Round 22: Knights v Cowboys preview
When you starting using the term 'mathematical chance'...
If we're being brutally honest, the season is over for both of these sides.
After a poor start, Newcastle surged into contention mid-season on the back of a healthy winning streak and as the Origin period clicked into gear, were a solid top four prospect alongside the Raiders and Sea Eagles. While those two sides remain key in the race for a double chance, the Knights are struggling to avoid the lower reaches of the ladder and need a miracle to even figure in September calculations.
North Queensland came into 2019 with plenty of promise, but it quickly unravelled. New signing Ben Barba's off-field issues ruled him out before pulling on the navy and grey jumper, and since then Justin O'Neill and Te Maire Martin have both suffered season ending injuries. Jordan Kahu has also missed a chunk of game time thanks to an eye injury, retiring prop Matt Scott has been in and out of the side too, and then there's new signing Nene Macdonald, released by the club in recent weeks after an off-field incident.
All in all, a shocking start to the post-Thurston era has had the Cowboys looking shaky off the field and inconsistent on it, and it's that inconsistency the Knights will be looking to take advantage of as they aim to arrest a six-game losing streak. Incidentally, their last victory came in Round 15 - against another Queensland side in the Broncos.
Despite the form slump, Nathan Brown has resisted wholesale changes to the lineup fell short against the Eels last Saturday. Danny Levi is left out of the 17 with Connor Watson named at 9, while Josh King replaces the injured Tim Glasby at lock, the new player into the side being Herman Ese'ese.
North Queensland welcome back Jordan McLean, who was a late out last Thursday before the Broncos clash. He replaces the suspended Josh McGuire up front, while in the backline Kahu's return from an eye injury sees Gideon Gela-Mosby pushed out of the side. Reuben Cotter is also in, with Peter Hola dropping off the interchange.
Who to watch: Key Origin players meet on Saturday afternoon with the stakes very different to what they were a month ago.
Newcastle half Mitchell Pearce was euphoric after playing a hand in the Blues' winning play in Origin III, but hasn't tasted victory since. His output has been below par since then, to the point where he recorded just 14 running metres against the Eels last weekend. He's got to step up if the Knights are to be any chance in the race to the finals.
Cowboys' five-eighth Michael Morgan has had an indifferent 2019 after taking over the primary playmaker role from retired great Johnathan Thurston. Dealing with constantly changing halves partners and even spending a fortnight at fullback mid-season, the Maroons rep has shouldered a heavy load this season, but can restore some pride with a solid performance on the road this weekend.
My tip: Newcastle have to turn this horrendous form around some time soon - if they don't then the buzz around Nathan Brown's coaching tenure will only amplify. That alone should motivate the Novocastrian side enough to swing the result in their favour. Knights by 6.