Round 18: North Queensland v Sydney Roosters preview
Despite not being one of the NRL's hubs, focus goes on Townsville on Saturday afternoon as the North Queensland Cowboys look to overturn a losing streak as they come up against a full-strength Sydney Roosters side.
Coming off four straight defeats, the Cowboys sit in twelfth spot on the NRL ladder with just six wins from their sixteen matches so far in 2021. The North Queenslanders have been poor this season and of their four past defeats by more than 28 points including their 46-18 defeat last weekend against South Sydney in Newcastle.
The Cowboys started fast last Thursday opening a 12-2 lead over the first twenty minutes before the Rabbitohs found their spark and blew the Cowboys off the park to take the game 46-18. The North Queenslanders have struggled to match their opponents over recent rounds and a lack of control of their halves has become a problem as well as key forwards that haven't stood up or made the impact that has been expected of them.
A boost for the Cowboys will be the return of Francis Molo, Val Holmes and Hamiso Tabulai-Fidow who are expected to back up following Origin three with Daejarn Asi and Javid Bowen out of the side. Coen Hess drops back to the interchange bench whilst Heilum Luki is out suspended with Peter Hola coming onto the bench.
The Sydney Roosters have had an up and down season with injuries, player retirements and inconsistent performances but still sit in fifth spot with ten victories from their sixteen matches this season. Last weekend, an extra-weakened Roosters were far from impressive in their 22-16 victory over the last placed Canterbury Bulldogs.
The Roosters were depleted with a number of origin stars out but they struggled to dominate through the contest only just doing enough up against the Bulldogs to take the 22-16 in wet conditions. A lack of quality in their opposition was probably the saving grace for the tricolours who struggled to exert any dominance which would concern their coach Trent Robinson slightly.
The returns of Angus Crichton and James Tedesco to the Eastern Suburbs line up will be a massive boost to go with Victor Radley who is set to get some more match fitness after returning from a five-game suspension last week. The returning Crichton sees Isaac Liu moved into the front row with Siosiua Taukeiaho dropping out of the side. Joey Manu returns to the centres with Tedesco back in the Number 1 jersey with Billy Smith dropping to the bench, although with Trent Robinson's habit of line-up alterations, the 1-17 is very unlikely to look that way on Saturday night.
Who to watch: A mid-season signing that has been so far a dud one at best, Tom Dearden struggled for the Broncos before moving to Townsville and honestly his form for North Queensland has been dreadful to say the least. The creativity of halves partner Scott Drinkwater has been hampered by Dearden's lack of form and the Cowboys need Dearden to find something to be in with a chance of getting close to the Roosters.
Coming back from a five-week suspension, Victor Radley was good last week for the Roosters but the temperamental NSW representative will quickly become a target of opposing sides trying to bait Radley. It's important for the Roosters that Radley changes his game given his already lengthy judiciary record and that come the end of the season, the Roosters need all hands-on deck if they want to match it with the likes of Melbourne and Penrith.
The favourite: The Sydney Roosters are heavy favourites for the contest given the poor form of the Cowboys and the strength of the tricolours.
My tip: It's hard to go past the Roosters, although they weren't impressive over the last few weeks, they have more than enough to get past a Cowboys side who have been almost pathetic at times over their past few games. The Roosters will be boosted by having all their key players back playing together again. Sydney by 18.