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September is here and that means Finals.
From The Couch returns after an injury induced layoff of 3 months to analyse the 2005 Telstra Premiership Qualifying Finals.
Qualifying Final One
Cowboys by 6
Where it will be won:
The Cowboys may have lost strike weapon Carl Webb for 6 weeks (far too lenient a sentence if Danny Williams gets 18 weeks for the same blind side punch) but they have the depth in the front row the Tigers severely lack. Since Todd Payten injured his triceps in the early minutes of Round 25 the Tigers have lacked the required grunt up the middle of the field. While Payten is no superstar he is a genuine NRL starting prop and combined with John Skandalis to give the Tigers a legitimate 1-2 punch up the middle. Skandalis will now be partnered by second rower Anthony Laffranchi, with Bryce Gibbs on the bench only one game back from a serious knee injury. Moving Laffranchi weakens the backrow and in his stints at prop this year Laffranchi has lacked the same work rate and impact he delivers in his usual #11.
Webb aside, the Cowboys still have three props that are all above average in Paul Rauhihi, Shane Tronc and Mitchell Sargent. Sargent in particular has stepped up in recent weeks. Rauhihi and Tronc alone would have presented problems for the Tigers ruck defence but with Sargent coming off the bench they lose little when the big men take a break.
The Tigers have a good set of forwards ? mobile and adept at second phase play, but the reason they have struggled to stay in the contest in their past two games is without a second strong go-forward option they have been forced to spread the ball wide earlier and limiting their attacking effectiveness by lack of field position. While the Cowboys backs will be able to pick and choose the times they go on the attack off the back of a strong go-forward.
How it will play out:
Expect the Tigers to throw everything at the Cowboys in the first 10-15 minutes with everything from short kicks to extensive second man plays by backrowers and quick ball movement to the edges. They will try and move the bigger Cowboys forwards around the park early to try and drain their energy levels to mount sets midway through the half when the Tigers bench makes it onto the field.
North Queensland will sit behind their pack for much of the first half and use the field position to launch kicking raids on smaller Tigers backs Daniel Fitzhenry and Brett Hodgson. Thurston, Bowen and Firman will orchestrate this attacking option relentlessly as the Cowboys centres ? Bowman and Hannay are not classic hole runners on the edges.
By no means are the Tigers without a hope, but the Cowboys are winners of three straight (Raiders, Rabbitohs and Storm) and will have a five-eighth in Johnathan Thurston bubbling with confidence after his Dally M win mid-week. If the Tigers do lose however they will go down fighting ? expect a high scoring game in this one.