Cowboys v Knights preview

Embed from Getty Images
North Queensland Cowboys v Newcastle Knights Saturday 7:35pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville

Knights look to snap losing run against cruising Cowboys

After the Cowboys opened the season with two-straight losses, all anyone could talk about was Jason Taumalolo's future and rumblings of discontent with coach Todd Payten.

But as is always the case, all it takes is for a few wins for the whispers to go away. Now North Queensland has well and truly established itself as the surprise packet of the 2022 season.

The Cowboys have surged to third spot on the ladder, coming off their most impressive win in years - a 35-4 dismantling of the Eels in Darwin.

It leaves Payten in the enviable position of being able to name an unchanged line-up for Saturday's game with the Knights. Newcastle, of course, is back where North Queensland was earlier this year.

The Knights have dropped six games in a row, with back-to-back heavy defeats to Parramatta and Melbourne only casting a larger shadow over coach Adam O'Brien's future.

Like the Cowboys, the Knights have their own big-money superstar in the headlines for the wrong reasons, with Kalyn Ponga the easy target for criticism.

Ponga though has held his spot for this week's game, with O'Brien instead opting for a shake-up in the halves, naming a new-look pairing of Tex Hoy and Phoenix Crossland. It sees Jake Clifford dropped after being benched against the Storm.

Elsewhere, Adam Clune is also sidelined but due to a knee injury. Other changes see Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Dom Young return from knee injuries, replacing Simi Sasagi and Brodie Jones.

Kurt Mann (ankle), meanwhile, is still sidelined with Leo Thompson to start at lock.

Last meeting: Round 16 2021 - Knights 38 Cowboys 0

Who to watch: While the Cowboys have named an unchanged side, it will still be interesting to monitor just what they do at the fullback position. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow was a revelation in the role before his injury setback, seeing Scott Drinkwater given a chance to stake his claim for the spot. Drinkwater has done just that, offering an extra ball-playing option out the back that adds another element to the North Queensland attack. Silky skills don't necessarily mean everything, particularly for coach Payten, who prioritises a fullback who organises the defensive line. But should Drinkwater keep up his stellar form it is hard to see him surrendering the starting role anytime soon.

On the other side of the field, if there is anyway the Knights are going to cause an upset on Saturday, they have to get aggressive up front. That all starts with David Klemmer, who ran for over 130 metres and made 40 tackles in last week's defeat to Melbourne. For a Knights side lacking confidence and screaming out for a leader, Ponga is not that guy despite having the ‘C' next to his name. Klemmer is the next closest thing given his experience in the representative arena and the Knights need him to lead from the front, both with his voice and actions.

The favourite: The Cowboys are well-backed to get the job done on Saturday.

My tip: With the Bulldogs, Broncos and Warriors in the next three weeks, don't despair Knights fans. A win will be coming soon. It just won't be this weekend. There is every chance Newcastle is much-improved but it is hard to see it being enough against a resurgent North Queensland team. Cowboys by 18.

1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Reuben Cotter 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Heilum Luki 16. Coen Hess 17. Griffin Neame 18. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown

1. Kalyn Ponga 2. Edrick Lee 3. Enari Tuala 4. Bradman Best 5. Dominic Young 6. Tex Hoy 7. Phoenix Crossland 8. David Klemmer 9. Chris Randall 10. Daniel Saifiti 14. Jack Johns 12. Lachlan Fitzgibbon 13. Leo Thompson 15. Jacob Saifiti 16. Mathew Croker 17. Pasami Saulo 18. Simi Sasagi 21. Brayden Musgrove

Referees: Liam Kennedy; Sideline Officials: Jon Stone, Tyson Brough; Video Referees: Gerard Sutton;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre