The Late Mail: Panthers v Devils
68 mins ago | LeagueUnlimited Media
The last time the Cowboys and Tigers faced off in Townsville, they were sitting in 14th and 13th position on the ladder respectively.
That was only late last year. A lot has changed since then.
North Queensland has emerged as a genuine premiership contender this year, sitting in second and looking all but guaranteed a spot in the top four, save for an end-of-season collapse.
Last week's loss to Cronulla will likely be just a mere speedbump for Todd Payten's men, who are proof that wholesale changes are not always needed to produce results on the field.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are no longer spearheaded by Michael Maguire but they are still mired by mediocrity, constantly confusing their fans with where the team is actually going.
For now Brett Kimmorley is the interim coach while Luke Brooks and Adam Doueihi make up the halves pairing, with Jackson Hastings at lock forward.
Having a serious competitor and ball-playing option in the middle like Hastings certainly adds an extra element to the Tigers' attack, but is he really the long-term solution there?
Or will Hastings move to halfback eventually when the club finally admits Luke Brooks is not the answer?
Sure, Brooks is not the only issue but it looks increasingly likely he will be moved on before next year provided the Tigers find an interested suitor and are willing to chip in from their own pockets.
Yes, this is a preview of this week's game with the Cowboys but with their season over, the Tigers really need to be planning for next year and naming Brooks at halfback is further proof that is not happening yet.
The Tigers scrambled well in defence last week in their 18-16 loss to an undermanned Penrith, although Kimmorley would have been bitterly disappointed with the way his side opened up in the first place.
They only had to scramble so hard because the Panthers kept finding gaping holes through the middle, ones that a full-strength Cowboys side will punish them for.
Queensland trio Valentine Holmes, Tom Dearden and Jeremiah Nanai all return this week while Murray Taulagi (COVID protocols) is also back.
Nanai's return sees former Tiger Luciano Leilua move to prop while Jamayne Taunua-Brown shifts to the bench.
Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow is also on the interchange with Ben Hampton, Connelly Lemuelu and Tomas Chester are the men to drop out of the team named for last week's loss to the Sharks.
As for the Tigers, James Roberts and David Nofoaluma (both illness) have been named on the reserves and could return.
Brent Naden is locked in to come back on the wing after serving a four-game suspension while Tyrone Peachey and Alex Seyfarth have been named on the bench.
James Tamou is a fresh face in the starting team with Zane Musgrove back to the interchange.
Last meeting: Round 10 2022 - Wests Tigers 12 Cowboys 36
Who to watch: Given how vulnerable the Tigers were through the middle last week, look for Jason Taumalolo to wreak havoc on Sunday. Taumalolo already showed in his disallowed try against Cronulla just how destructive he can be close to the line, regardless of how many defenders you put on him. If the Cowboys are able to get a roll-on and Reece Robson gets out of dummy-half with plenty of space to work with, look for Taumalolo to cause all kinds of issues. If he plays enough minutes, lock Taumalolo in for another 150-plus metre performance.
Once again, all eyes will be on the Tigers' halves situation and in particular how Jackson Hastings plays. Sure, he was named at lock last week but Hastings still had to do plenty of work organizing the side - the sort of responsibility that is usually reserved for the halfback. Instead, Brooks and Doueihi operated as if two five-eighths on different sides of the field. It is not a sustainable system given how much work Hastings has to do in the middle of the field. It will be interesting to see if anything changes this week, be it Hastings being able to play more like a ball-playing forward or Brooks taking on more responsibility himself.
The favourite: The Cowboys are well-backed to take the win.
My tip: The Cowboys are in a mood they could run up 60-plus points - that is how bad the Tigers' defence is. It may not be that bad but North Queensland will still win this quite easily. Cowboys by 36.
1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Coen Hess 9. Reece Robson 16. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Luciano Leilua 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 15. Jake Granville 17. Griffin Neame 19. Brendan Elliot
1. Daine Laurie 2. Brent Naden 3. Starford To'a 4. Asu Kepaoa 5. Ken Maumalo 6. Adam Doueihi 7. Luke Brooks 8. James Tamou 9. Fa'amanu Brown 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Luke Garner 12. Kelma Tuilagi 13. Jackson Hastings 14. Fonua Pole 15. Zane Musgrove 16. Alex Seyfarth 17. Tyrone Peachey 18. Austin Dias
Referees: Chris Butler; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Matt Noyen; Video Referees: Ashley Klein;