Round 6: North Queensland v Canterbury preview
Battlers renew rivalry in rare daytime encounter
Defying the odds to claim their first win of the season last week, the North Queensland Cowboys will host a Sunday afternoon match at home for the first time since the 2007 finals series.
Spoiling the party for the Wests Tigers with a 34-30 victory at Leichhardt Oval seven days earlier, coach Todd Payten will be urging his players to continue a recent dominant record against the Bulldogs following seven wins from their previous nine meetings.
Naming captain Jason Taumalolo after a false return from injury last week, two-time premiership winner Justin O'Neill has been granted a reprieve in place of Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow (ankle) in the backline, while Coen Hess will start at prop for the first time in his career with Francis Molo reverting to the bench.
Sitting at the bottom of the NRL ladder as the only team yet to win a game this season, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs will be out to turn over a new leaf in their first appearance at Queensland Country Bank Stadium.
Posting points for the first time in three weeks during their 52-18 defeat at the hands of the Storm last Saturday, coach Trent Barrett will be hoping his side can continue a strong affinity with Townsville having won on 13 out of 19 visits since 1995.
Staring down the prospect of losing six straight losses for only the third time in history, a loss on Sunday afternoon would see the Bulldogs become the first team since Parramatta in 2018 to begin a year winless after six rounds.
Suffering a further blow with captain Josh Jackson sustaining a torn calf at training, English international Luke Thompson will start at lock allowing underrated forward Chris Smith to make his first appearance of the season.
Who to watch: Playing a leading role in guiding the Cowboys to a blistering opening half last week, five-eighth Scott Drinkwater will be aiming to step up following the premature retirement of Michael Morgan. Walking a similar path to the much-beloved club captain as an attacking threat adept at fullback and in the halves, the 23-year-old is set to enter a pivotal period of his career- either guiding North Queensland back from the brink as a dominant playmaker or taking up an opportunity elsewhere with a club better placed to play finals football. Possessing a potent left foot that has routinely produced points from within his own half, look for Drinkwater to leave the Bulldogs feeling blue (and white).
Experiencing a challenging beginning to life at the Bulldogs after playing a prominent role in the Raiders recent success, new recruit Nick Cotric will be aiming to inspire his teammates to a change in fortune. Producing some of the lowest running metres of his career during last week's loss to Melbourne, the 22-year-old former Australian and New South Wales winger has enjoyed middling success against the Cowboys previously with two tries in seven clashes. Chasing his first four-pointer as a Bulldogs player, expect Cotric to be heavily involved with the ball on Sunday afternoon.
The favourite: After breaking through for a vital win last week, the Cowboys have been backed to record consecutive victories for the first time in almost a year.
My tip: While the Cowboys showed plenty of attacking promise last week, the side still conceded six tries in a sign their defence remains a concern. If the Bulldogs can demonstrate a stronger defensive resolve they should be able to get their first win of 2021. Canterbury by 6.