Round 5: Wests Tigers v North Queensland preview
Desperation days for former grand final foes
Sitting in 13th position with one win over the first four rounds, the Wests Tigers have struggled for consistency and cohesion following an active recruitment spree over the off-season.
Rallying late before going down 36-22 to the Eels on Easter Monday, coach Michael Maguire will be looking to address a worrying trend that has seen the side concede tries either side of halftime in all their losses.
Returning to Leichardt Oval for the first time this season, the Tigers have struggled to rise to the occasion of playing at the historic venue losing three of their past four appearances.
Resisting the temptation to make widespread changes following another loss, Michael Chee-Kam comes into the squad in place of Asu Kepaoa as part of a backline reshuffle that sees Moses Mbye start in the centres and Tommy Talua push out to the wing.
Languishing in 14th position with a -105 differential after just a month of football, the North Queensland Cowboys will be hoping to avoid starting a season with five consecutive losses for the first time since 1999.
Producing a defensively inept performance during last Saturday's 48-10 defeat at the hands of the Sharks, coach Todd Payten will be challenging his players to become only the second North Queensland team to win at Leichardt Oval.
Losing 10 out of 11 visits to the traditional home of Balmain, the Cowboys' lone victory at the venue came in 2000 - prior to current first-graders Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow and Ben Condon being born.
Last meeting: Round 6 2020 - Wests Tigers 36 Cowboys 20
Who to watch: Making a big impression in the number one jersey after securing an early release to join the Tigers before the start of the season, Daine Laurie will be eagerly anticipating his first taste of Leichardt Oval in the NRL. Scoring a powerful double against the Sea Eagles during a pre-season trial at the hallowed venue, the 21-year-old has been one of the joint venture's best performers over the opening month with 142 running metres on average and 19 tackle breaks. Proving his worth as more than a back-up outside back for the Panthers, expect Laurie to be heavily involved with the ball in hand for the home side.
Afforded a rare opportunity to start in the halves having been used predominantly as an interchange utility, Ben Hampton will be looking to seize upon an opportunity that has proved elusive for much of his career. Coming through the junior ranks as a playmaker at Melbourne, the 29-year-old has played every position in the backline since moving to North Queensland four years ago. Running for over 100 metres with the ball in hand last week, look for Hampton to act as a steadying influence in the Cowboys' bid to break through for their first win of 2021.
My tip: The Cowboys have the ability to post an upset given what is known about the Tigers at their worst. The Tigers are capable of piling on the points as was the case when the two sides met last year. I don't have a lot of confidence in the home team, but I have even less in the visitors. Wests Tigers by 12.