Round 11: Cowboys v Storm preview
North Queensland come into this one riding the waves of a five-match winning streak, after an indifferent start to the season. There's no doubting that the defence of the Cowboys has improved in leaps and bounds since last season. A lot of that can be put down to Todd Payten and Dean Young, that's a sentence we weren't saying last season. But the defensive mindsets have encouraged a renewed energy on defence as they are currently the NRL's second-best defensive side (only behind Penrith).
Last week, they had a neck and neck struggle with the Tigers in the first 40, before over-running the injury-hit side in the second stanza.
Tom Dearden is easily the game's most improved player showcasing the decision making that saw many pundits label him the next big thing in Brisbane a few years ago. Their young brigade of forwards are goers and will give 150% on every play as they continue to push for QLD selection.
This will be their biggest test so far this season, going up against a rugged Melbourne pack. Tom Gilbert faces a $3000 dollar fine on his third offence of the season, but will play as the Cowboys name an unchanged line-up.
Melbourne were sent back down to earth after a rampaging run in the last few weeks. Yes it's easy to point to injuries to key players, but remember Melbourne punish teams that are injury depleted too (they did it to Penrith last year in Brisbane).
The most concerning aspect of this performance though was the way Melbourne was beaten in the middle, over the years it's happened on only a handful of occasions. Expect a response from Melbourne's pack, especially against a Cowboys side that has several players on the radar of Billy Slater's QLD side.
Jahrome Hughes returns after being a late withdrawal last weekend. The Tyran Wishart fullback experiment is set to continue for the time being. Nelson Asofa-Solomona is out, Brandon Smith starts at prop with Alec McDonald and Dean Ieremia takes positions on the interchange bench with Chris Lewis dropping out.
Who to watch: If you went around the NRL and asked them to pick a player that they enjoyed watching, Reuben Cotter's name would pop up quite considerably. Cotter's form this season is continuing to spark the Cowboys, despite being a little forward playing at prop.
Cotter's constant work ethic and desire to see the improving Cowboys continuing to fire is a testament to him. His name has been thrown around as a possible QLD debutant, against a tough Melbourne pack on Saturday, this is his chance to shine.
Harry Grant is one man that always continues to thrive. Even with the lopsided possession count against Melbourne on Saturday, Grant was always looming to get out of dummy half and try and spark the Melbourne attack.
Grant's running game and general organisation will look to be the difference against a Cowboys defence that has been rugged this season as Grant looks to secure the number nine jumper.
My tip: Well, this one is going to be close and not the game we envisioned when the schedule was put together in November. This is one of the contenders for the match of the round. Many great positional clashes, especially Nanai and Kaufusi for a QLD origin spot. This one really is a flip of the coin, but I favour the experience of Melbourne very slightly. Melbourne by 4.