Wests Tigers v Cowboys preview

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Wests Tigers v North Queensland Cowboys Thursday 7:50pm at Leichhardt Oval

Which teams are turning up this Thursday?

OK, the obvious answer is the Wests Tigers and North Queensland Cowboys - but real talk, these two teams are an unpredictable mess.

Thursday's hosts started the 2018 season in surprising fashion - parking themselves inside the top four in the first month of the competition before dropping away rapidly in the last few weeks. They know they can perform against quality opposition - their dual wins over premiers Melbourne are proof positive they have what it takes. The last three games though, have been fairly concerning. Nailbiting losses against Newcastle and Parramatta bent their resolve, but the Warriors were the ones to really derail 'the bus' with a 22-point thumping last Saturday. Their once-steely defence that saw them concede so few points over the opening weeks of the season seems to have evaporated.

Switching sides to the Townsville boys tells the opposite story. After a rocky but successful clash against Cronulla in the season opener, the Cowboys lost a swag of games, only to turn the corner three weeks ago to down the Titans. It was a better showing that saw many think they'd got their season on track, but then they turned in an awful performance at home to the Raiders two weeks ago... only to turn it around once more last Friday with a classy win over the Panthers. It wasn't without its concerns (the Panthers nearly ran them down late), but it was more of the Cowboys we've come to expect in recent seasons.

There's good news for the hosts at the selection table - co-captain Russell Packer returns in the front row, which sees Sauaso Sue revert to the interchange. They've also made an amendment on the bench with Jacob Liddle coming back in, Pita Godinet demoted to the Magpies' ISP side heading to Auckland on Saturday. The Cowboys haven't made any changes to a winning side, in spite of the controversy around prop Scott Bolton and a current investigation. He's named to play in jersey 10.

Last meeting: Round 25 2017 - Wests Tigers 14 Cowboys 22

Who to watch: It would be fair to say the Tigers' forwards have struggled to lay the platform for a good pair of halves in recent weeks. The return of Russell Packer should go some ways to fixing this issue, hopefully ending the merry-go-round of second rowers posing as front rowers in the black, orange and white. Watch his impact early.

North Queensland will be grateful to have a settled lineup themselves this week, and JT will be keen to back up an excellent performance in Bathurst last Friday. To be clear - I mean the long-term future of the Cowboys, Jason Taumalolo. He delivered an outstanding shift running some 230-odd metres and really carried his side forward last week.

The favourite: The Cowboys are better backed here after a calamitous three-match losing streak by the Tigers.

My tip: There was a lot to like about the Cowboys' performance last weekend but there was a bit of concern around the way they gave up their lead and almost let the Panthers steal it late. Having said that - the Tigers look a bit lost. Packer's return is crucial for their go-forward but I'm not sure it'll be enough against a Cowboys side who seem to be on the up. Cowboys by 4.

1. Corey Thompson 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 5. Mahe Fonua 20. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Benji Marshall 7. Luke Brooks 8. Russell Packer 9. Elijah Taylor 10. Ben Matulino 11. Chris Lawrence 12. Robert Rochow 13. Matt Eisenhuth 14. Alex Twal 15. Jacob Liddle 16. Michael Chee Kam 17. Sauaso Sue

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Ben Hampton 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Matthew Scott 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Te Maire Martin 15. Shaun Fensom 16. Corey Jensen 17. Ethan Lowe

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Matt Noyen; Sideline Officials: Nick Beashel, Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;

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