Round 11: Cowboys v Sea Eagles preview
Cowboys host Sea Eagles in a must win for both sides
A couple of months ago North Queensland versus Manly would have been billed as a heavyweight contest. But with both sides down on key troops, they now find themselves on the undercard at the last chance saloon.
Despite last week's improvement, the loss to the Panthers rounded out three consecutive defeats for the Cowboys. And in 12th place with only three wins at the halfway point of the season, premiership winning coach Paul Green became the third coach to be shown the door this year.
Since the lockdown, insipid defence has taken the Cowboys' season from the top-8 to life support in just a matter of months. Having leaked an average 32 points a match from its last seven, by the time Green closed out his tenure, he was more like the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke.
But back on home turf and with the prospect of Jordan McLean returning to help shield rookie halves Jake Clifford and Daejarn Asi, caretaker coach Josh Hannay will be further buoyed by North Queensland's six from eight dominance over the Sea Eagles dating back to 2014.
And while the Sea Eagles are flying high, they're just two spots above North Queensland following last week's upset win over Parramatta. The gutsy effort ended a horror three-game losing streak but more importantly at 5-5, the pacesetters remain within reach.
Tom Trbojevic may be weeks away but against the Eels, Manly proved they've crafted an alternate try-scoring formula. And with another week of training under their belt, Des Hasler can also take solace knowing the Sea Eagles have returned with the points on each of their past two trips to the cane cutting capital.
In a further shot in the arm to the Sea Eagles, damaging prop Addin Fonua-Blake makes his return following a two game suspension.
But for Hasler, the biggest problem in the afterglow of the Eels triumph will be making sure he packs the correct team on the plane. With Penrith to follow, a repeat of the woeful defensive efforts against Cronulla and the Dragons could spell the end of a Manly resurgence.
Who to watch: Matty Bowen fans unite. Firing red-alerts just like the Cowboys legend, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow ignited Panthers Stadium with a try of the year contender. Now at home on a fast track, if "The Hammer" catches the Sea Eagles asleep at the wheel, they'll be watching his number all night.
With the wheels in motion, Manly's attack through the middle can be lethal. And after Martin Taupau sent the much-vaunted Eels pack in reverse last week, watch for the powerhouse "Kapow" to target Josh McGuire from the outset.
The favourite: The Cowboys might be back in Townsville but it's not enough for the betting agencies, they've sided with the Sea Eagles.
My tip: There's question marks all over this. Will the Cowboys rise in Paul Green's honour and can the Sea Eagles replicate last week's tenacity? What is known, is that Queensland Country Bank Stadium deals out high scores. So with the floodgates open, look for both sides to trade tries with Manly's composure enough to steer them home. Sea Eagles by 2.