Round 14: Cowboys v Dragons preview
Fire-breathing Dragons looking to shake up the renewed Cowboys
North Queensland kick off Round 14 of the NRL Telstra Premiership with a rare prime-time Friday Night Football clash against a determined St George Illawarra side at QLD Country Bank Stadium. This game was pencilled in as a potential Tank Bowl at the beginning of the season, but the rise of the Cowboys and emergence of the Dragons as turned this into must-watch footy.
The Cowboys are firmly placed inside the NRL's top four, yes it's a sentence many wouldn't have imagined at the beginning of the season. But, the Cowboys have been rewarded for their scintillating play this season, bar the minor hiccup against Penrith a fortnight ago.
North Queensland didn't have to do much to walk away with a victory on Thursday night against a mediocre Titans side. But it goes to show that the Cowboys didn't fall into the danger game trap that many of the top sides have fallen into this season. What Todd Payten wouldn't be pleased with, however, was his side's poor completions. It's cost them in games this season, and as we're approaching the heavy workload of the season, it could cost the Cowboys dearly in the crunch. As far as the team make-up is concerned, expect none of the original stars to back up, the only late inclusion could see Tom Dearden start at 5/8 with Ben Hampton dropping to the reserves.
St George Illawarra has been the definition of hot and cold to start 2022, there have been passages of brilliant footy that saw them knock off the Roosters, but this is rivalled by the poor showings against the Titans and Storm. It's been a season that's offered more questions than answers on the future direction of the Dragons, and they need to turn the tables if they want to push for a top-eight birth.
The Dragons are coming off the bye week, which came at a bad time in terms of their momentum, coming off a two-game winning streak (albeit against the Warriors and Bulldogs). However, it does look like they've found their long-term fullback option in Cody Ramsey, I would like to be cautious here though, as this Friday will be his first significant test since taking the vacant fullback jumper post-Magic Round. As far as their line-up is concerned, Jayden Sullivan comes onto the bench with Tyrell Fuimaono dropping out. Origin pair Ben Hunt and Tariq Sims are named to back up but could drop out. Jaydn Su'a is a slight chance of returning as he's named in the reserves.
Who to watch: Well, if there's been one man that's had a complete contrast of fortunes in the last six months it's Scott Drinkwater. Drinkwater lost out to Tom Dearden in the race to partner Chad Townsend in the halves, he was patient in his time in the QLD Cup, and since taking the fullback jumper for an injured Hammer, he hasn't turned back. His form has been scintillating scoring five tries, setting a further nine up and making 18 tackle breaks. Expect Drinkwater to be the focal point if the Cows get home.
Fresh off being overlooked by QLD coach Billy Slater, Francis Molo will have a point to prove against his former club. Molo has been in indifferent form to start the season, with glimpses of his best but largely a blip on the radar. Molo's averaging 102 meters a game and is a handful to tackle every time he gets the footy. Molo will need to reproduce games, such as the ANZAC Day effort if he want to recapture his QLD jumper, and it starts by taking down the highest-ranked QLD team.
The favourite: The Cowboys are the warm favourites to get home in this one. North Queensland hold the narrow head to head record over St George Illawarra since SGI entered the competition in 1999. Both teams split the season series last year, with North Queensland winning their most recent meeting in Rockhampton.
My tip: If Todd Payten chooses to rest his origin warriors, then the game evens up into St George's favour, especially through the middle third. St George's pack will have a lot more resistance than the Titans pack did a week ago. So it'll come down to the creativity of the backs, and I believe the Cowboys have many underrated players in their backline and it should be enough to get home, on top of the support of a monstrous home crowd. Cowboys by 8.