual premiership winner has been a mainstay for the Cowboys since linking up from Melbourne with his pace and defensive consistency endearing him to coach Paul Green. Facing off against Josh Morris in a tantalising personal duel, O'Neill will be focused on helping North Queensland secure the two competition points, while also crossing the white line for his maiden try of 2017.
The favourite: Coming off a hard-fought win over Canberra a fortnight ago, the Bulldogs are expected to take advantage of a Cowboys outfit set to experience a tough time without their star playmaker.
My tip: With the injuries beginning to mount for the Cowboys, look for the home side to finish on top after a willing opening hour. Bulldogs by 14.
1. William Hopoate 2. Kerrod Holland 3. Josh Morris 4. Brenko Lee 5. Brett Morris 6. Matt Frawley 7. Moses Mbye 8. Aiden Tolman 9. Michael Lichaa 10. James Graham 11. Josh Jackson 16. Adam Elliot 13. David Klemmer 14. Sam Kasiano 15. Danny Fualalo 12. Greg Eastwood 20. Marcelo Montoya
1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 7. Ray Thompson 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Shaun Fensom 17. Ben Spina
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Kasey Badger, Tim Roby; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten;