Round 2: Cowboys v Dragons preview
Last-start losers look to rebound in Townsville
After coming up empty in the opening round respectively, the North Queensland Cowboys and the St George Illawarra Dragons will be looking to bounce back on Saturday evening.
Coming off a dispiriting first up loss to last year's minor premiers, the North Queensland Cowboys will be aiming for a more confident display in their first home match of the season.
Failing to fire an attacking shot during last Saturday's 24-0 defeat to Penrith, new coach Todd Payten will be demanding greater accountability from his players after singling out co-captain Jason Taumalolo for his efforts in defence.
Holding an evenly matched record against the merged venture with four wins apiece since 2015, a Valentine Holmes' field goal in golden point proved the difference when the two sides met last September.
Resisting the urge to make sweeping changes after one poor performance, coach Payten has offered the same squad a chance at redemption on home soil.
Showing signs of resilience after a poor opening last Sunday, the St George Illawarra Dragons will have their sights set on overcoming a poor historical record in Townsville.
Trailing 14-0 at halftime before eventually going down 32-18 to the Sharks, coach Anthony Griffin will be buoyed by his side's ability to get within two points of their long-time rivals.
Managing just three victories from 13 visits to both of the Cowboys' home grounds in Townsville, the Dragons have been known to start slowly in recent times losing their opening two matches in four of the past six seasons.
Who to watch: Set to face off against his former club for the first time in Cowboys colours, Murwillumbah junior Reece Robson will be determined to energise the side's lacklustre attack. Playing nine matches with the Dragons predominantly off the bench before moving north under the guise of establishing his credentials as a hooker, the 22-year-old made an assured return to first grade after a hamstring injury saw his 2020 season end prematurely. Boasting a knack for exposing opposition defences close to the try line, look for Robson to play a prominent role in a much improved performance on Saturday evening.
It feels like only yesterday that Tariq Sims was gearing up to make his first grade debut. In reality, Saturday evening will mark a decade since the 31-year-old second rower played his first game - incidentally for the Cowboys in Townsville. Enjoying a successful career, while not quite reaching the heights envisioned when he burst onto the scene, Sims' leadership and aggressive disposition will be invaluable as the Dragons look to reshape their roster under Anthony Griffin. Eyeing regular game time in 2021 after spending an extended stint sidelined with injury last year, look for Sims to make up for lost time in his anniversary match.
The favourite: Despite being only the sixth team in NRL era to fail to score a point in the opening round, the home ground advantage has the Cowboys favoured to prevail with two premiership points.
My tip: While both sides underperformed in the opening round, the attacking spark shown by the Dragons in the second half may be the difference on Saturday night. Dragons by 6.