Cowboys v Roosters preview

Embed from Getty Images
North Queensland Cowboys v Sydney Roosters Thursday 7:50pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium

The North Queensland Cowboys will be gunning for a second-straight upset against their Sydney rival, while the Roosters need a win to stay in touch with the top four.

If you like surprises when it comes to footy, the Cowboys have been one of the competition's best at delivering them in the past month.

They've conceded points in bunches: 37 in a loss to the NZ Warriors, 34 in the first half against the Wests Tigers, 20 points in the second half after leading 26-0 against the Newcastle Knights and 42 to the Parramatta Eels last week.

If North Queensland's not careful, this Thursday night clash with the Roosters could provide another statistic for that list.

Cowboys coach Paul Green has adjusted his team as a result, with the big move of allocating Valentine Holmes to the wing and selecting Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow at fullback.

Green explained on Tuesday that the adjustment was primarily to stop leaking points on the edges, and that it'll be the best position for Holmes as he regains his full range of movement after returning from an ankle injury last week.

With three wins from their first eight games, the Cowboys are in the middle of a tough season-defining run of opponents that have included the Knights and Eels. From next week they'll take on the Panthers, Sea Eagles and Raiders.

What may amaze you about the Roosters, as brilliant as they've looked, we're two rounds away from the halfway point in the season and they're sitting outside the top four.

Throughout the 2020 season Roosters coach Trent Robinson has looked to rest and rotate his players to manage their workload for the challenges that a COVID-19 season and an attempt at a three-peat bring.

While we will have to wait for the end of the season to see if this strategy pays off, for now it's placed them lower on the ladder than what is expected of this side. Teams that don't finish the season in the top four have to overcome heavy odds to win the premiership.

To jump back in the top four they'll have to do it without a mounting list of injured stars.

Boyd Cordner has not been named as he recovers from a head knock, Daniel Tupou faces weeks on the sideline after being unable to finish with an ankle injury in what was the game of the year so far against the Melbourne Storm, Isaac Liu is nursing a broken rib and Victor Radley is out for the season alongside Sam Verrills.

Last meeting: Round 17 2019 - Roosters 12 Cowboys 15

In Gavin Cooper's 300th NRL game the Cowboys caused an upset as a 79th minute field goal from Jake Clifford, after both teams had together missed five field goals, broke the tie and secured the win. Clifford was responsible for guiding the team to victory as Michael Morgan missed the clash.

Who to watch: If the Cowboys forwards can get a roll on and win some field position, the team has been able to score points as Jake Clifford showed against the Knights two weeks ago. He scored one, assisted on another and broke seven tackles. That type of all-around impact without Morgan in support or Holmes at fullback will be needed again on Thursday. Clifford was the man to seal a win against the Roosters last year, has he got the confidence to do it again?

Watching James Tedesco return last week it didn't appear to be one of his usual great performances. However, Tedesco's overall impact was still immense. He recorded 268 metres (73m more than anyone else on the night), nine tackle breaks, four offloads, two linebreak assists and one linebreak. Now coming up against a defence that's not as restricting as Melbourne's, his combination with Luke Keary, Kyle Flannagan, Brett Morris, Josh Morris and Angus Crichton should create fireworks.

The favourite: Let's put it this way, I challenge you to remember the last game the Roosters weren't considered the favourite.

My tip: I have concern for the Cowboys as they've been fluctuating from their best to their worst a lot. The team has gone a long time without Michael Morgan and a fully fit Valentine Holmes. Some of the replacements have played admirably but it looks like this team is getting worn down. There's no doubting the Roosters for talent, experience and fitness levels even though they've got some injured players. Plenty of motivation for them as well after narrowly losing last week. Roosters by 18.

1. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Connelly Lemuelu 4. Esan Marsters 5. Valentine Holmes 6. Scott Drinkwater 7. Jake Clifford 8. Josh Mcguire 9. Reece Robson 10. Francis Molo 11. Shane Wright 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Tom Gilbert 16. Peter Hola 17. Gavin Cooper

1. James Tedesco 2. Ryan Hall 3. Josh Morris 4. Joseph Manu 21. Matt Ikuvalu 6. Luke Keary 7. Kyle Flanagan 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Siosiua Taukeiaho 11. Angus Crichton 12. Mitchell Aubusson 13. Nat Butcher 14. Lachlan Lam 15. Sitili Tupouniua 16. Poasa Faamausili 17. Lindsay Collins

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre